“Fruit” is getting a lot of attention these days. The image of a tree or vine loaded with fresh, colorful fruit excites our senses. It symbolizes productivity and abundance, even blessing. “Fruit” is a great metaphor for the results we should see in both our personal lives and in leadership of our church.
First, how do our personal lives bear Fruit? What results should we expect? Each of us is different so the “Fruit” of our lives will look different. But there are some common qualities for those who follow Christ.
Jesus used the familiar image of a vine with branches that either “bear much fruit” (his disciples who abide in him) or can’t bear fruit and are thrown away (John 15:1-8; see also Matt. 7:17-19). So we must stay connected with Jesus, “abiding” in him spiritually. Paul points out that the inward “fruit of the Spirit” (results, evidence of God’s Spirit in our lives) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). John Wesley adds that the outward fruits are the doing good to all, doing no evil to any, and the walking in the light of God (see Sermon 10, 1746). And of course, Bishop Schnase provides great practical guidance with Five Practices of Fruitful Living – it’s worth reading again if we want to “bear much fruit”.
Second, how does our leadership bear Fruit in the church? What results should we expect? Well, just what is “Fruit” anyway? What are the results produced by, the evidence of, a church that is faithful to its purpose and productive? Is it not DISCIPLES of Jesus Christ? MORE disciples, NEW (and maybe different) disciples, RENEWED and better disciples! And what does a disciple look like? Maybe, eventually, a lot like Jesus – abiding in him and bearing personal Fruit themselves.
If our leadership is helping the church to reach more people, bring in new and different people, and make people more like Jesus in their daily lives, then we’re bearing much Fruit. If it’s not, we’d better take a hard look at what we’re doing. That’s why our denomination’s “Call to Action” proposals must be taken very seriously. That’s also why each of us must pay attention to the trends of our congregation’s “measures of fruitfulness” that pastors report each month: worship attendance, baptisms, professions of faith, and numbers of people involved in discipleship groups and outreaching service activities. We count people because people count. If the Fruit we’re looking for just can’t be measured, then we’ve got to describe it and the difference made in peoples’ lives.
What can a lay leader do to help a congregation bear more Fruit – produce better results? Of course, that depends upon the context and conditions – to continue the metaphor, the soil and nutrients available where it’s planted. But if there are people around, Fruit CAN be produced. Disciples of Jesus Christ – MORE disciples, NEW and different disciples, BETTER disciples – can connect with God, with one another, and transform their community into a better place. A lay leader can, working with the pastor, envision the impact that a renewed congregation full of fruitful disciples could have upon people in the community. Then seek ways to make it happen – in much prayer and seeking guidance of the Holy Spirit (like the early church in Acts). Bishop Schnase’s book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations provides great insight and ideas. Also helpful is Bob Farr’s book Renovate or Die and the Healthy Church Initiative process.
“Fruit” is important. Fruit is growth, vitality, life, and hope. Fruit is people. God cares about Fruit, Jesus spoke of Fruit, and our leadership must be focused upon producing Fruit.
THANKS again for your leadership – may you abide in Christ and “bear much Fruit”!
Brian Hammons, Mo.
Conference Lay Leader