When we look out into the world, it is natural to desire great change. To want to see people saved, for Christians to represent Jesus well, for reform in social institutions, for the Gospel to be more widely known. God does want us to bear fruit. It glorifies the Father, shows that we are Jesus’ disciples, shows evidence our faith is alive. Bearing fruit is a great thing to be desired.
Yet sometimes our endeavours can become focused too much on this or our ministry shaped by this. We find ourselves wanting to reach as many people as possible in the smallest possible amount of time. Soon all we care about is numbers. We become consumed with the number of converts to the neglect of the patient development of our people.
In John 15, Jesus promises us fruit if we abide in him.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John chapter 15, verse 5)
It is a great encouragement to know that Jesus can bear fruit through us. But notice that there are indications that this process of bearing fruit takes time.
The most obvious point is that fruit trees take time to mature. From the planting to the harvesting of the first fruit, at least a few years will have passed.
Secondly, in this passage Jesus mentions that those who do bear fruit will be pruned. Jesus speaks of a long refining process. You grow a bit, then you are pruned, you grow some more, you are pruned some more, and so on. The process is long lasting.
Thirdly, notice in the same passage, in verse 16, Jesus talks about lasting fruit.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John chapter 15, verse 16)
Jesus called us to multiply disciples. And those disciples’ faith should last. Their faith should last against worldly temptations and the enemy’s deception. So, as we reach people for Jesus, we should have a deep conviction not just to convert people, but that they would last in the faith, and they too would be pruned into maturity.
What was Jesus’ model when investing in others?
He did in fact preach to large groups of people. This is true. But this is not the majority of his ministry.
To achieve Christian maturity, Jesus chose twelve disciples. And with these twelve he poured out his investment in them. He showed them a new way of life. He explained the implications of the Gospel, prayed that their faith wouldn’t fail, he admonished them, he spoke life to them, showed them their possibility.
Jesus even had an inner circle of three disciples, namely Peter, James and John.
The point is this, Jesus didn’t spread himself thin all the time but invested in the few. The apostles were the lasting fruit. Jesus was pruning them bit by bit over the three years. They were given time to spiritually mature.
Jesus didn’t set up a megachurch. He didn’t call his disciples to do so either. The great commission was not to fill the biggest amphitheatre. Jesus heavily invested in the twelve for three years.
Again, fruit is a great thing to desire. But we should be wary of the quality and long-lasting nature of our fruit, not just the quantity. Churches shouldn’t be measured on the number of pews filled but the Christlikeness of the congregation.
In his epistles, Paul uses the metaphor of a spiritual father and mother. So how can we bear spiritual children and then kick them to the curb? Is parenting a momentary relationship? Is it correct to bear twenty children, celebrate having so many, and then abandon them? Would it not be better to raise children into their adulthood, slowly giving them more and more room for their independence?
The Bible doesn’t tell us to convert and forget, but to convert and parent.
I am convinced we do not bear more fruit, not because we do not have many godly Christians (we have an abundance) but because the patient process of discipling is so quickly abandoned.