The Harvest Still Plentiful … The Workers Still Few … PRAY!8 min read

It was a brisk, dry, and sun drenched morning—as good as it gets in Michigan’s winter—when Pastor Shipley rolled into the parking lot of St. John’s Lutheran Church. It was the first Tuesday of the month and he had traveled to this sister congregation for the monthly circuit pastors’ gathering. Shipley normally enjoyed getting together with his fellow pastors in the area because there was usually a good exchange of thoughts and ideas as they engaged the Word of God, discussed pastoral practice, and prayed for one another. What’s more, there were usually more than a few good laughs, especially if Pastor Tom Dillon was there. (There’s always one guy in any group…)

However, today Shipley was attending the meeting out of duty. As he put the car in PARK, grabbed his Bible, donned his face mask, and crawled out of the car, his mind was racing with the dozens of things he needed to get accomplished. Shut-in and hospital visits, worship/ Bible study/sermon preparation, follow-up with recent visitors in worship, prepare a devotion for Board Night, all mashed into his consciousness at the same time, along with the emotional punch of realizing he needed to also prepare for Mr. Sim’s funeral on Thursday and the Wilson/Rogers wedding on Saturday; and all of it with COVID -19 restrictions and considerations in mind. That list was just for his call as Pastor. Shipley also understood his call to be a husband and father. He tried to dismiss it as “just one week of crazy,” but he knew it was more normal than odd. He needed to be two people … at least!

“Shipley!” The deep baritone voice bellowing across the meeting room, barely muffled by a mask, could be none other than Pastor Tom Dillon’s. “I’ve got someone here you have to meet,” he continued in the same breath and volume.

“This is Ryan, and he’s my new partner in ministry,” Tom said excitedly as he dragged this 30-something man by the elbow from the coffee urn to the front of the room. Shipley noticed that Ryan still had a mouthful of donut jammed in his cheek and, with the help of Dillon, had managed to spill hot coffee on his wrist creating a grimace behind his cheery smile. They greeted with a fist bump as Ryan offered his donut-ed hand.

“Wow! It’s great to meet you, Ryan,” Shipley said, then turned to Pastor Dillon with a questioning look, requesting an explanation.

“Yeah, Ryan has been a member at Trinity for a couple years, now,” responded Tom. “He’s originally from the Chicago area, but moved here for his work. He and his wife Kristin have become very active in our congregation. I noticed how interested they were to build friendships and to connect with people both in worship and in Bible class. He has asked some great questions and offered some wonderful insights during our Sunday morning classes.”

So, how is it that now you’re this crazy pastor’s ‘partner in ministry’?” Shipley asked, looking at Ryan who swallowed hard on the donut with a sip of coffee.

“Well,” began Ryan, “This ‘crazy pastor” as you call him invited me out for lunch. During that lunch, he shared with me that he’d been ‘praying the LORD of the harvest’ for another worker in the harvest field around Trinity. He said that my name kept showing up on his short list of potential workers. Pastor Dillon has also taken two other guys out for lunch. One is a retired factory worker and one is a business owner. All three of us are being trained as his ‘partners in ministry.’ As for me, my wife Kristin and I live in a large apartment complex, and Pastor Dillon has been trying to reach out with the Gospel to the hundreds of individuals and families that live there. So, he’s asked me and the other guys to get some training through the Michigan District to become Deacons. I’ll be serving as an evangelist and hopefully start a Bible study or a house church among the residents of our complex. In addition, I’ll help out with shut-ins and hospital visitation.”

Shipley was impressed with the idea, but needed to ask more questions to really understand.

“So, are you quitting your job?”

“Oh, no,” Ryan immediately shot back. “I’m taking coursework online through the Michigan District’s new School of Missions (Lay), through Sioux Falls Seminary. It’s all online and I can work at my own pace while continuing to keep my job to pay the bills and also live into my calling as a worker in God’s harvest field!”

Pastor Shipley could see the excitement on Ryan’s face and hear it in his voice. He broke in with another question. “So, you’re going to work part-time with Pastor Dillon in addition to your day job … and take classes?”

“Yeah, sort of,” Ryan responded, trying to frame a fuller response. “You see, in this process, I’m actually using my work with Pastor Dillon as part of my coursework assignments. It’s really great to try to apply what I’m learning from the recorded lectures and reading assignments to the ministry God is calling me into through Trinity. What’s also great is that all the instructors are LCMS guys who have been teaching in the Michigan District’s Deacon Training Program in the past, so even though we’re using the platform from Sioux Falls Seminary, it’s uniquely from our Lutheran theological perspective.”

Pastor Shipley was becoming more intrigued by the concept and its potential to raise up more “workers for the harvest field.” He was compelled to ask another question. “So, Dillon just takes you to lunch and throws this idea at you and now you’re working a full-time job, going to school, and working with him? Is Trinity paying you?”

Ryan gave out a little chuckle and a wry smile as he glanced at Pastor Dillon. “No, I’m not getting any money from Trinity, technically. Because Pastor Dillon and the congregation have asked me to enter into this little ‘evangelistic endeavor’ in a more formal way and get this training, the congregation has agreed to pay for most of the $300 per month tuition. I’ve got some skin in the game too. But I should be able to get through the training and finish my Master Assessments in 13-15 months if I stay at it. At the end, if I’m successful, I’ll have a Master of Arts in Missional Formation. I’ll also have compiled a very large portfolio of my work should the congregation ask me to continue my training and become ordained as a Specialized Ministry Pastor (SMP) through one of our seminaries. Or, God may lead me to go the full route and get an M. Div. later. Either way, I’m learning a ton through the process and still engaged in hands-on ministry. For example, one of my assignments was to develop a team to identify a community need, plan a way to meet it, and carry it out. That was fun! I’m not doing it so I get paid. My biggest goal is to join Jesus in the harvest field and be the best worker I can be.” Then he grinned and added, “Plus the goal that Kristin and I have of becoming parents!”

“That’s great,” responded Pastor Shipley. Then he added, “Well, welcome to the group! I hope we get to know each other better. And know that this group will be praying for you and your efforts in the harvest. We’ll also pray for you because you have to work with this crazy guy!” Shipley threw a knowing glance at Tom who responded with a laugh and a shoulder punch.

Driving away from the meeting that Tuesday, Pastor Shipley reviewed the conversation with Ryan and Pastor Dillon. With all he had on his plate, he knew he could use some extra “workers in the harvest field”. He committed to pray, asking the Holy Spirit to lead him to some leaders in his congregation who might prayerfully consider training through the Michigan School of Mission (Lay). He knew there was so much more that could be done if there were more well-trained servant-leaders. It was true of his congregation … and it was true for the whole Church.


The Michigan School of Missional Formation, formerly known as the Deacon/Pre-SMP, & Ministry Assistant Training Program, is an accredited Master of Arts degree in association with Sioux Falls Seminary that provides thorough and ongoing theological training from an LCMS perspective for laity to serve more effectively in congregational ministry under the supervision of an Ordained Pastor. The program also provides initial theological training for laymen preparing to enter the LCMS Specific Ministry Pastor track toward ordination. For more information, visit

Photo (c) Vera Cires/Unsplash

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About the Author

Rev. Dr. Robert E. Kasper serves as Assistant to the President - Congregation Mission and Ministries / Ministry Support for the Michigan District, LCMS.

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