If there is anything pastors think about a lot (aside from when lunch is), it’s the health and growth of their church. Granted they think about it from a variety of perspectives. Numbers can be seen and used in different ways. We even have a thing called the “church growth movement” dedicated to helping pastors grow their churches. I pastor a small church (less than 100, but whose counting? er, wait). I’m always thinking about the health and growth of our church. I want to see individual Christians grow. As I was thinking about this recently I was reminded of another word the Bible uses to describe growing believers; fruitful. What’s the difference? Aren’t they the same thing? I don’t think so.
Consider a tree. Growth for a tree means roots going deeper, the trunk getting wider and stronger in order to support new branches and leaves. It grows taller, wider, and deeper. This is the process we have been experiencing at The Exchange Church. Over the past couple of months we have had some new people “stick”. They are already believers. They are already what the tree is. That is growth. They are more branches and leaves which in turn contribute to the health and growth of the tree. That is a good thing. I’m thrilled that it’s taking place.
A healthy and growing tree also produces fruit. Pine cones, apples, peaches, avocados, whatever. Some trees don’t produce the first year or two (or more) until they are at a certain maturity point. They need to grow and mature in order to become fruitful. Sometimes (not all the time) that is the case with a church. A certain amount of growth has to take place. A certain amount of strength and infrastructure has to be in place in order to support good fruit. But what is fruit, and how is it different than growth?
Basically, fruit is reproduction. Fruit is different in almost every way than things that are growth. Fruit is new. It’s a baby version of the tree and has the potential to make more trees. If a tree doesn’t produce fruit it is either immature or at the end of its life and is sick/dying. I don’t want to pastor a “tree” that is either of those.
Does this illustration mean, categorically, that any church that isn’t reproducing is too young or too old? No, it’s just a useful picture. Some churches are in small towns where there are many people who can become the fruit. There are many other circumstances in which this won’t be the norm. But churches that exist around a significant population base should be growing and fruitful.
Here is the kicker. You can’t force fruit. Fruit is a natural byproduct of a healthy and growing church. It will just happen. A tree doesn’t fight and struggle to make fruit. It just does. It takes good soil, lights of sun/sonlight, and water. Some people in the church are good roots, some are the trunk, some are branches and leaves. As long as everyone is doing their part, fruit will happen.
That’s what I’m praying for and focusing on as a pastor. How about you?