I have a pear tree, an apple tree, and a cherry tree in my yard. If they were not producing fruit, I could go out and buy a bunch of wax apples, cherries and pears and hang them on the trees. This would make the trees look productive to those passing by, but wouldn’t fool anyone who took the time to take a closer look.
In the same way, I have seen churches that manufacture a frenzy of activity that seems to indicate that there is spiritual growth taking place, but upon closer examination, I find only the appearance of fruitfulness.
Jesus said to the Church in Sardis,
“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.”Revelation 3:1, ESV
The problem lies in a faulty understanding of what it means to build the church. When Jesus builds the church, he uses the preaching of the gospel to transform individual hearers into children of God. The church’s responsibility ends with the proclamation of the gospel and the “equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Real growth can only take place when the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bring about new life in the hearers.
But it seems that in 2021, the “experts” seem reluctant to wait upon God to bring growth so they invent methods to bring people in and make it appear that spiritual growth is taking place. The problem is that the fruit we produce by human methods is wax fruit and not real fruit.
The experts say you need professional musicians, concert-style lighting, slick branding, and polished speakers who won’t offend the hearers, to draw people in and, hopefully, capture their attention. Keep it fun and keep it light.
But when a church spends more effort on its style and branding than it does on teaching its members what it means to live in the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5), then little, if anything, of substance, is taking place.
I suppose it would be prudent to remind us what else Jesus wrote to Sardis:
“Remember then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”Revelation 3:3, ESV
When the tree no longer produces real fruit, it may be time to cut down the tree.
When the church no longer produces spiritual fruit, it’s time to find a different church.
Because if they are not producing spiritual fruit, it is evidence that Jesus has already left the building. And, if Jesus isn’t there, there’s not much point in staying.