The Both Manifesto

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?

Yes.

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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.”

The Situation

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.

Defining Terms

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.

Be Faithful

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.

Published by

Luke Simmons

I was born and raised in Denver, CO and lived there through high school. Then I moved to Champaign, IL where I attended the University of Illinois and played on the Fighting Illini baseball team. I was married in December, 2001 to Molly, who I met at the U of I. In June of 2002, we moved to Phoenix and have been here ever since. In July of 2006, we welcomed a baby girl, Abby, into our family.

5 thoughts on “The Both Manifesto”

  1. Through a book I read by Larry Crabb and Dan Allender, I was able to understand the difference between goal and desire: a goal, which we should pursue, is totally our responsibility. A desire, which is dependent on God (and/or another person), to fulfill, should be prayed about. Pursue goal, pray about desire. My goal is faithfulness (which doesn’t depend on anyone but myself). My desire is fruitfulness (which is in God’s hands, and, according to how people respond. Since we are not responsible for “how” and “how much” fruit happens, and since we are not the final judges of our fruit or fruitfulness (we’ve erred on this one – making “numbers” the “true” sign of fruitfulness), then we must limit our evaluation of our perceived lack of fruitfulness to simply being a check of our faithfulness. In other words, if we (who are not the final judges) don’t see a lot of fruitfulness in our lives, we should just check those things that Peter tells us to be “adding to our faith…” which, if they are added we will be fruitful and have a great entrance into glory.

    This evaluation should also be for the perceived “fruitful” disciple. I’ve heard Bill Hybles say that he had to repent because he was not discipling all those many thousands of people who were in his church.

    The tendency in us is to start “taping fruit to the tree” if we don’t see a lot of it growing – which means striving, man-pleasing, fruit that will not remain. If a man or woman is called to pray 4 hours a day for unbelievers to know Jesus and for believers to wholeheartedly follow Him, but sees no fruit of their prayer, who are we to judge a man or woman that they are not fruitful?
    So, when you say “Both”, are you meaning PURSUE BOTH? Or are you meaning PURSUE FAITHFULNESS and KEEP AN EYE ON FRUITFULNESS (or the lack of it)? I mean, who doesn’t want both? Nobody would say, “I only want faithfulness and I am against bearing fruit in my life” or “I only want fruitfulness and I’m against being a faithful person”?

    We only can do something about our faithfulness. Even if we’re clearly not fruitful (both to our own limited perception and the limited perception of others), then we should use that for a motivation to check our faithfulness. Which begs the question: If we are truly faithful, what can stop us from being fruitful…how can we not be fruitful?

    1. Michael, thanks for your comment. Your critique of numbers-driven, “as long as we’re growing, we know we’re doing the right thing” thinking is spot on. It’s a very Western way of thinking and not a very biblical way of thinking. My critique of “faithful but not fruitful” people is that they often ignore best practices, common sense, and other ideas that would help them connect better with people in today’s culture — and would probably lead to some numerical growth — in the name of being faithful. I think the most faithful way is the way of Paul in Acts 17 — totally committed to the gospel and totally interested in connecting it with the people and culture they live in. I agree with your statement that “we can only do something about our faithfulness.” Part of what I’m trying to do is help people realize that faithfulness is not entirely faithful if it ignores thinking through practical ways to love and reach people.

  2. The difficult thing for us as Americans is that we want to see fruit NOW! As I was reading this I thought of Jim Elliot. How much fruit did he see from his ministry? He saw nothing in his short 28 years. Yet the fruit that came out of the faithfulness of he and his wife, even in the face of death, is still seen to this day.

    God’s timeline for fruit is often different than our impatient instant gratification culture can stomach. His fruit sometimes looks different than what we would consider “successful ministry.” Who today would look at Jeremiah’s ministry as fruitful? Faithful yes, but fruitful? Can you imagine what it would be like to have Jeremiah chit-chatting with pastors at an American pastor’s conference? “Hey Man, how’s things going in your ministry?” 🙂

    Thanks for the great post, Luke!

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