Pastors are praised for having “fruitful ministries.” I’ve often wondered what that means.
Based on how people use the phrase I think it has to do with how big the church gets under their tenure. How many people are coming, how many additions were made to the building, maybe it will get into how many were baptized or “saved.”
The constant of these things is numbers. “Fruitful” means more numbers. Numbers can only represent physical things. A “fruitful ministry” then seems to mean by common usage: more physical things.
I find this disturbing.
It’s one thing for the book of Acts to say “many were added to their numbers.” Acts was written under the inspiration of the Spirit. The Spirit knows the heart and knew when people were saved and truly added to their numbers.
Our estimation of who is saved is suspect. We don’t know the heart of others, in fact, our own heart is deceitful, which you better believe will skew our counting!
Fruitful ministry isn’t about numbers and counted objects. Here’s what I think fruitful ministry is based on how the Bible describes ministry.
–By the way, when I use the word “minister” I’m not using it like the formal word for pastor. I mean anyone who serves someone else for Christ. The one doing ministry, whatever that ministry looks like.
- The fruit of the minister
The Bible puts high moral qualifications for someone taking upon themselves an official role in the church. Paul tells Timothy that his growth should be seen by others in the church. If love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance are not increasingly seen in the minister, then that minister does not have a fruitful ministry.
- The fruit of the minister’s family
Provided the minister has a family, the family members should be growing in spiritual fruit. One of the qualifications for official church roles according to Paul is that the marriage is sound and the kids are in subjection. If the family of the minister is not growing love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance, then that minister does not have a fruitful ministry.
- The fruit of those being ministered to
Fruitful ministry is not measured by how many people showed up to be ministered to. Fruitful ministry is measured by how much spiritual fruit is developed in those ministered to. In other words, if 500 people go to a church and are entertained and fed donuts yet none have gotten anywhere close to edification resulting in fruit, then no fruitful ministry occurred. However, if you minister to one person and that person receives edification resulting in fruit, then that is a fruitful ministry.
- The fruit continues to grow
A true sign of fruitful ministry is that fruit continues to grow long after the minister is gone. Growing fruit is a process and is not dependent on a specific person. A pastor who serves faithfully for 40 years and retires should still bring forth spiritual fruit. If all spiritual interest disappears when the official ministry spotlight is turned off, there wasn’t a fruitful ministry. If the one ministering to you leaves and your life falls apart, it’s questionable whether you were part of a spiritual ministry.
True spiritual fruit is dependent upon the Holy Spirit. The Body of Christ and those gifted to serve it by the Spirit are an essential aspect of spiritual growth. But at no point should your spiritual growth be dependent on one individual. If you only “grow” under one specific person’s ministry, you’re probably in a cult more than a fruitful ministry.
A true minister leads people to Christ and the Holy Spirit. You‘ll continue to grow long after the person is gone.
Spiritual fruit doesn’t stop. The new life of Christ doesn’t retire. The Spirit doesn’t finish His work in you at some point down here on earth. You’re never done. Truly saved people are like a cedar of Lebanon and “will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”
If love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance are not resulting from what you think is your “ministry,” then it’s not fruitful. It might be big, it might be impressive, and you might have people tell you it’s fruitful, but if there’s no spiritual fruit, it’s not fruitful!
I feel a need to add:
The Spirit can work through not-so-spiritual ministers. I’ve learned incredible spiritual lessons from terrible examples! It can happen, but should not be the model. “Well, if God can use Balaam’s ass, guess I’ll be an ass for Jesus.” The desire should be to grow fruit so others will be built up to grow fruit. Do your part. It should also be added: you may grow tremendously and yet be surrounded by people who don’t seem to grow at all. There is nuance in the entire discussion. Be nuanced in your thinking about it, but not for the sake of finding loopholes for immaturity!