By: Travis Rymer, jOHNSON & wALES
meaning souls brought to God. Yet in our minds we can get the rewards of faithfulness confused with faithfulness itself. Would it surprise you to hear that success in ministry is not the bearing of much fruit?
Whether its entering into the labors of others and thereby reaping a harvest (Jn. 4:38), “doubling” our investment in the kingdom (Mt. 25), or planting and watering (1 Cor. 3:6f), it is always God who causes us to bear fruit. Think about it, we are almost never told to actively bear fruit and when we are it’s the fruit of repentance in our personal lives not in ministerial success (Mt. 3:8; Lk. 3:8). In short, success in ministry is faithfulness to God. The question then, is how are we to be successful - or more accurately, faithful?
Ministry might be summarized as showing and telling. As someone once shared with me, “Being an elder is ultimately being an example of the Christian life.” Paul writes, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” As I see it, faithfulness requires at least these things (If I added one more, it would be endurance. We are told many times to endure suffering [2 Tim. 4:5]).
Personally Abide in Christ
When Jesus speaks of bearing fruit He does so organically. That is to say fruit is a natural product of the nature of the tree. A good tree bears good fruit out of the nature of its being a good tree (Mt. 7:17-19). We are good trees when we abide in Christ through His word, relying on His strength. In His famed “Vine and the Vinedresser” metaphor, He ties all fruit bearing to abiding in Him. He said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (Jn. 15:4).” In fact, it is “By this [that] my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (Jn. 5:8).”
That is the key - “prove to be my disciples.” God is working for the glory of the Son and our participation in the Son is for God’s glory. So God wants our personal devotion more than our fruit bearing. That’s why a branch not in the vine withers and is thrown away - it is separated from the Son. Any fruit born apart from the natural outgrowth of our personal relationship with
Jesus does not bring glory to the Son.
Watch Your Life
Abiding in Christ means being a disciple yourself in such a way that you can call others to “imitate me.” Paul’s discipleship method is imitation (1 Cor. 11:1; et al.). He imitates Christ and then calls others to imitate him. And this is exactly what Jesus did and commissioned the first disciples to duplicate (Mt. 28:18-20); namely that we are to teach/train them to observe all that
He has commanded. Lest we think this is secondary, remember how Paul said that he disciplined his body, “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27).”
If you want to be successful in ministry, watch the way you live.
Watch Your Doctrine
Abiding in Christ means letting the “word of Christ dwell in you richly” causing you to teach about and worship God rightly (Col. 3:16). In the end, what we believe and what we teach others matters eternally. “Sound words” are what we are to teach (Titus 2:1). Those are the words that preach Christ crucified as of first importance (1 Cor. 2:2; 15:1-3ff). Our task is to make sure we do not alter the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and guard the good deposit (2 Tim. 1:13-14).
Success in ministry is faithfulness to God. Fruit follows faithfulness. The path of faithfulness is he one that personally cherishes Jesus while being careful to practice and teach according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers (1Tim. 4:16).”
May God cause you and me to be very successful in ministry!