All you need is what? Love. Is that what you heard after reading last week’s post? I can see how you might answer it that way. You can check it out here if you did not read it last week.
Here is how last week’s post ended:
Jesus tells us: “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13:34-35) Do I think there will be fruit when we focus on love? Sure I do. Do we always know what it will look like? No. Will we always see the fruit? Maybe not. I think it is interesting. Jesus does not tell us to go and produce fruit. He tells us to go and love. I will leave you with a question I like to ask myself from time to time. It is a question that I think is quite helpful for us to ask to live a successful life. “What is the most overwhelmingly loving thing to do?”
I bring this up this week because my guess is that a few people might cringe in reading this ending. They may come back with a couple of questions. So are you just giving yourself permission to do nothing? Do you not care about fruit? Jesus tells us to go and make disciples. That sounds more like something to do. That sounds like some specific fruit.
Is the success in the act of loving one another or in seeing fruit?
Dr. Timothy Keller has a great article out there called “Ministry and Character”. The article starts off talking about success.
“Today there is far more pressure than ever before on ministers to be “successful.” The very idea of success is something of a new way to judge ministers. The older criteria for evaluation had more to do with doctrinal accuracy, loyalty, and consistency of discharging duties. But no one can deny that these measurements have been eclipsed by the criteria of success. Today’s churches and congregations seek successful ministers and dismiss less successful ones. It is also true that ministers hold themselves to the standards of success of increasing numbers and expanding budgets.” (from “Ministry and Character” by Dr. Timothy Keller, 2002)
The tension of success and the need to be successful in the world spilled over into the church. It gave way to the church growth movement. The church leader’s task is to do whatever it takes to grow the church. The article then notes a somewhat healthy push back to the church growth movement, with Eugene Peterson being one of the leaders in this next movement.
Peterson vehemently opposes the notion of pastor-as-CEO and presses for a pastor-as-shepherd model. He provides a much-needed counter-balance to the excesses of the church growth era of the 1970s and 80s. (from “Ministry and Character” by Dr. Timothy Keller, 2002)
To summarize in an overly simple way, is it about growing the church or loving the people?
“In summary, the church growth movement provided many important and lasting contributions to modern day ministry. Likewise, the reaction to the church growth movement has helped us, especially Protestants, recover ancient resources that emphasize pastoral contemplation, spiritual direction, and community building. In the end, however, the biblical paradigm of fruitfulness is probably our best criterion for ministerial evaluation, while also allowing us to benefit from the literature on both church growth and faithfulness.” (from “Ministry and Character” by Dr. Timothy Keller, 2002)
I think it is fair to say that Keller combines the two and says that when you love the people there will be fruit, and yes, the church will grow. In the rest of the article Keller goes on and looks at some of the possible causes of fruitlessness and the importance of godly character in the pastoral leader.
In many ways, I think everyone is saying the same thing. Throughout my years of pastoral ministry I too have said, and still believe, that fruit will reveal itself in a “healthy growing church.” And yet, I find myself struggling more and more with this belief. I think the reason I struggle is that I find myself focusing more on the fruit instead of on the acts of love.
What if the fruit is a single life changed? Jesus celebrates when even just one person comes to know Him. What if the character change is someone going from really, really “messed up” to someone only somewhat “messed up”? To what degree is that measurable?
An analogy of what I am trying to say can be seen by considering an apple. We can think about wanting an apple all day. We can think about how we want the apple to look. We can think about how we want the apple to taste. We can think we will not be happy until we have the apple we have envisioned. Or, we can realize the fruit itself is not really in our control. We can prepare the soil. We can plant the seed. We can water it. But, we cannot fully control how the fruit looks or tastes.
We can do what we can do, namely here, we can love.
We can choose to love God. We can choose to love those around us. We can even choose to love ourselves, which some may find to be the most difficult kind of love to give. How can you not be successful when you are doing all that you can do? Again, at the end of the day, this is all we are really called to do–to love.
(All scripture cited above from Common English Bible Copyright © 2011)