Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On Faithfulness and Fruitfulness: Part II

On Faithfulness and Fruitfulness: Part II

A week or so ago I wrote upon the importance—perhaps even the necessity—of faithfully working at that which God has called you to despite the lack of fruit generated from it. At that time, I had intended to write a second post on the subject just a few days later. But in an interesting turn of irony, my efforts to do so proved unfruitful. So here it is about a week later, I’ve had a few more days to dwell on the subject, and I believe I’m ready to shed some Godly wisdom on this.

Before we get any further, I want to take a ½ step back and talk about fruit. I made a pretty big deal about working even when you don’t see fruit last time, but I realized something important: Fruit’s not always what—or where—you think it is.

Picture that you’re a farmer or a gardener: You begin with a hope, a dream—some might even call it a vision—to grow a certain kind of fruit. To make those hopes into reality, you develop a plan. You begin to work that plan; cultivating the soil, planting the seeds, giving the seeds nourishment and sunlight and just the right amount of water. You’re attentive to the needs of the plant as it begins to grow, but you’re careful not to smother it. In short, you’ve done everything a good leader—whoops! I mean farmer or gardener!—should do to ensure that you get some good fruit at harvest time.

So, you’ve done your preparatory work and you want to see fruit. What are the possibilities that could happen? What might spoil your perfectly laid plans for fruitfulness?

1) You could be looking for long-term fruit in a short-term timeframe.

When I was a teenager, my family lived on an orchard for a period of time. I learned a good deal more about fruit trees than I knew existed! And one of the things that I learned is that a brand-new fruit tree will not produce fruit for 3-4 years.

If you planted a peach tree, that news would be a BIG shock if you expected to have fruit in the fall, wouldn’t it? Similarly, in your ministry you could be looking for fruit that takes a long time to develop (like discipleship, changed attitudes about giving, hearts radically committed towards mission), but you’ve only allotted a short span of time in which you thought you’d see it. Think a little more deeply about what kind of fruit you want to see, and then ask yourself, “How long did that change take to produce fruit in my own life?” I think you’ll find that you’ve most likely underestimated the time it takes for a particular fruit to develop.

2) You could be looking for the wrong kind of fruit.

Most ministry leaders know very well that the old, old warning to not compare apples to oranges also stands true in ministry. But I know that I myself have been duped on a number of occasions into looking for oranges when what I truly planted in the first place was apples!

Let me explain: Specific ministry actions are intended to produce specific ministry results. No doubt that you, as a ministry leader, have specific results—or “fruits”—that you want to see from a given ministry. But have you done the work to ensure that what you want to harvest is actually the thing you’ve planted?

Take, for instance, the worship leader who sets out to rejuvenate and enrich the worship service. His grand vision, the one constant imperative that drives him constantly forward, is to make the service a place where God’s people can grow deeper, broader, and richer in worship. He comes up with a number of—let’s admit it—flat-out fantastic ideas to enrich the worship service. And then, to justify the changes he’s made, he commits to the church board to faithfully tracking worship attendance.

Now what’s that ministry leader just done? He’s decided that the best way to confirm to himself and others that he’s accomplishing what he wants to accomplish (deeper, broader, richer worship lives) is by looking for a different kind of fruit, namely counting rear ends in the chairs and pews. While worship attendance is a good thing to know, it won’t tell the worship leader (or church board!) anything meaningful about whether or not the goal of rejuvenating and enriching worship has been met! In short, he’s planted apples but counting oranges. The worship leader will continue to work hard at his new, exciting worship services, but until he learns to look for the kind of fruit he expects to harvest, he will be almost always disappointed.

3) You could be missing the fruit because you’re always looking at weeds.

One time, many years ago, my wife wanted a vegetable garden. The trouble was, she was pregnant and didn’t believe that she’d be able to keep up with the work such a garden would require. So I, being young, foolish, and a rather naïve romantic to boot, declared my undying love for my wife and to demonstrate, I would plant the garden and care for it myself.

Well, the garden was indeed planted, and if I recall correctly it was weeded . . . for a time. I lost interest, however, and very soon after that the weeds began to grow, and grow, and grow! When harvest time came I looked sadly at that garden—a thick, overgrown, patch of 3 foot tall weeds—wishing that I could undo the damage the weeds had done and mourning the loss of fruit.

But some sense of duty prompted me to dive into the weedpatch and see what I could find. And in the thick, dense, cover of weeds I began to find tomatoes. Small cherry tomatoes. Larger Roma tomatoes. Beefsteak tomatoes. So many tomatoes, in fact, that because of our garden’s abundance I was forced to give many away to my neighbor, who eventually even came and begged me to stop! The fruit was there all along! All there, all growing, all ready to harvest . . . but because I only had eyes for the weeds I could not see it, and therefore I could not rejoice in it.

Weeds are ugly. They are distracting. And they are even (regrettably) Christ-like; they are with you always even unto the end of the world! But although weeds can and do choke the life out of some fruit, they cannot kill it all. Learn to look past the weeds, find the fruit, and rejoice in it.

So, there you go. I hope that what God has been confirming to me brings some benefit to you, as well. But with all that God’s been teaching and showing me on fruitfulness and faithfulness, it appears that I’m going to have to write a third part of my two-part blog posts. Look for another post soon on knowing when fruitlessness means it’s time to move your ministry elsewhere.

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