“Faithful, not Fruitful.”
Back in 2013 at The Gospel Coalition National Conference, I heard Matt Chandler say this line in reference to the pastor’s call (and any Christian’s, for that matter). He gave a charge to those of us in ministry that our primary goal is not to work to see fruit, but to simply remain faithful to the call Christ has set before us to make disciples. Ever since that message, I’ve been convicted that this is what we need to strive for in ministry – and especially for myself, working in youth ministry. Though Chandler went on to talk about being faithful and fruitful, it was this first line that struck me, and went on to greatly influence how I lead and do youth ministry.
Since then, this tag line has become a favorite of ours amongst the youth leaders in my church. Working with youth is not easy, and often we talk about youth ministry being one primarily of sowing seeds, not reaping fruit. For that reason, this call to be faithful, not fruitful, is even more important for those of us laboring to make disciples of students. As my youth leaders and I labor endlessly to proclaim the life-giving Gospel to a dying generation, we are often met with rejection, fruitlessness, and just plain apathy. More than ever, I have felt a strong need to remember that my job is simply to remain faithful to the call to make disciples, not to bear the fruit of making disciples. However, lately I’ve been wondering if we in America have romanticized ministry to be all about the fruit.
In the text which inspired this slogan, Paul charges the Corinthians to remember that neither he nor Apollos, nor anyone else who labors for the Gospel is anything. We are all simply laborers in God’s field:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:5-7
Unfortunately, it has become much too easy to look at the Apolloses and Pauls in our day and marvel at them like unicorns. We’ve turned our favorite preachers into American Christian Idols, we’ve set up large conferences to gather around the most influential names in ministry, and we’ve highlighted mega churches for their number producing methodologies – all because these are the people and ministries that have been fruitful. As a person in ministry, it’s hard not to look at those who have “made it”, and think that my goal is to be like them. We’ve given so much attention to those who have been fruitful, that now we, in turn, have made it the American Church Dream to be like them so that we can bear fruit like them. And through it all, I often wonder if we’ve lost our call to faithfulness for God and His Name, regardless of the fruit.
This isn’t to say that I don’t see value in big name preachers, conferences, and mega churches. I have benefitted greatly from all three, and most of my friends know that I can tend to be a conference junkie. Even at the moment I’m writing this, I am in Chicago to help put on a conference for youth pastors. I am indebted to men of the likes of John Piper, Matt Chandler, and Tim Keller (where it not for men like them, I would not be as spiritually healthy or fit to lead in my church as I am today); I am incredibly grateful for conferences like The Gospel Coalition and Together For The Gospel; I am thankful for mega churches like Saddleback and The Village Church who are making disciples of all nations. But I am sometimes weary of what putting them constantly in the Christian spotlight is doing to the other 90% of pastors and churches who are not “successful” like them.
In a time and generation where everyone is trying to go from “good to great”, or being driven to “make dreams come true”, or setting out to “change the world”, I think we could use a little less fruitfulness, and a little more faithfulness. Fruit for the kingdom is great; that’s why we go into ministry and labor tirelessly for the Gospel – we want to see people saved by the Cross of Christ. But fruit apart from the Spirit – or worse, fruit for our kingdoms – is not fruit to be proud of. Fruit for the Gospel can only be born by the Gospel. No scheme of man can ever pluck one from Satan’s hand; that is a work reserved only for the Spirit. For fruit to be born any other way would take away the glory from God and place it on us.
We should, indeed, seek to bear fruit. We should desire to grow our churches and see more people come through our doors. We should plan, and strategize, and vision cast for how we can make more disciples. But we must always remember that faithfulness is our ultimate call, not fruitfulness. And I think the more we focus on our faithfulness, and the more we stop worrying about our fruitfulness, the more we will highlight the grace of God in the faithfulness of Christ.