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You Shall Know Those Missionaries by Their Forced Fruit.

$(KGrHqNHJEgE+eDo7sikBQTbzhNLb!~~60_35A Facebook comment got me thinking this morning.  In response to a statement regarding the plurality of local churches within the singular universal church, one said:

“I wonder why there is such an obsession with structure and methods… The love and loyalty to these is what has kept the gospel from jumping into the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist worlds… Missionaries are “forced” to think church planting because those who support them judge their “success” on how many churches are started, not what God is doing through them amongst these people in an organic and thus “un-measurable” ways…”

In part, I agree with this assessment.  And, as a missionary, I too have been subjected to these kinds of metrics.  Being connected with hundreds of other missionaries all over the world via twitter, it’s a common theme.  But, shouldn’t there be some kind of metrics by which supporters of missionaries can measure their “success?”

To that end, I’ve often heard regarding Christian agencies, organizations, and groups, that “you shall know them by their fruit.”  I can’t help but think that it might be using those scriptures outside of their contexts.  Matthew 7:20 and related verses speak of the character or fruit of the individual.  Those verses speak to transformation of a person.  People can be fruitful, but I’m not so sure that the same can be said of an organization or structure.  Is there an a biblical warrant for corporate fruit inspection?  A few more questions:

1.  Can the number of churches planted or disciples made be considered “fruit?” 

2.  Shouldn’t supporters of missionaries expect an accounting of stewardship?

3.  What benchmarks should be used in determining a missionary’s “success?” 

 

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    1. Claudia Labrador January 30, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      It’s interesting how often the verse of Matthew 7:20 is used in the context of reviewing good fruit. But a good deal of the verses leading up to this one emphasize ungodly character, or more specifically what bad fruit looks like. Oftentimes it seems when deeds or levels of success are being measured of others, those measurements are being sifted through some of the very unfruitful characteristics mentioned earlier in Matthew 7. It’s not uncanny that there must be a reason for these verses to be grouped in such a way. Perhaps more careful study into the “whole message” of Matthew 7 is needed, especially of those who are in the position of measuring another’s success. That said, indeed church plants and disciples being made are fruit. Good fruit, or bad fruit? Usually time will tell, and often, if we are patient and teachable, we find along the way that there is still much to learn from the One who calls us to bear good fruit.

      There is a fine line of giving support that can often cross over into expectation. Is that wrong? Personally, I have always been a stickler in maintaining good stewardship. And I’m often transparent to a fault, because the life of a missionary is sometimes really hard. So in that regard, supporters get to see the bad with the good…the humanity mixed with the spiritual aspects of how one journeys through fruit bearing stages, and sometimes non-fruit bearing stages as well. I think it’s a disservice to the long term of God’s plan, however, when expectations are set in a short-term capacity, meaning that a certain level of fruit is expected within a short period of time. While we can certainly recognize good fruit from bad fruit, or no fruit at all, do we ever truly have the right to measure the Lord’s work on a scale of demand? Does that not look like we are placing our Self into the driver’s seat, the seat that only the Lord can justly occupy? This is not to say that those receiving support should not be held accountable. For example, one doesn’t want to give thousands of dollars to find later that the recipients went on a wild personal shopping spree. Right?! But at the same time, there is a verse that speaks to the one hand not knowing what the other is doing.

      “Giving to the Needy (Matthew 6: 1-4)

      “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

      There is much to be taken from this set of verses for those who provide the support, and for those who receive and are fruit bearers of that support. I need not explain, because the Word speaks for Itself.

      Benchmarks? Again, it is a fine line we cross when measuring fruit of ours and the labor of others. Of course we want to know that we are moving in the right direction, to justify our actions and make ourselves accountable to one another. But the most lacking ingredient most of the time is the TRUST that whatever we “give”, and whatever we “do” with the genuine purpose of serving the Lord for His Glory, and for the furtherance of His Kingdom, is a sweet offering to the Lord Himself, and Who better than HE knows how to multiply those gifts to bear good fruit? Our man-made ways have very much come about as if to take the Lord completely out of the equation. How or why else would or could we possibly be so demanding on one another in terms of quality and quantity of fruit to be extracted from a certain amount of time and money? All that said, it does not dismiss our responsibilities in each of the roles we play as supporter, receiver, or workers of the vine. But undoubtedly a little less expectation, demand, and fruit-measuring, and a whole lot more prayer and trust in the Lord may just yield results that will surprise us and make us fall on our faces in awe of the One who takes charge of it all.

    2. Lauren Higgins January 30, 2013 at 9:27 am #

      My Mom once told me a story. She and a friend were on a business trip in a large city, and they were walking back to their car one evening after dinner. They saw a homeless man sitting on a bench. Mom’s friend gave the man $50, and they continued down the road. Mom asked her friend if she was crazy… he’s just going to go buy a bunch of booze! Her friend said “Well, if he does that then that will be HIS sin.” Wisdom.

      When we see a need, we should meet that need if we are able. When I give, I give to God with the faith that the person to whom I’ve given will then, in turn, be a good steward of that which he’s been given. And, yes, this requires a bit of common sense. Just common sense! See a need, meet the need. I believe it’s really as simple as that. When I read words like “Success” “Quantity” “Accounting of stewardship” I have to wonder about that. Who am I to judge such things? Who am I to try to quantify the depth of the work God is doing in and through someone?

      I’m sure we all enjoy seeing the fruit that comes forth from the various ministries and individuals we support. I know it fills my heart with joy! But should we require this sort of “proof” to validate our giving? If the answer is yes, I expect that we’re not giving to God in faith that He can work through that ministry, but that we are instead purposing to bring about the Kingdom with OUR own hands… by OUR work… with OUR money. Funny how sticky it gets when we start dealing with “OUR” money, huh? ;)

    3. Jonathan January 30, 2013 at 9:30 am #

      Preface: I’m a local church guy who sees the “universal” church as biblical concept in search of a practical reality this side of Heaven (where all of the “called out ones” will be assembled and local…at least in the context of a huge new Heaven and huge new Earth). This is the context in which I read the directions to the church in the New Testament.

      Argument: This means that local churches bear the responsibility of sending/support missionaries. Even in my own wider community (Southern Baptist Convention) where 40,000+ churches jointly fund more than 5,000 missionaries who serve outside of North America, each missionary must be sent by a local church before he or she can be considered for these positions.

      As a pastor’s son, I grew up hearing and reading slick reports from the field referring to numbers of baptisms and church plants around the time of the year when we focused on giving to international mission work. “Look at the progress that we’re making. We need more and more funding to keep this training running.”

      Ironically, we also point to the missionary heroes from the past as well. William Carrey (who spent 7 years working in India before he saw the first covert) is always mentioned.

      Fast forward to my 13 years of international business travel and interaction with many of these front line folks. Off the record comments about the pressure from middle management to produce numbers for these reports and the strange way that terms were defined in order to show annual increases are very common (and I use the term “off the record” on purpose. I’ll be the last person to place one of these hard chargers at career risk for sharing this information).

      Here’s where I’ve landed. Churches that make demands of production (converts, church plants) as THE fruit of their investment rarely could survive the same evaluative principles if applied to their own work. One of my most enjoyable experiences is to be visiting with a missionary friend when a short term team from the US shows up. In nearly every case, there is one member of the team who has taken it upon himself to see how much of the day to day work of the missionary is actually “on mission”. In the rare case when I get to have the conversation with the individual, I always seek to turn the focus back to his own church. The resulting awkwardness is delicious.

      Yes, converts and church plants are important measurements but they cannot be the only or even the most important…unless every church, every Christian everywhere is willing to be held to this standard first.

    4. Laurie Norris January 30, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      Here’s a waitress’ perspective. There is dignity in service. Servants after all, dwell on the “Host” side of the financial equation.

    5. felicity dale January 30, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

      How about this verse in John 4:36?

      The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!

      I think it’s both–not the forced harvest you describe in your post, but people moving from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light as a result of the natural outworking of a life lived transparently for Jesus, and the fruit produced by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.

      • Jim Wright January 31, 2013 at 8:49 am #

        Good perspective!

        All fruit bears within it a seed of reproduction. What it reproduces may be personal qualities of Godliness, or externally advancing His Kingdom, or maybe something else we can’t even imagine.

        But just sitting around and enjoying the “fruit” to the neglect of the “seed” has produced too many anemic and insular believers, it seems to me.

        Imposing some fixed “metric” is a sure way to thwart good fruit, because it presumes what God wants to bring forth.

    6. Tom Schultz January 31, 2013 at 6:13 am #

      Good topic. It touches me because about 40 years ago I was in a setting where a nearby missionary started a church and got a building finished in 4 years so he could return on furlough to the USA reporting on his progress. It looked great in pictures but the missionary family I was with intimated that there were only a small handful of attenders, not counting the crowd that came to the dedication, and there were some questions whether it would survive, let alone grow. What constitutes success? And who sets the expectation?

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