2020 Vision – Part 4
Jesus said, “By their fruit, you will recognize them.” We need a way to be faithful to the vision that focuses on the fruit we produce over the next five years. How will we know if we’re fulfilling our call? It’s a difficult challenge for sure. In Jesus’s parable of the sower, a farmer sowed into four kinds of soil. Only ¼ of the soil produced a harvest; but when the seed grew, it multiplied. How will we know if we’re bearing fruit for Christ in Tallahassee? Instead of counting seeds, we need to measure outcomes.
As Gil Rendle says, there is a big difference between counting and measuring. We count things that go into making a church great. We typically count (and calculate) attendance, people, and budgets. It’s easy to set goals that way- attendance, budget, and decisions; but it’s very difficult to know if we’ve made a sustainable impact on a person’s life. Counting asks questions like, “how many, how much more, what do we need to increase our numbers?”
We measure what is produced when we’re faithful to God’s call. We measure what happens in a church as a result of the attendance, giving, studies, and programs. Counting without measuring leads to a shortsighted view of the harvest. If a farmer simply pays attention to the amount of seeds he purchases and sows, but never attends to the soil or the fruit, he’ll never know where to focus. We measure by asking, “How far have we come over the past year? What are the next steps we need to take to fulfill our purpose?”
Paul prayed for the Philippians in this way: “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
That process of determining what is best so that we can produce a harvest of righteousness to the glory and praise of God is awfully ambitious—yet worth it. He challenged the Philippians to integrate their individual lives with their church’s life. What their church worked on is what they were already attempting personally. So a great place to begin is to start with your life in these five areas.
Imagine for a moment that your life is the tree that’s going to produce a harvest of righteousness in five ways: faithful discipleship, strong homes, connected church, transformed city, and servant leadership. What will the harvest look like in five years if we fulfill this call in these five ways?
- Faithful disciples
Jesus said, “Go ye therefore and make disciples.” By implication, humans are born; disciples are made. We don’t naturally want to go through conversion; but when we accept Christ, we are changed. A disciple shares a set of core convictions, puts them into practices through a set of disciplines that reflect those convictions, and then produces the fruit of a virtuous life. It’s like a circle that we could call think (beliefs), act (practices), and be (fruit). By integrating our thinking, doing, and belonging together we show and demonstrate the life of Christ. By starting and participating in groups that model this lifestyle, we can address these needs. Annually, we can assess how far we’ve come and set goals to address needs based on this feedback.What beliefs have you strengthened in the past year? How have you put your beliefs into practice? What are the fruits of the spirit that you or others have seen as evidence in your life?
- Strong homes
The old line, “The family that prays together, stays together,” is still true. Households at First Baptist today comprise a mix of foster parents, blended families, single parents, traditional marriages, and single adults for life. The same principle holds true, however. As Scot McKnight said to me, “When mom and dad are right, everything else can go right. When mom and dad aren’t right, things are difficult for the church. Because marriage between a husband and wife is foundational for our understanding of the family, the gospel, and the church, and a reflection of Christ’s sacrifice for us, we have an important responsibility in this area. Families who study the Bible, pray, and serve together tend to grow stronger. They also become great anchors for families who are going through a crisis or are in need. No family is perfect, and the church should have a number of families seeking grace, reconciliation, and redemption in Christ. Marriages work together before dating, while they’re engaged, and after they’re married to renew and recommit to their vows.Over the past year, how strong is your home? Where have you seen struggles, challenges, and opportunities?
- Transformed City
With so many needs in our city, the most fertile soil right now is in the area of foster care, race relations, and the other churches and nonprofits in our city. We can encourage and empower families to shelter families in need and to welcome new children into their homes. We can participate across the city with other neighborhoods by inviting people of different ethnic and demographic backgrounds for a simple meal and fellowship. We can identify a local African-American congregation to partner with to impact our city and collaborate with other faith based nonprofits to impact our city for Christ.
- Connected church
Participation in worship is so vital to the life of the believer. It’s also the first point of entry into the church for many nonbelievers. Members and guests will feel more connected by increasing our participation and attendance in worship services. We will want people to discover and use their gifts and help them find a place to fit. One of the great signs of that fruit is having strong and deep friendships in the church. When we do, we share information with each other, make sure others know about our friends, and learn the stories of God’s work. We look to incorporate guests and nonbelievers into our groups and evangelize new people.
- Servant leaders
When Jesus washed his disciples feet in John 13, he was showing us not only how to live with him but giving us a model for leadership in the church and community. The book of Hebrews says that leaders can be a template for this kind of reflection. “Remember your leaders and consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” When we train and cultivate servant leaders, they share their faith with future leaders. More men and women will learn about this model of leadership, discover their gifts, and listen for God’s calling. As more people discover God’s call for their lives, we as a church will train, mobilize, and send them to these places. Some of these places are campuses and offices; others are similar cities and ministries across the world. We will also follow leaders differently. We will reflect on Jesus’s pattern and learn to follow more faithfully.
To welcome us to Tallahassee, Ed Jones gave our family a satsuma tree. The first year, we picked one fruit from the tree. (Ed graciously grew the tree a bit before he trusted me with it). Last year, the tree produced no fruit. This year, I’ve noticed several small satsumas starting to grow; but it’s going to take all summer and a lot of water before they’re ripe. Ed also fertilized the tree over the winter. I think of that little tree like the Christian life. All of us are growing—some with new buds, others dormant, some are about to produce fruit. God can use all of us to reap a harvest. How will you know if you produce fruit in these five ways by 2020?