• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Which One Is It?

Ministry is our life, but when we come down to “assessing” that ministry, we run into a seemingly endless debate. 

Some will argue that what God asks of us is nothing more than to be “faithful”.  Any accomplishment or fruit is ultimately His work.  We should not focus on “success”, but on faithfully carrying out the work that God has called us to.  Texts such as 1 Corinthians 4:2 “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” and 2 Timothy 2:2 “And these things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” are offered to support this thought.

Others argue that God has called us to bear fruit for His glory.  God entrusted us with a message, and desires that this message bear fruit in more disciples, more leaders, and more communities.  Texts such as John 15:8 “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” are put forth as clearly teaching that our work needs to lead to something.

What about if both of these elements have flaws?  I have always thought the simple answer was that you needed both in ministry.  But, as I reflected more on this discussion, I realized there are questions that arise with each element.

For one, if faithfulness is your primary value, the hard question would be: what standard will you use to assess how you have used God’s gifts to you?  Over and over, the Bible makes reference (through parable and straight up teaching) to the wise use or investment of God’s resources, and the subsequent “return” on those resources.  Certainly, some of that “return” may not happen in your lifetime, but this is a legitimate question that arises.

If fruitfulness is your primary value, the hard question would be: at what moment does your “work” become an obstacle to the further expansion of God’s work?  The emphasis in the Scriptures is making disciples who will make disciples; it’s a ‘giving away’ of our work and fruit.  Yes, God wants us to bear fruit, but we must show ourselves as faithful “stewards” of what God has given to us, always moving out of the way, and giving away what He allows us to see as fruit.

Being “faithful” and “fruitful” requires that we be willing to address these hard questions.

2 Responses

  1. What do we mean by “fruifulness” in ministry? Is it the case that we usually mean “souls saved” or a program successfully completed (a discipleship course taught, a book published, a Bible translation distributed and in use)?

    Whatever we think of it is usually in terms of something we chalk up to our own credit.

    But isn’t the biblical idea of fruitfulness something which is for God?

    Many times we hear John 15:8 used as the proof text for personal fruitfulness in terms of effective ministry; but take that passage in the immediate and the wider context of the teaching on the Vine.

    The Vine was a well-known metaphor among the Jews. A carving of a fruitful vine was displayed on the lintel of Herod’s temple. It stood for the people of God (see Isa 5) and the fruit which God looked for was righteousness.

    Righteousness is explained in terms of uprightness before God PLUS just and kind actions toward men–which are the faithful man’s (or woman’s) appropriate Godward responses to His Covenant love and faithfulness.

    Another way of looking at fruit (rather than fruitfulness) is the idea of an offering. Again, the OT scriptures remind us that bulls and goats (along with prayers and praises) don’t mean much to God if offered while the heart is “far from Him”.

    And Paul uses the offering metaphor in a couple of places such as Php 2:17 where he is willing to pour out his life as a libation on the offering of the Philippians’ faith.

    And in Romans 15:16 he talks about the gentiles becoming an offering resulting from his priestly duty (literally) of the gospel.

    This comes close to the idea of the fruit of ministry; but the focus of the offering per se (if we pay attention to the context) is that it is to/for God, and not about Paul’s success. Rather it is about what “Christ as accomplished” (Rom 15:18).

    Faithfulness, in the OT context and surely in Paul’s mind too, must mean more than being diligent or successful. It has to do with the covenant relationship we have been brought into.

    So faithfulness and fruitfulness are not so much about diligence and success in ministry as they are about faith-ful and loving response toward God and the offering of our lives sacrificially, which is our “reasonable worship”. May God receive what is his due, his credit, his glory.

    Therefore, I suggest that we can keep both “faithfulness” and “fruitfulness” in our vocabulary; but let us make sure we be attentive to the biblical meanings attached to them.

  2. There are a number of false dichotomies such as:
    • faithfulness vs fruitfulness,
    • being vs doing, and
    • people oriented vs task oriented.
    These are not either/or but are both/and.

    The focus needs to be on the source for both faithfulness and fruitfulness, for being and doing, etc. That source is our God.

    Standing in the reality of the fact that by God’s grace alone He who knew no sin has become sin for us in order that we might the become the righteousness of God in Him. Therefore, we are to apply all diligence to add moral excellence to our faith, knowledge to our moral excellence, self-control to our knowledge, perseverance to our self-control, godliness to our perseverance, brotherly kindness to our godliness, and love to our brotherly kindness so that as we increase in in these we will be render neither useless or unfruitful. (Note: II Peter 1: 4 – 11.) This is all possible because it is God who is faithfully working in us both to will and to do his good pleasure. (Phil. 2: 13.) We do not have any adequacy in ourselves but our competency is only by God’s grace as the Holy Spirit makes us adequate servants of the new covenant. (II Cor. 3: 4 – 6.) Let us us therefore be thankful.

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