When living in Florida, fruit is kind of hard to avoid. There’s lots of it. Florida is known for oranges, grapefruits, mangos and many more. I have to admit, it’s kind of nice.
But freezes, hurricanes, bugs and disease can ruin a crop and set the industry back for years or worse. It is a lot of work to bear a lot of healthy fruit and to stay ahead of California when it comes to oranges.
How about in the Christian life and in the ministry of the church? But wait you say. Maybe that’s a bit of a subject we should avoid. After all, God is in the fruit bearing business. We are in the faithful business. We repent and remain faithful to God and to our confession of faith and God will do the rest. So as for fruit, don’t look for it, don’t count it, don’t be prideful about it when it may come. End of story. Next subject.
Yet Jesus said, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God wants us to “bear fruit” (John. 15:2), “bear much fruit” (v. 8), and “bear fruit…that will last.” (v.16). Certainly, He takes responsibility for providing all we need to be fruitful (vv. 2,3). So where does our own wisdom and planning come in?
Someone once said, “man plans and God laughs.” But isn’t there wisdom in planning? Sure, we know we should anticipate and plan. We know God doesn’t want us to just “go with the flow” because that would take us “downhill.” And we know God doesn’t want passivity where we acquiesce to whatever is happening, good or bad. God obviously wants us to be “all in” when it comes to not only our own Christian life and faith but also ministry.
Historically, St. Paul is viewed as the greatest missionary in the history of the church. Yet he did not randomly do his work. He was wise, being efficient and productive in choosing the time and place where he shared Christ. For example: In Acts 13 Paul went to the river outside the city of Philippi where he reasoned there would be a place of prayer and people open to talking about spiritual things. This is where he met Lydia. later, she and her household were baptized.
In Acts 17, Paul met the greeks at Mars hill where they worshipped many false gods yet Paul knew that a place where people were talking about spiritual things could also be a place where he could preach Christ. As a result many believed. In other places he regularly went to the synagogues and in the marketplaces where people gathered. He served with wisdom and purpose.
I wonder what the rationale was for Martin Luther to write the 95 theses. Surely he knew its impact would be more than a “dialogue” among theologians and students. How did he prioritize to translate the Bible into German? Was it the obvious thing to do while killing time at Wartburg castle? I suspect he had thought a few steps ahead toward those days when more people could read and the printing press would be providing the Word of God to the masses.
God desires that we use our God given wisdom and common sense. Think ahead, don’t merely react to what is happening. God doesn’t want us to just put out fires but to start a fire!
It may be a convenient excuse when there is little fruit from our efforts to sigh and conclude that the society and culture are against us. So sad, too bad, I cannot make a difference. Nothing will change. Each day becomes drudgery. So we trudge off to the study and prepare another sermon and wonder what we are doing. Or on the other hand we try to find joy in the small things that make a difference and comfort our members: a hospital visit, a homebound visit, or a prayer with someone who is hurting. Important? Most definitely. But then we walk out of the sacristy on Sunday morning and see less people. What should we think? Well, I’m faithful? Good! But maybe not as much as you could be.
So what does it really mean to be faithful? Is it just preaching and teaching and visitation? No. We are stewards of not just the “mysteries of God” but also of the body of Christ and even the gospel itself! That stewardship requires faithfulness too!
It may also be easy to scapegoat to magic bullets or programs or the latest thing, try them half heartedly and say they didn’t work or can’t be done. But we all know at its core, ministry is about relationships and meeting new people and engaging and growing (in knowledge and behavior) those who are new and not so new in the faith. That is really the definition of faithfulness, not just preaching and teaching and visitation. Certainly we are careful to understand that we cannot control outcomes. That is indeed God’s work. Yet by God’s grace we can also be faithful in our planning and thinking ahead and praying, our strategy and tactics and execution. We can be intentional and involve others to see what can be done in service to Christ and His kingdom.
In this way, with this understanding, I believe faithfulness can indeed equal fruitfulness.
Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church and others as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Check out his YouTube channel for more leadership and coaching information. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com
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