I’m sick of being forced to choose.
Why does it have to be one or the other?
Isn’t it possible to be both?
God expects his people to live faithfully toward him. And he works to help his people be fruitful.
It’s like when your aunt asks you on Thanksgiving whether you want apple pie or pumpkin. You answer, “Yes.” Do you want to be faithful to God or fruitful? “Yes.”
Perhaps it’s because people love to argue. Maybe it’s because polemics rule the day. Surely it’s driven by insecurity and sin. But many Christians and ministry leaders seem stuck on the idea that faithfulness and fruitfulness are mutually exclusive.
We all know of small, impotent, irrelevant, dying churches that haven’t seen a convert in years but assure themselves that, “At least we’re faithful.”
We all know of big, slick, over-relevant, growing churches that have compromised the confrontational message of the gospel but assure themselves that, “If people are coming (fruitful), we must be doing something right.”
Some are faithful (they think), but not fruitful. Others are fruitful (they think), but their lack of faithfulness makes you scratch your head.
Whether big or small, famous or unknown, new or established, I believe that disciples, leaders and churches can (and should) be BOTH faithful and fruitful.
What do I mean when I say faithful and fruitful?
Faithful — Doggedly committed to honoring and obeying God.
This looks like trusting Jesus, continual repentance of sin, joyful obedience, steadfast prayer, high integrity, sacrificial love, confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture, bold and unashamed proclamation of the gospel, willingness to do hard and unpopular things when necessary, and resolute determination to exalt the name of Jesus in thought, word and action.
Fruitful — Continually producing good and helpful results.
This looks like demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), growth in maturity, progress that can be seen by all, increased affections for God, greater compassion towards and, thus, influence with outsiders, others coming to and growing in faith as an effect of your investment, disciples being made, leaders being developed, churches being planted, and healthy people and ministry taking place.
Faithful is not unreflective plodding in the hopes that doing things the same way — with the same low level of intensity, prayer, and intentionality — will bring about different results. Rather, that’s insanity.
Fruitful is not sheer numerical growth or “success” at all costs. All truly fruitful leaders and ministries grow numerically in influence, but not all who grow numerically are truly fruitful. As I’m using the term, fruitful describes the quality of fruit, not just the quantity.
But Doesn’t God Determine Fruit?
You might object, “Hold on a minute. All you can focus on is being faithful and then God has to be the one to make it fruitful.”
I agree. The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who “gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:6-7). Paul doesn’t command us to bear the fruit of the Spirit, but says, “Walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16) and the result will be that you bear fruit. All we can ultimately control is our faithfulness. Fruitfulness is in God’s hands.
So why isn’t this blog simply called “Faithful”? Why focus on fruitfulness as well? Doesn’t this just betray a pragmatics-first, just-adjust-your-methods, man-centered approach to ministry?
Good question. The answer is that faithful.com was taken.
Seriously, though, the reason I also care greatly about fruitfulness is because I believe that over time, God brings fruitfulness to disciples, leaders, and churches who are faithful. Jesus said that a tree would be known by its fruit (Luke 6:43-44). The Bible describes the kind of ministry God blesses. Figs don’t come from thornbushes. Those who walk by the Spirit always end up bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
Faithful ministry always eventually leads to fruitful ministry.
Did you catch the key word? Eventually. It doesn’t usually happen overnight. A mustard seed takes a long time to grow into a strong tree.
In the end, my aim is to exhort ministry leaders to be faithful.
Honor God, obey his word, do the right thing even when it hurts, be wise, know people, love people, learn from your mistakes, keep going, and remember your First Love.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV)
It’s not either/or. It’s both. Be faithful and you’ll (eventually) be fruitful too.