Today as I was driving in my car, I heard a really interesting story on NPR .(Which, by the way, I highly recommend listening to. Instead of listening to junk on the radio, NPR is a great way to keep tabs on what’s going on in the world, as well as exposing yourself to stories and people you wouldn’t ordinarily hear about) As I pulled out of the parking lot and flipped on the radio, I heard a British news correspondent talking about a trip he made to China. I had missed the first part of the story in which he explained why he was in China, but throughout the course of his travels there he happened upon a Chinese house church. Broadcasting from this church, the reporter explained that as a direct result of Communism collapsing, a system of government that stifled religious expression, there has now been an explosion of religion in China, particularly Christianity. He interviewed one woman who recounted that when she first became a Christian, she’d had to hide her faith for fear of persecution, but now she and other believers can worship freely. This house church was a clear sign of this spiritual revival.
As the reporter continued his broadcast, he described the seen at the church, and how everyone was sitting there waiting for an itinerate preacher to come in and give the sermon. However, after a lot of time had passed and the preacher still hadn’t arrived, the congregation realized that the preacher wasn’t coming. Soon they began scrambling for an alternative. Then, in an interesting turn of events, the congregation debated over who would be a suitable replacement, and they decided that the best person to deliver the sermon was the news reporter! So, they asked him if he would stand up and preach.
What was funny about this story was that this news reporter, who is ordinarily very professional sounding, always giving off the impression that he has everything under control, became very nervous and uncomfortable. He explained to us listeners that the Chinese assume all Westerners are Christian, so this congregation never thought to ask him if he was Christian, let alone if he believed in God. The reporter tried to tell them that he wasn’t used to giving sermons, but it soon became apparent that they wouldn’t let him leave until he did. So, he picked up his Bible, stood before them for an awkward period of minutes, and preached.
Unfortunately they didn’t air the sermon that he gave, because it would have been fascinating, if not hilarious, to hear. The reporter said that the whole incident was awkward for everyone involved, and I imagine that it probably was to some degree. But, since he had his own Bible with him, I’m hoping that he was a believer. And if he was, I’m sure the Holy Spirit moved through him in spite of his lack of experience.
Now I want you to stop and think about this story for a second. The church that was featured in this story was *so* desperate to hear the Gospel preached that they forced a random Western reporter to give a sermon to them. At first I wondered why they didn’t simply ask one of their own members to teach, but it is very likely that they were all illiterate, and since he could read, that was good enough.
As I sat there in my car listening, I was struck by the absurdity of the situation. Here in the States, I have a seminary degree, yet I struggle to find a job in a church. I was just looking at job descriptions for college pastors yesterday, and I wasn’t even qualified enough for a lot of them. It didn’t matter that I was passionate about the Gospel–it only mattered that I didn’t have multiple video recordings of me speaking in front of 300+ people. Without those qualifications, I am not welcome as a college minister at many churches here in the U.S.. Yet this reporter, who didn’t even want to preach, and had no experiencing doing so, was pushed up in front of that tiny congregation and given the chance to preach. What a backwards world we live in!
To some extent, the difference between the American Church and the Chinese Church reminds me of the disparity between food supplies in the world. Here in the States, we have so much food that we waste it, while there are people in other parts of the world who are starving to death. In the same way, we have so many Christians and so many churches here in the U.S., while churches in other parts of the world can’t even find one pastor to preach. But just because those starving people are far away and we can’t give them the food on our dinner plates tonight, does not mean we should go on wasting our food. Nor does the distance of our Christian brothers and sisters mean we can go on wasting our gifts. The need and the urgency is the same, and that’s what this NPR story reminded me of today. Just because the need doesn’t seem to be immediate, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If there are churches in this world who are so desperate to hear the Gospel preached that they’ll put almost anyone in front of them, regardless of qualifications, then there is much work to be done on our part. As the reporter said, Christianity is exploding in China, as well as countries all over the world, so the harvest is indeed plentiful. The problem is that the laborers are few.
For this reason, we cannot be content to simply let “other Christians” spread the Gospel. The statement “the laborers are few,” which comes directly from the lips of Christ, is a personal indictment. It’s not that there aren’t enough Christians–it’s that the Christians aren’t doing enough. The laborers are few because *we* are not laboring. Too often we are using our time for our own selfish ends, while our brothers and sisters in China are praying for someone to come and teach them. This is not acceptable. It is every single Christian’s responsibility to be using his or her gifts for the sake of the Kingdom, and if you cannot say that you are doing so, then you’ve got to make some changes. For some of us, that means moving to China. For others of us, it means being more intentional about witnessing to co-workers. But either way, we cannot ignore our brothers and sisters in that Chinese house church, and we cannot ignore their thirst for the Gospel, a thirst that we could easily help with. We have a responsibility to them, and to the world, so we can never let ourselves forget that the laborers are only few if *we* are the ones who are not laboring.