A commenter to my post regarding my study leave said that she would pray that my study time would “lead to much future fruit for you and your flock.” I teasingly asked her to define such ‘fruit’ hoping thereby to know someday whether her prayer had been answered.
It was only a tease in a marginal way. In reality, that is the question that any pastor or teacher or parent is constantly asking. How do I know whether what I am doing makes any difference? How do I measure the harvest of my investment of time and energy?
It is very easy to opt for quantifiable measures. Decent Sunday attendance. Increasing FCAT scores. A trophy case full of a child’s accomplishments. But we all know that these metrics ring hollow over time.
By what fruit do we measure success in ministry? My correspondent is right in saying that fruit is produced by God, and is sometimes invisible to the gardener. And yet, at least, if we cannot force it and we cannot even adequately measure it, what is the goal toward which we should point ministry?
These questions support their own industry. Each year leads to a dozen new books on how one should ‘do’ church. One cannot keep up with all that is produced on the subject even if one was inclined to do so. There is really nothing new to be said.
The most profound book on these matters is Richard Lovelace’s Dynamics of Spiritual Life published first in 1979. Six years or so later he published Renewal as a Way of Life which he bills as an expansion and a condensation of the first book. Little more than these need to be within reach when thinking about what ministry is to aim for.
For my purposes here I simply want to note where Lovelace begins with his prescription for the church: Spiritual vitality arises in an environment in which God is being known and loved and in which those who know and love him are given over to Jesus as king. If we are finding ways in which we can move people in this direction, then we can take heart that we are doing well.
The challenge of all this, of course, is heavy upon the pastor, or elder, or teacher, or parent. That is, we can move no people, no church, no classroom, no family in this direction if we ourselves are not seeking to know and love God and seeking his kingdom first above all other things. The question must become a challenge which must lead to repentance and a cry for grace.
I once tried to give succinct expression to what I was seeking to accomplish in ministry, and this was the result:
a community of God’s people
where God’s glory is more important than their own,
where God’s righteous will has a greater attraction upon them than the neon attractiveness of sin,
where building God’s kingdom is a more exciting proposition than erecting personal palaces,
where dependence upon the providence and grace of God is commonplace and the source of uncommon joy.
a community which therefore cannot help but reach out, exercise justice, and love mercy.
That still seems adequate for the present, even if I might tweak the words here or there. It seems to aim at a community where God is known and loved, and his kingdom preeminent.
So, if you pray anything, pray that this will be formed ever more deeply in my heart and then in the heart of those I lead.