By Randy C. Davis
TBC Executive Director
Okay, show of hands. How many of you have ever heard of Knowles Shaw (without searching for him on Google). Raise those hands high. Tennessee is a long state. Nobody? Honestly, before this column I didn’t know who he was either. But he’s worth knowing about.
Shaw was an American composer, author, and evangelist from Ohio. Thousands across our state grew up singing his most notable song: “Bringing in the Sheaves.” You remember: “Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness//Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve//Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping//We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”
That song is based on Psalm 126:6. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” I’ve always loved that hymn because it so vividly describes who we should be as disciples of Christ. But my perspective has changed regarding the “bringing in” part.
I grew up in an era when the success of the church was measured by how many people were coming to the church. We’d teach our kids to fold their hands and recite, “Here is the church, here is the steeple; open the doors and see all the people.” There are certainly still people coming to church these days, but not nearly as many as there were. The number of sheaves being brought in is down.
As I’ve grown in ministry, I’ve learned a more successful New Testament-modeled church is measured by how many people are going. I believe we’ve lost sight of what Shaw was teaching in the first part of his hymn’s verse. “Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness; Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve.” You can’t reap what you don’t sow, and there is no harvest to be had sitting in a church. Knowles was advocating sowing — planting — morning, noon, and evening in some field somewhere.
And that is really the heart the first three of the Five Objectives we as a Tennessee Baptist Convention network of churches have affirmed. By 2024, we’d like to see at least 50,000 people a year saved and baptized, and we’d like to see at least 500 churches revitalized, and 1,000 churches added to our number. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to see the Kingdom grow? I believe we’re off to an encouraging start with hundreds of 1-5-1 Harvest Plant groups that have started across our state in recent months.
These may seem like lofty goals — and they are. However, they are goals that basically keep pace with the population growth in our state and the percentage of spiritually lost people that increases with the growth. It simply isn’t good enough to have the mentality that, “If we build it they will come.” The church’s steeple is no longer a beacon of light to the people of a community looking for peace while bobbing helplessly in life’s stormy waters. We Christians must see ourselves as the Coast Guard, people passionately doing whatever it takes to navigate into the storm to rescue people. That obviously means getting beyond the walls of our church and starting Bible studies out where people are, and preaching points, and connecting with people cross culturally, and being ministers in every way to our neighbors.
We need more people, gathered in more churches, who can reach more people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. The ultimate objective isn’t reaching the numbers reflected in the Five Objectives. The numbers are there to help measure if we are making a difference.
The ultimate objective is to see God’s people moving beyond church walls and into their communities. I firmly believe our usefulness to God in reaching our state for Jesus is directly proportionate to the effort we make to move out from our pews and into our towns.
That was the pressing passion of Knowles Shaw. He went wherever needed and did whatever it took to make sure people heard the gospel. It is said that he was so prolific in his pursuit of souls that he baptized more than 20,000 people. He was just 44 when he died in a train accident near Dallas in 1878. May his dying words be the defining characteristic of Tennessee Baptists.
“It is a grand thing to rally people to the Cross of Christ.”
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.