In his book Center Church, Timothy Keller compares the ideas of faithfulness and fruitfulness in ministry.
Those who emphasize faithfulness, point to the accuracy of their teaching and their diligence in presenting scripture as the guide for life and godliness. They point to the fact that regardless of the apparent results, they remain steadfast in proclaiming the truth.
Those who emphasize fruitfulness point to the results of their labor such as attendance, giving, the vibrancy of their worship, etc. The drive for fruitfulness causes everything that is done to be evaluated as to how it impacts the measured results.
This comparison was called to mind when I read Isaiah’s recording of his vision of the throne room of God recorded in Isaiah Chapter 6.
In that vision, Isaiah is overwhelmed by the glory of God to the point where he exclaims:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”Isaiah 6:5 (ESV)
After the atonement for Isaiah’s sin, he receives his call to ministry to the nation of Israel and exclaims, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)
This is very heady, how cool would it be to get such an amazing call to ministry?
But it is instructive to read the rest of Chapter 6 to see the message that Isaiah is to carry to his people and the response which he is to expect to that message.
Isaiah is called to speak a message to people who will remain deaf and blind to the message he bears to them. He is called to be faithful in the midst of seeming unfruitfulness.
I call it seeming unfruitfulness because we have to be careful as to who defines what fruitfulness looks like. If we have the wrong definition of fruitfulness, we have the potential for getting severely off track in ministry.
I really don’t know the answer to the questions I’m about to pose. I have no idea what the church should look like as we move further into the 21st Century in the United States. It seems to me that it should look vastly different than it did 10, 20, or 50 years ago. It also seems to me that the current emphasis on growing large churches isn’t always producing the desired result of spiritual growth in the people who attend the church.
Should we gauge fruitfulness by Sunday attendance? Do we have some means of measuring spiritual grown our members? Do we know if we are making true disciples of Jesus Christ or just fans who will ride the bandwagon as long as it seems to be getting them where they want to go?
Gathering a crowd is not necessarily indicative of real spiritual growth.
Jesus gathered a large crowd while he entered Jerusalem; the same crowd called for his execution just a few days later. So numbers are clearly not the best gauge of fruitfulness.
Let’s go back to the comparison of faithfulness with fruitfulness. It seems to me that without faithfulness to our Savior and to the accurate presentation of the message of Scripture, very little good will result, no matter what the numbers say.
But on the other hand, faithfulness cannot be an excuse to not do the hard work of showing to the current culture how relevant the gospel continues to be, even in a culture that feels that they have moved on from religion.
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