What comes to mind when I ask you, “What does a fruitful ministry look like?” Or “What makes an outreach event or discipleship relationship fruitful?”
I’m guessing that you didn’t struggle to answer those questions. Of course, your answer may contain nuance and offer context, but my point is that we all have pictures of what fruitfulness looks like.
In my former organization we held annual meetings, which were often a highlight of the year. Getting to be with my friends in person was a highlight and I loved hearing reports of what was going on around my country of service and other countries in the region.
But I also felt tension.
Undoubtably, someone would share a report of how they fit 1,352 people in their living rooming and had robust Bible studies every week. Okay, maybe the number was closer to 13, but when my “great testimony” involved one or two who were showing spiritual interest, I didn’t feel very fruitful.
And maybe where you live, the mortality rate for young children is high. Or someone coming out of drug addiction goes back into it, does that mean we are less fruitful?
Not necessarily. However, much of the tension you and I feel can be tied back to the question “What does fruitfulness look like?”
I recently released a book, Becoming More Fruitful in Cross-Cultural Work, that explores this idea of fruitfulness.
Everyone, whether individuals or organizations, has metrics of what success looks like. But over time, those metrics can become the primary way we evaluate our fruitfulness. Much like the Galatians, cross-cultural workers can inadvertently turn our metrics into a modern version of “the law” and be enslaved by it. As I studied Galatians, it dawned on me that Paul could as easily have written his letter to the Galatians as a “Letter to the Great Commission Worker.”
The Galatians had access to freedom in Christ and yet, they kept returning to the comforts and familiarity of the law. It’s understandable because the law was familiar. It was known. It was easier to track and measure. And the law wasn’t “bad,” it was incomplete.
If Paul had written to us, he would have become exasperated with us too. Too often we have substituted our own “law” and live under the bondage of ministry metrics—or what we wish a ministry context could be.
Now, I’m not anti-metrics. We need to have goals and reasons for being on the field, doing what we’re doing. However, we—both individuals and organizations—can easily slip into a modern-day version of the law à la metrics. But if our metrics, location (where we are allowed to be), and what we are allowed to do become the primary definition of “a fruitful ministry,” like the Galatians, we stay enslaved to something that never could provide freedom and life.
I wondered, “Did God call you to the field to set others free in Christ while you stay trapped in an unintended form of ministry bondage?” What if collectively we moved our metrics down a peg and allowed walking with the Spirit to be the true measure of fruitfulness?
Over and over as I researched and wrote this book my mind was blown. For one thing, the fruit of the Spirit is not like the gifts of the Spirit. You and I don’t get all the gifts, we get some of them. But the fruit? We can have all nine all the time. All nine all the time. I have another question for you:
How much in your life do you experience:
If your answer isn’t “24/7 Baby!” then this book is for you. In it you’ll find that God has upward fruit (toward him), outward fruit (toward others), and inward fruit (toward yourself) for you. When God talks about fruitfulness, He has true, holistic, all-of-your-life fruitfulness for you.
Guess where grapes, the metaphor that Paul uses, produces fruit? In rocky soil. In other words, in the messy realities of your life on the field. So, fruitfulness isn’t just for the early morning “Tea and Jesus” time. It’s also for public transportation, annoying teammates, and doors that won’t open.
Because these concepts are to be discussed and wrestled with in community, Global Trellis is hosting a four-week book club in October to discuss Becoming More Fruitful. You (and people you work with) can join here and participate or receive the recorded meetings.
Redefining fruitfulness is both simple and hard. So instead of all of us reading the book and saying, “Yes, that’s the kind of life I want to live” and then moving on without much really changing, we’ll discuss the book for four weeks, allowing new roots to take hold.
- The fruit of the Spirit and the idea of metrics
- The upwardly oriented fruit: love, joy, and peace
- The outwardly oriented fruit: patience, kindness, and goodness
- The inwardly oriented fruit: gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control
My hope is that this book will enable you and your organization to further experience the freedom and growth that God has for each one of us, even in the midst of ebbs and flows of what we’re able to do.
Becoming More Fruitful is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback. Check it out here.
A version of this post first appeared here.