I’ve been thinking lately about the words “faithfulness” and “fruitfulness.” They are both important to understanding our life and ministry as the Church, as disciples of Jesus, and (for some of us) as pastors and Christian leaders. Here’s where I am right now. I may continue to think about this here on the blog and am open to some conversation here.
“Fruitfulness” is the word of the day in my Annual Conference. It’s a good word and one we’ve needed in our lexicon for some time. Without it, our ministry can (and has) lacked aim and focus. Fixing our eyes on the fruitfulness of our ministry can help us with stewardship of our resources–time, energy, money, etc.
“Faithfulness” is a key word as well. It is still around in conversation, but “fruitfulness” has been the focus. Not that these are antithetical. Indeed, sometimes faithfulness to the mission entails submitting ourselves to the rigors of what producing fruit demands: keeping the vision, mission, and values in clear view, telling the truth about how we’re doing, changing our methods and ministries as needed to remain faithful to the mission and vision.
The potential rub is in the focus on these two in isolation or out of balance with one another. “Fruitfulness” without faithfulness can degenerate into mere number-counting without a theologically and biblically grounded filter with which to interpret our growth: Are we producing disciples or merely consumers of religion? Are we being shaped into the Body of Christ for the sake of God’s world or are we merely a collection of individuals attending a public gathering for a spiritual pick-me-up? On the other hand, “faithfulness” without fruitfulness can degenerate into a “holy huddle” mentality. In terms of work for biblical justice, it can become prideful and isolating as we take our stands without the hard work necessary to help bridge people from where they are to where we are convicted that they need to be.
It seems to me that faithfulness and fruitfulness must be diligently held together in our tasks of discernment as a Church. Faithfulness might correspond with process while fruitfulness might correspond with outcome. In Christian ethics, both the process and the results must be resonate with the Truth. We cannot practice the process ad infinitum and be truly faithful; we cannot take any path the the results we have set as goals for ourselves and be truly fruitful.
True faithfulness demands that we produce fruit and true fruit demands that we are faithful to the biblical story. Otherwise our pictures of faithfulness and fruitfulness are illusions.