One of Philip Yancey’s most controversial works is his book Church: Why Bother? In this book, Yancey very honestly describes his frustrations with the church. In one passage he writes:

          Is church really necessary for a believing Christian? Winston Churchill once said that he related to the church rather like a flying buttress: he supported it from the outside. I tried that strategy for a while, after I had come to believe the doctrine sincerely and had committed myself to God. I am not alone. Far fewer people attend church on Sunday than claim to follow Christ. Some of them have stories similar to mine: they feel burned or even betrayed by a former church experience. Others simply “get nothing out of church.” Following Jesus is one thing; following other Christians into a sanctuary on Sunday morning is quite another. Why bother?

I want to suggest that, given the importance the Bible places on fruit-bearing, one of the biggest reasons why we need to belong to a community of faith is because it is only in the context of real Christian community that we are able to fully develop and employ our fruit-bearing potential.

 With this thought in mind, I encourage the readers of this blog to consider several crucial questions:

Has it occurred to you how important fruit-bearing is to God?

A careful look at what the New Testament has to say about fruit-bearing will certainly reveal this to be true.

  • First, in the Gospels we see Jesus telling stories to make the point that God was about to judge the nation of Israel because of their failure to bear fruit.  (Matthew 21:33-43; Luke 13:6-9)
  • Second, in the Gospels we also find Jesus telling stories to make the point that fruit-bearing was something he expected his disciples to do.  (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23)
  • Thirdly, we see Jesus, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, indicating that it is a person’s fruit-bearing that will reveal whether he or she is a true disciple. (Matthew 7:13-21)
  • Fourthly, just before his arrest and suffering, Jesus strongly encouraged his disciples to be careful to do that which was necessary to bear fruit. (John 15:1-8, 16)
  • Fifthly, it’s not just in the Gospels that we find references to the importance of fruit-bearing; we do so in the epistles as well. (Romans 7:4; Colossians 1:10; Philippians 1:9-11; James 3:17-18)

Have you ever really thought through what it means to for us to bear fruit in our walk with Christ?

I’ve discovered that while a lot of professing Christians can say they know that it’s important for them to bear fruit in their relationship with Christ, very few of them have a fully developed understanding of what this means.

Traditionally, there are three ways to answer this question:

  • First, “bearing fruit” means becoming more and more Christlike in the way we live or lives; learning more and more how to say “no” to sin and “yes” to righteousness (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:8-11; Philippians 1:9-11).
  • Second, “bearing fruit” means engaging in good deeds—tangible acts of justice and compassion toward our fellow man (Isaiah 5:1-7; Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 2:10; Matthew 5:16; 1 Timothy 6:17-19;  1 Peter 2:12; James 2:14-26).
  • Third, “bearing fruit” means reproducing ourselves, making new disciples—winning other people to faith in and devotion to Jesus Christ  (Colossians 1:6; Mark 1:16-18; Matthew 28:19-20).

Could it be that bearing fruit for Christ calls for us to do all three of these things? In fact, could it be that all three of these understandings of fruit-bearing should be viewed as inseparable—three dynamics designed to function in a synergistic manner in order to produce a missional effect?  

In other words, if we succeed at making disciples—influencing other people to become fully devoted followers of Christ—it will probably be because we are learning how to live our lives in a Christlike way, and because we are seriously involved in the doing of good deeds that cause the folks around us to take our faith seriously!

This leads me to the third question I want to pose to you today:

Has it occurred to you that one of the main goals of whatever church you go to should be to help you bear fruit in your walk with Christ?

The great commission Jesus gave his followers in Matthew 28:19 calls for us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and then teaching them to obey everything he has commanded.

Based on this commission, it’s my belief that all churches should strive to function as disciple-making congregations in the business of helping people become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

But what does a fully devoted follower of Christ look like? What is he or she able to be and do?

During my pastoral ministry I worked hard at cooperating with the Holy Spirit and church elders and members to create an ecclesial environment where the following 12 core competencies could be acquired by those who belonged to our community of faith:

1.    An ever-increasing ability to cultivate and nurture a personal, intimate, dynamic relationship with God through the development of a daily devotional time involving such spiritual disciplines as Bible study, prayer and private worship.

2.    An ever-increasing ability to actually obey the Ten Commandments and the moral teachings of Jesus, especially those contained in his Sermon on the Mount.

3.    An ever-increasing ability to cultivate a healthy, functional family life that contributes to the spiritual nurture of fellow family members and provides onlookers with a winsome witness for Christ.

4.    An ever-increasing ability to represent Christ in the neighborhood, on the job and in the community in such a way as to edify fellow believers and to encourage the unchurched to take another look at the claims of Christ.

5.    An ever-increasing ability to explain and defend the Christian faith to those who are either curious or confused about its true meaning.

6.    An ever-increasing ability to lead convinced, convicted seekers into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and to help these new believers become established in their own Christian walk.

7.    The habit of attending church services on a consistent, regular basis, doing so not merely as a consumer/spectator but as a participant whose three-fold responsibility is to worship God, to encourage fellow believers in their walk with Christ, and to contribute to an environment that makes it easy rather than hard for spiritual seekers to connect with Christ and his church.

8.    The ability and willingness to discern and do one’s spiritual vocation—the special, unique way in which God wants to use the individual disciple to minister divine grace to fellow members of the body of Christ (service beyond the general call to encourage one another).

9.    A willingness to cheerfully provide consistent, generous prayer and financial support for the local church as it endeavors to make and mature disciples.

10.  A willingness to cheerfully provide consistent, generous prayer and financial support for the cause of world missions.

11.   A willingness to cheerfully provide generous financial support for the cause of worldwide hunger and disaster relief.

12.   A willingness to become personally involved in the local church’s compassion ministries to the poor and powerless living nearby, i.e., a commitment to pray and work to see justice done and mercy demonstrated in the name of the Lord.

Right or wrong, my assumption was (and is) that if church members were to actually develop these 12 core competencies, they would end up bearing a lot of fruit (all three kinds of fruit) in your relationship with Jesus Christ.

This is why I can say that one of the goals of whatever church you belong to should be to enable you to become a fruit-bearing follower of Jesus Christ.

Finally . . .

To what degree are you really cooperating with your church’s attempts to help you become a fruit-bearing follower of Jesus Christ?

Of course, this question assumes that you are currently participating in a community of faith.

Are you?

Here’s another excerpt from Philip Yancey’s Church: Why Bother? in which he essentially answers the question that functions as the title of his book:

           Christianity is not purely an intellectual, internal faith. It can only be lived in community. Perhaps for this reason, I have never entirely given up on church. At a deep level I sense that church contains something I desperately need. Whenever I abandon church for a time, I find that I am the one who suffers. My faith fades, and the crusty shell of lovelessness grows over me again. I grow colder rather than hotter. And so my journeys away from the church have always circled back inside.

So, have your journeys away from the church always circled back inside?

I would put it this way: one of the biggest reasons why we should bother with the local church, and do so in a meaningful manner, because . . . we need the church in order to be really fruitful in our walk with Christ.

Fruit-bearing is important. A meaningful participation in a genuine Christian community is crucial to fruit-bearing.

You do the math.

Something to think about.