The fifty-fourth Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, meeting in the New Orleans Superdome from June 27 to July 6, 1985, adopted as its major theme for the coming quinquennium Harvest 90. What is the significance of this theme? Will Harvest 90 make a difference in the growth of the world church? Is it just another program? Is Harvest 90 just a slogan or is it a concept rooted in Scripture with compelling power to motivate the entire church membership to accomplish great exploits for God?
Five key words suggest themselves as we study the biblical concept of harvest. They are commission, process, unity, diversity, and urgency.
It is the Lord of harvest who has sent laborers into His vineyard (Matt. 20:1- 10). He has assigned the task. It is the Lord of harvest who says, "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" The Lord of harvest calls the church to action. The harvest motif is a biblical concept that speaks of a commission given, a work to accomplish, and a goal to achieve. Harvest speaks of activity. In a secular society that is becoming increasingly materialistic, affluent, and pleasureseeking the church has received a mandate from the Lord of harvest. This mandate is a clarion call from the Lord to arise and reap. He emphatically declares, "Lift up your eyes and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest" (John 4:35).
God's central desire for this world is that lost men and women be saved. (1 Tim. 2:3,4; Luke 19:10). The church is unfaithful to its Lord unless it is an active participant in reaping earth's final harvest.
The outstanding book In Search of Excellence (a study of leading corporations in America) opens with a chapter entitled "A Bias for Action." The authors observe that those corporations that are action oriented are significantly more successful than those that focus too heavily on planning. They state, "There is no more important trait among the excellent companies than an action orientation." 1 A bias for action, a preference for doing something—anything—rather than sending a question through repeated cycles of analyses and committee reports, is a vital principle of success.
Although plans, concepts, and ideas are extremely important, the biblical concept of harvest is one of aggressive action. Thus, Harvest 90 is not so much a philosophy to contemplate as it is an earnest appeal to action. It beckons people to distribute literature, give Bible studies, to hold evangelistic seminars, to preach sermons, contact the lost, and to harvest men and women for Christ now! The Lord of harvest compels the reapers by shouting the command "Go ye."
The second key concept in the harvest theme is process. A harvest does not occur automatically at the end of the growing season. There is a process or cycle that must be followed to ensure an abundant crop. Farmlands must be plowed, soil fertilized, seeds planted, crops cultivated, fields irrigated, and growing plants weeded to reach the full potential of the harvest. A farmer must plant in the spring, cultivate in the summer, reap in the autumn, and sow a cover crop for winter. It's a cyclic process. Harvest 90 involves a process of sowing and reaping. It calls for church members to develop relationships with friends, neighbors, and working associates. It challenges Seventh-day Adventist churches throughout the world to become centers of love and redemption for their community.
In his excellent little book on witnessing, Arthur McPhee is correct when he says, "The caring evangelist is concerned for persons, their back grounds, their hurts, their needs." 2 He then astutely adds, "We have to earn a hearing, which necessitates building relationships. And to build relationships you must associate and identify." 3 As the felt needs of men and women are met, their walls of prejudice come tumbling down, and they are more willing to listen. Harvest 90 focuses on the process of cultivating friendships. It invites members to make friends, to lead those friends to become Christian friends, and to lead those Christian friends to become Seventh-day Adventist Christian friends.
There is a cycle in soul saving, a process. The move from secularism to Christianity is sometimes gradual. A growing church uses a wholistic approach to reach its community. Men and women throughout the community are at varying degrees of spiritual interest. The growing church recognizes that the process of harvest is cyclic—some fruit ripens earlier, some ripens later. The focus is both on sowing and reaping. From smiles and handshakes to invitations to dinner, to shared personal testimonies, to loaned books, to Bible studies, to invitations to evangelistic meetings—the process continues. Evangelism in the growing church is not relegated to a series of public meetings, it is a way of life. Harvest 90 urges members to develop the kind of relationships with their neighbors that will allow them to feel perfectly comfortable in inviting the neighbors to church. It speaks of an ongoing process of evangelism on Sabbath morning, in midweek services, and during regularly scheduled evangelistic services. It is a continual process in the growing church.
The third word that harvest suggests is unity. Every successful harvest presupposes a measure of united labor among the harvesters. Jesus reminds His disciples of this unity among workers with these words: "And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together" (John 4:36). Harvest 90 calls for an integrated team approach. It appeals for unity between pastors and laity, between medical workers and ministerial workers, between administrators and field workers, between teachers and students. The work is so vast, the challenge so great that unless all the resources of the church focus upon its accomplishment, the goal of worldwide evangelism cannot be achieved. Although the church in the Book of Acts began small, it grew. In a secular, materialistic Roman society, the Holy Spirit working through the early disciples touched thousands. Why? Scripture declares in Acts 1:14, "These all continued with one accord." In Acts 2:1 Dr. Luke adds, "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." The Acts of the Apostles says: "The disciples prayed with intense earnestness for a fitness to meet men and in their daily intercourse to speak words that would lead sinners to Christ. Putting away all differences, all desire for the supremacy, they came close together in Christian fellowship." 4
Harvest 90 is an earnest appeal for a deep spiritual relationship which in Christ breaks down barriers. It is a call for unity. In recent years some have been more interested in kicking theological footballs between opposing sides than in winning souls to Christ. With a world longing to know saving grace, many were like spectators in the stands applauding when their side scored points. Harvest 90 is a call for all of Adventism to participate in reaping earth's final harvest. It is a call for the 4.5 million Adventist men and women of all races and nationalities to unite in heralding earth's final warning. No harvest can be reaped while the workers are debating about what methods of reaping to use, who is to perform what task in the reaping process, and whether or not the harvest is ripe. Only as all the workers unite on the focused task of reaping will the harvest be effectively gathered.
Harvest 90 is not a straitjacket approach to methods, with no room for differences. It recognizes that there will be different methods of labor among workers. It also acknowledges that individual workers may view things differently at times, and it respects individuality of opinion among "varying groups within the church. Yet it maintains an inherent unity on our mission and the uniqueness of the fundamental principles of Adventism.
A variety of gifts imparted by the Spirit, creatively channeled into wholistic ministries, meeting the needs of men and women in the community, will enable the church to grow rapidly. Harvest 90 is an earnest appeal for a unified focus on the redemption of the lost.
This leads naturally to the fourth concept of harvest revealed in Scripture—diversity. Throughout Scripture, varying elements combine to produce the harvest. Sunshine, rain, planting, cultivating, and harvesting all have their part (Deut. 33:14; Joel 2:23-26; Isa. 61:11; Luke 13:6-9; Ps. 126:5,6). An abundant harvest depends upon an amazingly diverse variety of factors! Alone each may seem insignificant, but combined they are a vital part of the production process. God has placed a variety of gifts within the church (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4)- Directed into creative minis tries, these Spirit-imparted gifts enable each church member to discover the sphere of service where he or she can be most effective in ministry for Christ. For a local church to grow, its members must discover their gifts, be equipped to use them, and channel them into service.
Unity must never lead to conformity. Harvest 90 is not a one-method, singletrack approach. It does not superimpose plans or goals upon individuals or local congregations. It allows latitude. All the gifts, talents, and abilities that God has given are focused on the one task of reaching the lost for Christ. Some may develop hospitality ministries—sharing bread, soup, and loving concern for their neighbors. Others may give out literature; many may actively give Bible studies. Still others might be involved in a variety of health ministries and others in youth outreach programs—but the goal of it all is souls for Christ. God has placed a variety of gifts in the church to meet a variety of needs in the community. These varying ministries reach more people than if there were only a single-track approach to the community. As churches develop wholistic, multi-faceted ministries to the community, the churches will grow.
Jesus was a master at meeting the felt needs of men and women. He never lost sight of the individual. To Jesus, the person was more important than the method. John 1:38 records that Jesus asked the two disciples who came to Him, "What seek ye?" This reflects Jesus' ministry well. He was constantly asking men and women, What do you seek? What are your needs? What do you desire?
The first six chapters of John illustrate Jesus' need-centered approach clearly. John 2 tells how Jesus met a social need. The wine had run out at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus miraculously produced the pure juice of the grape. John 3 tells of Nicodemus' meeting with Jesus. His need was obviously spiritual. Jesus emphatically declared, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (verse 3). In John 4 we find the story of a lonely, fearful woman whose life Jesus changed. She was a social outcast who needed love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Jesus met her need by revealing Himself as the water of life. The Samaritan woman discovered in Him the one able to satisfy the deepest longings of the soul.
On another occasion, as recorded in John 5, a weary sufferer who had sought deliverance for thirty-eight years pain fully requested help. When Jesus saw his physical need, He met it. He didn't begin with a Bible study! Nor did He condemn the man for the sin that to a great degree had led to the disease. And finally, John 6 recounts how when the multitudes had listened to Him all day and were hungry, Jesus met their need by multiplying the loaves and fishes. The crowd became so enthusiastic about Christ's ministry that they wanted to make Him king. At that moment Jesus was on the verge of national greatness. He had so met their needs that they sensed He was indeed the Messiah. It is quite true that they considered Him to be a national messiah; nevertheless, the conclusion is striking. Jesus used a variety of approaches to meet a variety of needs. Thus the multitudes praised Him as king.
As the church today uses the methods of Christ it will grow rapidly. "Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow me.'" 5
The fifth word that reveals an important aspect of Harvest 90 is urgency. There is an immediacy about reaping. Jeremiah 8:20 declares, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." In the natural world there is a temporal aspect to harvest. There is a time to reap. If mature crops are not reaped, they rot on the vine. Reaping time is soon over—and when it is over, it is over. Crops not reaped today may be past reaping tomorrow. Thus, there is an urgency about harvest. When harvesttime comes, reaping must have priority.
The Book of Revelation reveals this same urgency about the harvest. Revelation 14:14-20 describes Jesus' return on a cloud with a sickle in His hand to reap earth's final harvest. That harvest includes both golden grain for the gamer of God and red grapes to be trod out in the winepress of His wrath. Men and women are saved or lost. They go to heaven or hell, eternal salvation or eternal damnation. The far-reaching consequences of their decisions indicate the urgency of the church's task.
So the church in this quinquennium must give priority to reaping. Some men and women will never accept Christ unless we confront them with the claims of the everlasting gospel now. They are ready to respond now! This is not the time for a foggy focus. It is not the time for a vague vision. Now is the hour for laity and pastors, for evangelists and administrators, for educators and medical personnel to unite their efforts in reaping earth's final harvest. Only one thing will matter in the kingdom of God—souls won for Christ. Harvest 90 speaks of priority. It calls the church to focus its energies on the winning of the lost now, for if we do not do it now the opportunity for many will be forever gone.
1 Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman,
Jr., In Search of Excellence (New York: Harper &
Row, 1982), p. 154.
2 Friendship Evangelism (Grand Rapids; ZondervanPub.
House, 1978), p. 51.
3 Ibid., p. 85.
4 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn. ,
1911), p. 37.
5 White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), p.