Pray to the Lord of the Harvest
DALLAS, Texas—This week we are in Dallas for the annual National Religious Broadcasters conference June 21–25. Members of the Beyond Today team are with us, including Peter Eddington, Operations Manager for Media and Communication Services; Gary Petty, Beyond Today host; Rudy Rangel, production supervisor and Clint Porter, senior video editor.
The NRB Christian Media Convention is the premier conference for Christian broadcasters, media pastors, program producers, film producers, webmasters, social media managers, bloggers, podcasters, authors, publishers and other communications professionals. Also, this year there has been plenty of discussion about legal threats and challenges to our religious freedoms. This has been brought to the forefront in this year of the pandemic, censorship and de-platforming. These subjects were covered quite vibrantly in the various forums and workshops that we attended. It was interesting and enlightening to see how others are coping and finding solutions to common problems.
In the last year with COVID and lockdowns, there has been a tremendous effort to keep connected digitally as we in the United Church of God have done to maintain community.
As we all know, the Church faced a highly unusual year in 2020 and into 2021. For several months, our church services were largely changed from in-person attendance to streaming TV productions into members’ homes. Many outreach efforts for preaching the gospel took on different forms. Some of what we did with emergency workarounds in live streaming, for example, has given rise to new ways to preach the gospel to the public and feed our people through online sermons, Bible studies, discussion groups and new ways of communication. Forums and workshops here have addressed not only the technical aspects of connecting, but the various techniques of presentation, as well.
This has also been a year of threats to our religious freedom. Some of the titles of presentations in this arena were:
• Safeguarding Religious Liberty for Christian Organizations and Nonprofits
• The Human Cost to Denying Religious Freedom: A Conversation with Dr. Jerry Davis [President of the College of the Ozarks suing the government for requiring colleges to house transgender students in the dormitories of the gender with which they identify] and Jack Phillips [Masterpiece Bakery in Colorado that refused to bake a cake for same-sex marriage]
• Platform Censorship, Section 230, and the Future of Social Media
At this conference we are gaining a lot of knowledge by talking to people who are successful in what they do who can give us good advice. For me, podcasting is of particular interest and I’ve gone from one podcast in progress to another to gain further insight into this medium. Another interesting presentation was about the power of telling a story through your speaking and writing. After all, the Bible is a compendium of stories that tell the story of humanity.
One highlight for us was a luncheon with Phil Cooke who is a writer, television producer and media consultant based in Burbank, California, who gave a noon presentation on Tuesday. We were able to speak privately afterwards with him about the trends and questions asked by the public, as he saw them. One thing he brought out was the dramatic shift in the past year of young people toward irreligious “woke” culture.
We live in a time like no other with divisions, anger, intolerance and indecency. Yet, in the midst of this darkness and morass there is hope—as not all are duped. A study has shown that 80% of unchurched people—people who don’t attend or belong to a church—are well aware that “something is out of control” in the world and are looking for someone to give them answers. Can we be the ones to do this?
We in the United Church of God are blessed with superb media resources. We have well-trained ministers and writers. We have a state-of-the-art television studio that will soon also have the capacity to produce animated presentations.
But, after listening to media professionals objectively talk about the various platforms that other churches communicate on, we need to consider and appreciate the astonishing clutter in today’s marketplace. It is common knowledge that Herbert W. Armstrong effectively tapped the communication tools and platforms of his day to preach the gospel in an unusual and powerful way.
That media environment has changed dramatically. Where powerful clear-channel AM radio stations or terrestrial-only television once reached millions of people, today there are hundreds—if not thousands—of religious TV programs cluttering the airwaves. Whole cable channels (including satellite) today exist that broadcast nothing but religious programming. Back in the 1930s-1950s, it was quite different in terms of content and approach.
Further, Mr. Armstrong deployed then-modern advertising techniques where he could. I believe we need to deploy this same strategy in 2021 and beyond! The apostle Paul dictated and wrote letters to help extend the power of communicating the gospel. If Paul were alive today, he would definitely use the Internet, podcasts and every means at his disposal to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God far and wide.
We must do this today. We especially must explore and create a new robust digital platform, using the foundation of our current experience and content on ucg.org.
I’ll conclude with these words of Jesus Christ: “You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!” (John 4:34-36 John 4:34-36  Jesus said to them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.
 Say not you, There are yet four months, and then comes harvest? behold, I say to you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.
 And he that reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit to life eternal: that both he that sows and he that reaps may rejoice together.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
These words of Christ have weighed powerfully on me the past few days. The evidence around us is compelling of its truth! Every day I pray to God for insight and direction. Are we effectively preaching the gospel? Are we focused on making disciples? Are we as a Church doing the will of God and truly following our living Leader, Jesus Christ? I hope you are joining me in those prayers. A companion scripture to this is “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’” (Matthew 9:37-38 Matthew 9:37-38  Then said he to his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few;
 Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.
American King James Version×).
We need a unified, zealous effort to renew our efforts to proclaim the glorious truth of God and Jesus Christ to all the world. We need people who can complement and support our current professional team and extend their capacities. We need resources and direction. As this world and its way decay, we want to proclaim a message of joy and of a coming Kingdom. We want to declare the sins of this world and the consequences of unrepented behavior, but we also want to bring hope, real hope.
Let’s all pray to the Lord of the harvest today!