"Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.'" - Matt 9:37-38
I believe that a certain term has crept into the vernacular of the church that has crippled the effectiveness of God's work. That term is volunteer. A volunteer is an individual who, by choice, decides to give of their time and resources to a particular cause or project. However, the other side of that term gives that same individual the option of not participating in said cause or project. Another way of putting it is that the individual is lord over whether or not they will do the work.
I believe that's why Jesus did not call for volunteers. He called for laborers and servants. When a disciple views himself or herself as a volunteer a mentality can be produced that causes them to see the work of the gospel as optional. Such an attitude may even progress to the point of the individual seeing their participation in the work as a favor to the church. However, when a disciple views himself or herself as a laborer or a servant they see clearly that Christ is Lord and that He is commanding (not suggesting) that we engage in His work.
Some differences between volunteers and laborers:
1) Volunteers can opt out if the work becomes too hard or too time consuming. Laborers are committed to see the work through to the end.
2) Volunteers work for personal rewards (even if it's just feeling good). Laborers work when rewards are few and far between.
3) Volunteers can place other priorities above the work. Laborers organize their priorities according to what the master says is important.
4) Volunteers reserve their rights. Laborers lay aside their rights for the good of the work.
Of course, as members of a democratic and free society we get very uncomfortable at the idea of being commanded to do anything. We tend to view God as more of a councilman in our lives who gives us advice, but we hold the veto option open at all times. Yet, the fact remains that He is Lord and we are His people. This fact compels us to be servants and laborers, not volunteers.
Let me clarify that the compelling we receive is not at the point of a sword like Simon of Cyrene (Matt 27:32), but rather as Paul was compelled in Acts 18:5 out of His devotion to the Savior who showed him so much grace. We are compelled out of love and a grateful heart. We are compelled in thoughts for our fellow man. We are compelled because we have acknowledged God as God.
You may protest that I am suggesting that God has taken away our free choice. On the contrary, I am putting our free choice in a proper and Scriptural perspective. Perhaps an illustration would help. The United States has the largest volunteer military in the world. These brave men and women voluntarily join the service. But take not of that term service, because once they join they are compelled to serve. By volunteering to join the military they have chosen to lay down their rights and subject themselves to the authority placed over them and to the mission they are given. Once they volunteer, they cannot simply voluntarily leave when they don't like something. They have volunteered to be committed.
Such is the way each disciple of Christ should see himself or herself. We have willingly given our lives to the Lord in a commitment to Him and His work. I would encourage you today to throw out the volunteer mentality with its "escape hatch" option and embrace the Lord's call for laborers. Together, as laborers, we can handle the heat and work of the harvest field and please the Lord of the Harvest who has been so good to us.