I recently drove on a three week trip through the Southeast U.S. meeting donors and friends of the ministry. As I cruised through the countryside, I saw along the road miles of white cotton crop waiting for harvest. Sometimes the hillsides were as white as clouds as far as one could see. The views recalled to my mind the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John.
“I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’” RSV John 4:35b-37
Of course, Jesus was referring to the white fields of the unreached, not the white cotton fields that I viewed during my drive. He made it clear to his disciples that he was the sower and they were to be the reapers. Although Jesus is certainly the master sower, in service to Him the church continues to sow and reap today.
SOWERS AND REAPERS
Although numbers of Christian and precise growth patterns are difficult to determine to exactness, there is no doubt that Christianity is growing in the Majority World.
From Christianity Today (November 18, 2011 – Tim Stafford)
India’s church has grown and is getting larger. It now comprises over 70 million members, according to Operation World. This is enough to make India the seventh largest Christian nation in the world today
Opportunities for spreading the Good News seem to be everywhere. Operation World counts 2,223 unreached people groups in India, over five times as many as there are in China, the next most unreached nation. “India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan make up the largest concentration of unreached humanity in the world,” says Operation World’s Jason Mandryk.
From Christian Today (August 3, 2010 – Dibin Samuel)
The church in China is experiencing tremendous growth like never before, says the World Council of Churches (WCC). Mathews George Chunakara, Director of WCC’s International Affairs and Public Witness, said there had been a “unique and explosive growth” of Christianity among the Chinese people. “I have been visiting China for the last 15 years. I am astounded to see the tremendous growth there. Their worship places are now overflowing.”
In the early 1970s, there were an estimated 3 million Christians in China. Now, the number may be as high as 130 million
According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, the southern hemisphere is taking the lead in growth figures for worshipers. Africa is leading the charge with 390 million Christians, more than three times than 35 years ago.
There has been tremendous growth of Christians in Africa – coupled by a relative decline in adherence to traditional African religions. As evidence, only nine million Christians were in Africa in 1900, but by the year 2000, there were an estimated 380 million Christians. Much of the Christian growth in Africa is now due to African evangelism rather than European missionaries.
As Professor Philip Jenkins writes in The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, there were approximately 360 million African Christians in 2000. By 2025, conservative estimates see that number rising to 633 million. Those same projections put the number of Christians in Latin America in 2025 at 640 million and in Asia at 460 million.
According to Jenkins, by the middle of this century, there will be three billion Christians in the world — one and a half times the number of Muslims. My question is, who is going to be there to disciple and lead these new followers?
EQUIPPING THE FUTURE PLANTERS AND HARVESTERS
There has been much sowing over the past years in mission work and church planting and we see great harvests as a result. We have done an excellent job of sowing; now it is time to prepare reapers. A good harvest requires laborers. Jesus says as much…
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
RSV Matthew 9:37-38
I read a Chuck Colson comment, “This shift of Christianity’s ‘center of gravity’ is also a reminder to Western Christians that we are not the whole show, and we have to start thinking differently about ourselves. We are part of a much larger community: the worldwide Church. “
We do need to implement a mind shift. Sowing one year does not produce a harvest in future years but requires a new planting each year. In order to keep planting and keep harvesting, we need indigenous Christian leadership to be the new planters and the laborers in the Majority World, and not rely on Western missionaries and churches. As the American church, we need to evaluate how we can be most effective in the planting and the harvesting. Are we serving the Majority World church best by doing the labor for them or are we better servants by enabling them to be sowers and reapers themselves?
I recently read a John Calvin quote “…assuredly there is nothing in which we can better serve God, than when we help his servants who labor for the truth of the gospel.”
I personally believe we need to be helping his servants by training and educating the new growers, the indigenous leaders; the ones that know the crop, know the best place to plant, know the best way to harvest and know the right tools to use. That’s why I love being a part of the ministry of Overseas Council, equipping biblical leaders to be effective pastors, teachers, evangelists, missionaries and Christian leaders in their own countries, in their own language and in their own cultural settings.