For those in the service of the Lord, through his church, the days after Easter are a time of challenge. So much goes into the preparation for the Feast of the Resurrection that the energy level of a clergyman can be very low for the next few days. Not infrequently this is raised as an issue by his wife and family, since he was frequently absent before Easter, and – though now physically present – is often not truly emotionally available to them after. Learning to balance the just demands of the church and the family is a continuing problem for most ordained leaders. By the next full week after Easter most of us have recovered, however, and we resume our normal rhythms. But should we?
My many years of ministry have taught me that my habits often take me into behavior that I wish to change. Not just serious sins of commission and omission, but the little things that rob my time and keep me from being effective and productive. It is the latter that is on my mind as I consider the season after Easter. Is the allocation of my time and energy really accomplishing what the Lord Jesus wants, or is it just keeping the machine of the parish running smoothly?
Recently I was interviewing a prospective new member, and he posed a challenging question: “Do you know how many new Christians are in your parish after last years’s effort?” It led to a very interesting theological discussion. My point to him was that only God knows who was truly born again of the Spirit of God (cf John 3:8), but his question had great merit. Is the work we are doing bringing forth the fruit that the Lord Jesus desires? How would we know?
In the beautiful farewell dinner that the Lord had with his closest disciples he gave them an explicit answer to my question. He told them that they should bear much fruit, and so prove to be his disciples. That was to be the outcome of their lives and ministries. Much fruit. So is there a way for us to measure that?
A careful study of the teaching of Jesus, and the whole of the apostolic testimony, gives a strong affirmative. The fruit that God desires is seen only in a life that “hears the word of God and obeys it.” Can a parish priest measure that in his congregation? I think he can.
My journey has taught me to teach a seven step process for becoming a fruit bearing disciple. A person must be welcomed, gospeled, converted, nurtured, equipped, deployed, and multiplied – if they are to be an effective and productive fruit bearer for the Lord Jesus and the kingdom of God.
What if this Easter season we all measured our flock in the light of those categories? And then we ensured that our efforts, and of those who share leadership with us, was designed to move people through those steps? Would that lead, by God’s grace, to a renewal of gospel life where we live?
Next Week: Rethinking Our Welcome