Friday, March 09, 2012

What Is Fruitfulness?

The term “fruitfulness” is being thrown around a lot these days. I’ve heard it most in the context of describing ministries and mainly as a defense of that ministry. What I’d like to do is look at what fruitfulness should mean. To do that I want to tell a story.

There was a young boy who was born in Paulerspury, England in 1761. His means were ordinary born into a weaver’s family. He grew up religious but never trusted in Jesus until he was eighteen. He started attending a Baptist church shortly thereafter. He worked as a shoemaker to make ends meet and also married in 1781. Interestingly he approached his shoe-mending with the same passion he would later channel for missionary work. When asked about neglecting God’s work because he was only mending-shoes, he replied: “Neglecting my business!? My business, sir, is to extend the kingdom of Christ. I only make and mend shoes to help pay expenses”1

He lived during a time of racism and slave trade. He lived during a time where there was little attention to global missions. He lived during a time when men were complacent. There was little support structure in place for someone to travel abroad and share the gospel. Even his wife was reluctant but finally in 1793, he traveled half way across the world to India to share the gospel with a people who had never heard about Jesus. He experienced the loss of a child. This loss and other trials caused his wife to go crazy. She began accusing him of adultery and other things. Finally he didn’t see a final convert for seven years.

Would you consider William Carey fruitful? 

Would he have made the conference circuit?

Or been a gospel coach for a large gospel network?

I fear we may have traded in a biblical definition of fruitfulness for a pragmatic one. Our leaders often measure success only in tangibles like attendance, converts, or baptism. Our churches are structured and organized like a Fortune 500 company and so is it hard to believe that we’ve started using a more corporate measures for fruitfulness?

I propose we measure fruitfulness by faithfulness and obedience to the gospel. I’d like to see more small church pastors who have demonstrated that their ministries are faithful to the gospel over the long haul at our conferences speaking. I propose mega-church pastors seek the counsel and wisdom of small church pastors. Pastors who labor faithfully and fruitfully will be able to provide insights into ministry that they may be blind to because of the size of their churches. Now don’t get me wrong the reverse should also be happening. Small church guys should also be gleaning from the big church pastors.

In the end, we must not measure fruitfulness by size or fame. Paul explains what makes a fruitful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ:
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained it he words of faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:6-10)
Paul then equates fruitfulness with faithfulness to “the words of faith and good doctrine.” The numerical success means nothing if you are not faithful to the gospel. We must learn to value the ministry of faithful servants above all else. God does not look for immediate fruit--just look at William Carey. Zero converts in seven years but after harvesting very little fruit the seeds he planted grew into a vineyard in India and around the globe.

1. Carey, Samuel Pearce. William Carey (Wakefield Trust, 1993). p. 49.

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