I had the flu a few weeks ago and had to take a couple days off work. When I felt better I went back to the office. But after half a day, I was drained of energy and had to leave work early and get some rest. Our food pantry was just beginning for the night. Several neighbors were filling out their grocery lists as volunteers scurried around the building, making final preparations before the night began.
Mark is one of our homeless regulars. He noticed me packing up my things from across our large cafe. I was coughing enough to make my eyes water.
“Preston!” He yelled from the opposite corner of the room.
“Hey Mark,” I replied.
Then he waved me over.
I walked up to him and noticed a concerned look on his face. “You okay?” He asked.
“I’m a little sick, Mark,” I told him. “I need to go home and get some rest.”
Mark put his hand on my shoulder, still concerned. “You drinking plenty of fluids?”
“I’m trying my best,” I assured him.
“You taking medicine?” He asked.
“Nah,” I said. “I’m on the tail end of it. I just need to wait it out.”
Mark looked at me suspiciously, as if my answer didn’t satisfy his concern. Finally he said, “You get some rest. I love you man.”
I told Mark that I loved him too and made my way home. I drank a big glass of water and got some rest.
I’ve noticed a trend lately in books and articles about the mission of the church. Authors have been using the word “fruit” a lot.
Jesus and New Testament writers also use this word.
But what I have seen is that modern Christian leaders and thinkers are using this word incorrectly, defining “fruit” as numbers of people.
For example, a ministry that reaches a large number of people is “fruitful” while a ministry that reaches few people is “less fruitful.”
For a while, I bought in to this definition and was very discouraged. Our ministry in Midtown New Albany hasn’t seen many baptisms, or tons of people coming to church service and joining small groups. Because of this, I saw the ministry as fruitless.
I was playing into the numbers game.
But then I started reading what the bible says about fruit.
As it turns out, when the bible talks about fruit, it is talking about character traits and personal virtue. Stuff like love, kindness, joy, and self-control.
When Jesus says “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit” he’s not saying follow me, your congregation will grow and you will multiply disciples.
He is saying follow me and I will cause good things to come out of you. You’ll become more compassionate, peaceful, and content.
I may be overanalyzing, but it’s a really important distinction to make. Because if we think fruit means numbers of people, we are going to start believing we are responsible for other peoples’ destinies. That we can somehow make our churches grow.
But if we believe what the bible says about fruit, we will trust Jesus to do something incredible in us and around us.
So I think about my friend Mark. How a few months ago, he didn’t talk to anybody and wanted to take revenge on those who had wronged him. Now, his heart is full of love and compassion. He takes care of his friends and worries about me when I get sick.
If I’m counting filled seats as fruit, I’m going to live in constant disappointment.
But if I choose to see the reality — that Jesus has borne fruit in Mark’s life…
Well then I’m not a failure or a success.
Just someone who gets to take part in the awesome work of Jesus.