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pastorway

And He Himself gave some to be....evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...
- Ephesians 4:11-12

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Location: The Hill Country of Texas

Pastor - Providence Reformed Baptist Church
Director - TIME in the Word Ministries

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fruit or Fluff

Often in the life of a family or a church we reach a point in time where we are forced to look at what we do and why we do it. If this examination is to be fruitful then we must test our traditions and our accepted practices against the Scripture. What does the Word of God say? Just as often, when we are faced with such a situation we seem rather quick to test our doctrine and practice against experience instead.

We see that things are not working as we think that they should and we see needs and places where in our beliefs and our living we are lacking in godliness, holiness, or effectiveness. Usually it is when we think we have been ineffective that we are challenged to think about these things. At heart we are all very pragmatic. We want to know what works. What brings success?

Even if our motives are right - a desire to see the lost saved and the church sanctified and grown - too often we allow this pragmatic spirit to drive us toward the things that are perceived to be effective, no matter the doctrinal underpinning for the programs. That is why books by Rick Warren and Joel Olsteen are best sellers. People want results. People want success. And people by and large do not care what the Bible says about it. After all, Warren and Osteen both quote the Bible in many versions often and abundantly. (Don't let little things like context and proper interpretation get in the way though, for these kinds of teachers seem to be able to make the Bible say whatever they want it to say to make their point and sell their books.)

Pastors are no exception to this desire for success. Our ministry is always under scrutiny. The congregation, the church association, the community, and other pastors look to see if our efforts are bearing fruit. If they are seen to be effective, then we are interviewed, grilled even, and we are emulated and imitated. Good or bad, right or wrong, in this environment results mean success.

We are taught how to dress, speak, act, walk, and interact with others so that we are the model of Christian maturity, deference, and success. We learn to be professionals. We learn to do our job. And sadly, we often learn how to hide the truth about whom and what we are and we do our job whether we are qualified or not.

That is why men like Ted Haggard can hold the highest positions within evangelicalism all the while living the life of disqualified depravity. And this is why Jimmy Swaggert can still raise money for the "ministry." Because they know how to look successful whether or not their lives are bearing fruit or just blowing fluff.

But what about the little men? The unknowns? Those who are pastoring without the fanfare and the fame. What about their ministry? How can we know if it is fruit or fluff? We can know by seeing how pastors define a few terms. These things are critical, indeed crucial to being a pastor. What are these terms? We need to know how our pastors define success, fruit, growth, and failure. We also need to know how they define their own jobs - what is it to be a pastor?

Biblically, let us define these terms.

Success

Biblically success is not measured by money, approval, influence, or by numbers. Success is measured in terms of faithfulness. The Bible tells us that wisdom brings success (Eccl 10:10). To be wise is to see things from the right perspective. And what is it that can change our perspective when it is wrong? It is the Word of God. No wonder then that we are told in Joshua 1:8 that it is when we meditate on the Word of God that we are guaranteed success.

The trap and the deceit are found in those who would define success in worldly terms. Why in the world would we think that worldly measures of success mean anything to God? But this is what we tend to believe. We think that money, approval, influence, or numbers mean success. We think in terms of Wall Street and seek to make a profit on our "investments" yet all the while the Bible teaches success through death! It is through the mortification of the flesh, it is through crucifying the flesh, and it is through self denial that we find true success.

To put an end to this ludicrous idea that worldly fame and success can be equated with pleasing God let us look at one verse. 1 Corinthians 3:19 tells us, "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." That sums it up. The things that are taken as successful in worldly terms are foolishness to God. Want an illustration? Here are two:

Noah preached 120 years without one convert. Jeremiah went his whole ministry being mocked, scorned, and persecuted. Think about these things. There was nothing in these ministries that can be taken as success from a worldly standpoint. And yet these men were faithful to God and pleased Him. That is the measure of success.

Another way to look at it is found in asking a pastor a simple question. Ask him, "How is your church?" Nine times out of ten the answer will deal with the number of people attending! We really do equate numbers with success. Yet how many would answer and talk about fruit, or about holiness, or about maturity? Success is not about the number of people we reach - it is about being faithful.

When we do what we are supposed to do in obedience to Christ then He will build His church. And when the saints are equipped and serving, then the church is succeeding - no matter the numbers, the money, the fame, or the accolades of the world. Face it, when the world loves the gospel we preach then we have failed to preach the true gospel!

Fruit

What is it to bear fruit? The answer is so simple and so overlooked! The Bible tells us what fruit we are to bear. However, we are told that to bear fruit is to have numbers, to have a list of converts, baptisms, rededications, accompanied by pledges for giving to fund our latest "kingdom endeavors." We equate fruit with the number of people, the amount of money, and the level of commitment to our programs.

But the Bible tells us that fruit is nothing short of godly living. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Gal 5:22-23). In fact, a proof of false teaching and bad doctrine is ungodly living. What does that say about our churches and our families? When we claim to hold to sound doctrine and yet live like the world we prove that either we are liars and do not believe the truth, or we are holding to false doctrine. Sound doctrine accords with godliness - that is, it produces good fruit.

Jesus told us plainly that we would know a man, and by extension a church, by their fruit (Matt 7:20). What is the lasting fruit being produced? Think about it in the context of dealing with sin. When a man is confronted with sin, rebuked Biblically, and encouraged to repent, what does he do? Does he get defensive? Does he lash out? Does he try to justify his behavior or his words? Or does he do what John the Baptist said was necessary - does he bear fruit worthy of repentance? (Matt 3:8).

In truth, if we are bearing fruit, when we are rebuked we will do several things. We will humble ourselves. We will admit our sin (confession). We will not make excuses or try to defend ourselves; instead we will beg for forgiveness from all we have wronged. These are fruits worthy of repentance.

Think of Zacchaeus. When he met the Lord and was converted he immediately confessed his sin and made restitution, paying back what he had stolen. He was glad to do this. He had to do this. For when we repent, we bear fruit.

We see then that fruit is not counted in terms of things, but in terms of obedience and godliness, and holiness.

Growth

This is a catch phrase to be sure. There is everything from the church growth movement to personal growth. There are huge self help sections even in "Christian" book stores. Everybody wants to grow. So how do we define growth?

Often growth is defined again by numbers. How many people do we reach? How many make decisions? How many are involved in our work? Every year we pat ourselves on the back as we review the numbers, as if they tell the true story of what kind of growth has occurred. Growth, simply put, should be measured in terms of maturity.

Are we maturing in the faith? Are we becoming men and women of character? Are we equipped to sow the seed of the Word of God and are we content to leave the results in His hands?

Often it is the most immature who are zealous - it is the baby Christian who is the most excited about service in the church. And the result is that these newborns are handed responsibility for teaching and leading in the church. How foolish is it, and how harmful to the church and to these new Christians to put then in a place where they will be held to a higher standard of judgment as teachers of the Word of God? That is why pastors above all should be mature and "not a novice" (1 Tim 3:6).

Growth then is not zeal, excitement, or even the acceptance of sound doctrine. People who make doctrinal shifts quickly and often surely frighten me. They are tossed about and move from one position to another without thinking through the Biblical basis for what they believe. And even more often we find that the immature are not growing because they are still taking in milk when they should be eating meat. They are quick to argue for the truth and the doctrines which they believe but those who are immature always argue from a selfish standpoint and never from a position of love for the body of Christ.

Growth then is not change, it is not accepting new or novel doctrinal positions, and it is not adding numbers or gaining followers. Growth is maturing in our understanding of the Word. What then are the marks of true growth in our lives and in our churches?

True growth brings humility, obedience, love, sacrifice, selflessness, patience, and faithfulness. If we do not have these things then we are not growing, no matter how many of us there are.

Failure

What is it to fail? To tell a funny story there was an event early in my life that drove me to be really good at spelling. Many say that I am a walking dictionary now. I am asked often how to spell words. What was it that drove me into this compulsive mania of correct spelling? It was my first spelling bee. I was in the fifth grade and everyone had to participate, and there I was in front of the whole school when the first and last word I was given to spell was "failure."

I really did think about it. Nervously I began to spell, "F-A-I-L....." What comes next? At the time I honestly did not know. My mind went blank. So I sounded it out, and finished spelling, ".....E-R." Wrong. I was out of the spelling bee. And I have never misspelled "failure" since.

In our lives and in our churches if we have a wrong view of success, fruit, and growth, then inevitably we will have a wrong view of failure. We will often think we have failed when in reality God is trying us, testing us, and proving our faith. We see lack of response to our preaching and witnessing as failure. We see declining church attendance as failure. We see a small congregation as being on the brink of failure.

But how does the Bible define failure? Scripturally the term failure is often used to describe something not working as it should. Something is off. Something is wrong. It is not necessarily about amount, but quality. When the crops fail there is not enough good fruit or food to eat. When flocks fail the offspring die or are sick. And when the endeavors of men fail they have failed to please God.

In everything we do we are to glorify God. In everything we are to be faithful to Him, obeying His Word and doing His will. We are to rightly handle the Word of God so that the people we teach and minister to are able to be equipped for the work of service to God and to the body. To fail is to stop pleasing God.

That means that even if we preach 120 years and no one is converted, as long as we have faithfully and diligently preached the word then we have not failed. How can I say that? God's Word never fails. And if it is preached faithfully, then it is God's job to give the increase. If He does not, and we have been faithful, then we have not failed.

This does not excuse laziness or a failure to diligently study, interpret, and preach the Word. But it does mean that the results are to be left up to God. We preach not to please men but to be faithful to God. In fact, throughout the Old Testament we are given a picture of the priest ministering before the people. But to whom is he actually ministering? He is ministering before the people, to God.

Failure then is not pleasing God. It is being unfaithful. And frankly, the single biggest pressure placed on preachers that lead to real failure is the pressure to succeed in worldly terms. We must learn though not to be men-pleasers. If we please men we will not please God and if we do not please God then it does not matter how many men we please!

The Pastor's Primary Task

Having defined these terms then we need to ask what the primary task for a pastor is in the church. How does he define his job? What is it to be a pastor?

To be clear, the ministry in not a vocation or a profession. It is a calling. We are not professionals. We are not CEOs. We are not business people. We are pastors. And to understand the job we need to understand the terms used throughout Scripture to define the position to which we are called.

The New Testament gives us three words used to describe to office of a pastor. Here they are as the Bible uses ad defines them:

Overseer, or Bishop

Translated from the Greek word episkopas it is a word that means "overseer, guardian, decision maker, or manager." Here are a few verses where the word is used:

1 Peter 2:25 speaks of Christ as the "Overseer of your souls." Philippians 1:1 refers to those who were appointed as elders of the church at Philippi. 1 Tim. 3:1-2 introduces us to a paragraph of Scripture that tells us about the qualities necessary for a man who is given as a pastor to the church. And Acts 20:28 makes reference with this word to the Ephesian elders.

Roman and Greek cultural usage of the word episkopas finds an overseer being the authority figure representing Caesar in a conquered territory (like Pontius Pilate for instance). The term signified the person’s authority, their accountability to a higher power, and their task of introducing a new order of life!

Elder

The word presbuteros is translated "elder". It speaks of a man who is older or mature. In Acts 14:23 we see that a new local church is planted by the appointing of elders. Churches all over Asia are identified as having a leadership structure consisting of elders (1 Peter 1:1; 5:1-2).

Paul sent for the elders of the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17), and he also served as an elder in the church as well as being an Apostle (Acts 13:1). And we see a meeting of these church leaders in Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4.

These were men who are mature in the faith, some older in years but all "older" regarding spiritual maturity and character. Biblically, the elders (plural) rule the church by unanimous decision led by the Spirit and guided by the Word of God. (1 Cor 1:10; Eph 4:3; Phil 1:27; Phil 2:2).

Pastor, or Shepherd

The third word used is the word poimen which is translated "pastor." The word means "a shepherd, one who cares for, protects, and leads."

In Heb. 13:20-21 Christ is identified by this term as our shepherd. And interestingly 1 Tim. 5:17 shows us the labor involved in pastoring, speaking about the work of shepherding by referring specifically to the effort of the work, not the amount. And 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 give us the required qualifications for these men who would shepherd the church of God.

The pastor then is a shepherd, serving under and appointed by Christ to lead, feed, and protect the flock, the local church. The pastors model of course is Christ, who Himself is the Good Shepherd.

In examining these terms then we see that they do describe one man in one office, that of a pastor-teacher. The term elder refers to who the man is (his identity as mature in the faith), the term overseer refers to what he does (his job as manager), and the term pastor refers to his heart as he does the job (his character as a shepherd)!

If a man does not meet the Biblical qualifications for the office (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), and if he does not actively LIVE the definitions of these descriptive terms for the office, then he should step down and stop pretending to be something he is not.

If he does meet the qualifications then what is his job description? The simplest job description given is found in Acts 6. There we read:

1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

There it is. In order to pastor effectively the pastor does not need to be up on the latest academic and doctrinal controversies. He does not have to be versed in the latest best sellers and programs. He does not have to go out of his way to please all the people all the time - that in and of itself is impossible anyway.

In order to be successful, in order to bear fruit, in order to see true growth, and in order to avoid failure, a pastor must be given to prayer and preaching. It really is that simple. He must pray and he must preach. Both must be done fervently and faithfully, at every opportunity, with a view toward faithfulness to God and His Word.

Too many think that they have succeeded and are bearing fruit and are growing and are avoiding failure when in reality they are spending all of their time and energy on everything but prayer and preaching. It is here that we find the difference between the fruit and the fluff. As Ravenhill stated many times, "No man is greater than his prayer life." And this is true - a man who does not pray will not succeed, bear fruit, or grow. But he will fail. And a man who preaches to please and impress men rather than to faithfully declare the Word of the Lord also will not succeed, will not bear fruit, and will not grow. But he will fail.

Why is it then that we have so little fruit and so much fluff in our churches? I think it is because we have moved away from the Biblical model of ministry and we have begun to follow men. We have redefined terms and we are seeking success in worldly terms and are settling for growth that is shallow, sickly, and sinful!

We need men who will pray and who will preach no matter the cost. And the truth is that when they do pray and preach then they will succeed, they will bear fruit, and their churches will grow. Maybe not the way we have been deceived into thinking - but God will be pleased, and at the end of the day that is all that really matters.

Preachers - you are called to do one thing well - you are called to speak. Speak to God in prayer and speak to men in preaching. Nothing else in your ministry matters and if you fail here you have most certainly failed, no matter what any mere man says to you about it.

Pray then. And preach. As if lives depended upon it. Because they do - and the task of speaking to God and to men has been given to you by Divine calling. You will not, you cannot succeed, bear fruit, or see real growth without both. Pray without ceasing. Preach in season and out. Pray and preach, remembering that the glory belongs to God and He will give the increase as He so desires.

If you want to see fruit instead of fluff, put away childish things and act like a man. Seek to please God and nothing men say will deter you in your task.

The church today, as always, needs men who will pray and who will preach. Pour out your life in these endeavors and you have nothing to fear when you give an account before God, as all teachers will.

Pray and Preach. Then we will see the fluff blown away as the fruit comes into season. Fruit that lasts forever to the glory of God.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Lawrence Underwood said...

Very well said.

5:52 AM  

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