What happens when fruit begins to rot? It smells very sweet, then after awhile it smells foul. How can we avoid letting the fruit of our ministry rot?
There are a number of things that will cause the fruit of our ministry to rot, mostly it is when it is not used.
If our fruit is to produce disciples, and the disciples we produce just sit there in the pew doing nothing, friut will rot.
The fruit we produce gets planted, forming the vines, plants or trees that grow the next crops of fruit.
OK here the farming analogy breaks down, but follow along anyway, this is important:
- When a person accepts Christ, and becomes a new Christian believer, that is fruit. If that believer, never grows beyond their initial decision, following the path of discipleship, they quickly become rotten fruit. The attend church, they love to hear preaching, but the deep life transformation does not happen. When changes happen in church (change of pastors, change of location) they can easily become dissatisfied. They have friendships, but are not deeply bonded to one another, When these friendships fall apart, their connection to the body is easily severed. They fall away.
- When a person accepts Christ, and follows the path toward discipleship but does not have many opportunities to use the spiritual gifts that God has provided in ministry, if his specific gifts are not appreciated or celebrated in the church where he worships, he can become dissatisfied, and disconnected. His seeds are not planted, When a God-Gifted teacher finds himself in a church where only a select few (elders?) are allowed to "teach"; When a God-Gifted evangelist, finds himself in a church that does not support evangelism ministries (leaving him on his own), or have meaningful follow up ministries to help new believers "plug in"; When someone with a talent for analysis and stewardship finds himself in a church that has no "plan" for the future; these believers will feel undervalued, unappreciated, and ultimately dissatisfied. They fall away.
- When a disciple is a behind the scenes worker, perhaps with the gift of "helps", or "administration", and works themselves to burnout, because the church does not have a plan to identify these believers and band them together with leadership and organization to maximize and celebrate the impact of these gifts. Behind the scenes types don't often need or want to be celebrated individually, but most are encouraged when the ministry they are involved in are celebrated, recognized. When these ministry programs are shut down (lack of funding, lack of results, leadership transition), often these workers are devastated, because they are part of ministry communities that provide them deep friendships as well as opportunities to use spiritual gifts. When these are removed, they can feel disconnected, unappreciated, and undervalued. They fall away.
- When a disciple is deeply connected to the body through staff, and less deeply connected to others in the community, staff transitions can cause them to feel disconnected. If the staff transitions are "troubled", the disciple can feel divided, and ostracized. If something is not done specifically to repair the connection, they fall away.
One symptom of rotting fruit is that it tends to separate itself from the church. Depending on the maturity of the believer, the disciple that was rotting, may or may not re-connect in a spiritually productive way. Immature believers may simply wander away to apostasy. More mature believers my struggle to find a new ministry to connect to so that they can become productive again.
Churches that have "a revolving door" need to consider their connection model. Who are disciples connected to, who are their mentors, who are they serving alongside, how are their gifts being used, and how are they appreciated and valued in the body. Careful analysis of reasons for separating can reveal real weaknesses in the body of Christ. Sometimes leadership in a church, can be offended by the notion that someone would want to separate, and blame the disciple who is separating, especially if they " wipe the dust from their feet" on the way out. Leaders need to treat those who choose to separate as "the weaker believer", and bless them on the way out. They also need to be open to accepting real feedback (even among words of blame, dissatisfaction, and frustration), so that they can assess whether there are real issues or weaknesses.
Church leaders need to be willing to accept or receive difficult feedback from rotting fruit believers, because ultimately, the rotting fruit are their spiritual responsibility. Church leaders need to be willing to recognize the need for change, to increase the fruit production of their ministry. When you have disciples that are not growing spiritually, not producing fruit, not deeply connected, they need to recognize that this is their responsibility. Problems with the sheep are the responsibility of the shepherds, when the shepherds are blaming the sheep, something is wrong.
Another symptom of rotting fruit is that it tends toward inertia. The longer that a believer is allowed to stay in the same spiritual place, the harder it is for them to grow again. A church that does not challenge disciples or provide the means of accountability is likely to trend toward producing believers who are stagnant in their faith. A church that sets "the bar" too high, also can have the same result. Believers in these bodies may not be unhappy or dissatisfied, but they are not likely to be very productive. Happy to remain a spectator, or a support team member, but never growing to true maturity, nor able to study and reason through scripture for themselves.
Believers that are not established as disciples of Christ quickly after salvation develop unhealthy views, habits, and patterns of behavior. Correcting these is much more effort, and they can be much more devastating to the body, than the effort to develop a simple earnest discipleship process. Likewise believers who are saved out of relationships within apostate churches must be discipled very carefully, to ensure that they have accepted sound doctrine. The persistence of legacy belief systems, thought patterns and behaviors is much more difficult to undo after it has persisted past conversion.
Inertial believers tend to be chickens not pigs. This terminology is a play on words referring to making breakfast. Chickens produce eggs, so they are involved – pigs produce bacon or sausage so they are committed. If you were to evaluate every member of your church, and assess which were chickens and pigs what story would that tell.
The problems of rotting fruit are universal to all churches. I expect that every pastor and elder will recognize this. I am not describing anything that is new or revolutionary. By calling out rotting fruit, I am merely using some colorful language to describe what happens when we do not fulfill the great commission. Every assembly of believers is likely to have some of this, I am not suggesting otherwise. As church leaders, we need to take responsibility, not only for producing fruit, but also for the spiritual stewardship of the fruit that we are given.