“Instill in the hearts of our children
a desire to follow you
as they prepare for future days.
Help them distinguish
between what is passing and what is eternal,
between instant thrills and lasting joy.
Encourage more young people
to prepare for service
in the public ministry of the gospel.”
(Excerpt from the “Prayer of the Church,”
The Service, Setting Three, Christian Worship 2021, p. 198)
As these words are prayed again and again in our churches across the country, you are seeing the restoration of a corporate worship practice that has been too often missing among us for 30 years.
A Practice Lost
In The Lutheran Hymnal, used in our WELS churches from 1941 to 1993, the Prayer of the Church for both non-communion (page 5) and communion Sundays (page 15) included this petition: “Send forth laborers into Thy harvest . . .” When Christian Worship 1993 came into use, there was a shift away from a repeating General Prayer to a set of Prayers of the Church that rotated through the seasons of the church year.
We could debate the pros and cons of that shift. Yet this much is certain: what was unintentionally lost in our corporate prayers was the weekly petition to our Father to raise up a new generation of gospel workers. In the eleven sample Prayers of the Church in Christian Worship 1993, there were some petitions asking God to bless those currently preaching and teaching the Word, and there was a flowering of petitions asking God to embolden his entire army of royal priests to speak to others the hope they profess. But you can scan all those prayers without finding a single clear reference to what Jesus urged us to pray: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38).
Now certainly, many of us continued to pray Jesus’ petition in our personal or family prayers. But was there not a loss when we no longer prayed this petition together in our congregations? What may have been the impact of that loss also on our individual or family prayers? A pattern lost in corporate worship easily becomes a pattern lost in our individual and family worship.
It’s not too much of a stretch to wonder whether part of what we are experiencing now in vacancies is the fruit of this truism of our prayer life: “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).
A Practice Restored
That’s why the restoration in Christian Worship 2021 of the historic practice is so wonderful. Week after week, as the assembled people of God, we send our prayers heavenward, asking our Father to lead many from the next generation to serve in gospel ministry!
What a perfect time for this practice to be restored! Anyone who follows call lists and vacancy numbers knows we are struggling as a church body to provide anywhere near a sufficient number of staff ministers, teachers, and pastors. That is true even if all we consider is maintaining current levels of ministry. What really makes the need glaring is when we compare available workers to the expanding outreach opportunities in new mission starts and in schools with growing enrollments, from preschool through high school.
Partners in the Practice
I certainly don’t wish to shift attention away from MLC. We feel the weight of the responsibility you’ve given us to train a new generation of gospel messengers. As we Pursue Excellence under the Cross, we assure you that we take seriously the task our Lord—and you—have entrusted to our campus.
But the task was never MLC’s alone. The work of recruiting young (and not so young) men and women for ministry isn’t something that happens only in New Ulm or wherever our MLC representatives happen to travel. The task belongs to our entire fellowship. It belongs to all who cherish the truth of the gospel proclaimed and shared!
And prayers for such faithful workers aren’t meant to rise to heaven only from New Ulm and here and there when we think of it in our church body. If we take seriously Jesus’ encouragement to pray for workers, such prayers will rise again and again—corporately and individually—all across our synod.
When all of us do both—pray and recruit—then we may find that God makes those we are encouraging the very answers to our prayers.
Dear Father, encourage more young people to prepare for service in the public ministry. Amen.
President Gurgel is sharing an adaptation of this article at the 2023 Synod Convention in Saginaw, Michigan, this August.