Why Does This Matter? An Invitation to the Fall Leadership Gathering
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Matthew 9: 37-38
Most years following our Fall Gathering event, the synod staff have sent out a survey to everyone who attended, asking for feedback on how things went. What has been interesting to me is that the feedback each year is usually the same. Around a third of the participants wish there had been more time devoted to intellectual, scholarly pursuits such as a debate on theology. Another third wish there had been more time devoted to practical ministry matters, such as new innovative thinking on reshaping the church. And another third wish there had been more quality time together with colleagues. All three of these areas are equally important of course. But this perennial conundrum of what content to include in our Fall Event led me to ask a much bigger question: Why do we gather once a year in the first place? Is it a theology conference? A strategy meeting for future church? A chance to vent and destress with likeminded colleagues?
I think the Fall Event has been and can be all of the above, but I do not think that is why we meet every year. In both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, there is the shared account of Jesus appointing the disciples to go out ahead of him and do ministry in his name. In Matthew especially, Jesus speaks long on the importance of the mission, that the disciples declare that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near, and that they must expect difficulties along the way. Ultimately, both accounts in Luke and Matthew end with the disciples returning back to Jesus to report back on how things went, but also to be together again as a community of disciples. Perhaps I am reading into the Gospel text somewhat, but consider that the followers of Jesus are together more often than they are apart. So while they may be sent out on assignments in pairs to labor in the fields of the harvest, they are not meant to be permanently separated from their community of disciples. They are always gathered back in.
It is traditional in the church that all of us who labor in the fields as pastors, deacons, lay ministers, chaplains, missionaries, youth ministers, faith formation ministers, bishops, etc… are gathered back in. And while the gathering in may be for reasons of a church council or other weighty matters, I would argue that simply gathering together in Christ’s name as his appointed laborers to share stories of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world and to celebrate the Eucharist is the most important reason for our being together. For most of our time in ministry, we are sent out to labor in the fields, to announce the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in this world. But lest we become too puffed up with our own sense of importance, or we become too ground down by the weight of ministry, we are always gathered back in to rejoice in the Spirit’s work and be nourished by Christ’s own body.
I certainly hope that during this fall’s Leadership Gathering there is opportunity for theology debates, workshops on outreach, and long gab sessions with friends over coffee. But I would still argue that even if none of those things were to happen at our event, our very act of being gathered in by the Spirit for prayer, praise, and sacrament is more than enough. In fact, it is everything. For it is the Lord’s harvest that we have been sent out into. And it is the Lord who gathers us in as part of that harvest too.
A harvest always implies a gathering in…an in-gathering of the fruits of the field and the workers at the end of the day. And so during our time together, gathered in by the Spirit, I pray that we catch the smallest glimpse, a foretaste of the great and final harvest in-gathering that Christ has promised for all of creation at the end of time. May our worship together be a harvest festival for all of the Lord’s humble laborers. It is the Lord’s harvest and the Lord’s saving work. But what joy for us to give thanks to the Lord of the harvest together as the great communion of saints! Amen.
-Pr. Kristen Van Stee
On behalf of the Nebraska Synod Staff