Why Being Fruitful is as Important as Being Faithful

In many corners of the church today, there’s an unhelpful and unhealthy division between theology and practical ministry. This division is damaging to both the discipline of theology and the practice of ministry because one without the other causes an imbalance.

Part of the cause of this division is the large number of theologically-minded people who spurn practicality as pragmatism. This can be seen as an overreaction to the Church Growth Movement of the 1980s.

Such critics rigorously decried a methodological mania as devoid of theological foundation. They took aim at folks like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and John Maxwell, accusing them of having only a modicum of theology accompanied by mountains of methodology.

Unfortunately, those theologically-minded people concerned with too much practicality, strategy, and leadership, threw the baby out with the bath water. Rather than looking for the proper place of practicality, strategy, and leadership, they found no place for it.

There are theologically-minded people who are producing large bodies of literature attempting rebuff any emphasis on the practical. They are teaching a whole world of people—a whole generation of pastors—that practical ministry, leadership strategies, and coaching don’t matter. I feel like some think practicality in any degree is heretical. It’s ecclesiology that matters, they say. All that matters is theology, they say.

They are creating a division, where no necessary division exists.

Contrary to that line of thinking, you have to consider the effectiveness of your ministry as well. Effectiveness isn’t only measured by the straightness of the angles in your division of the word of truth. Resist the urge to cluck your tongue when the topic turns to statistics and best practices, even if you just want to rush straight to ecclesiology and soteriology.

Honestly, it seems in some instances the “love” for theology is an excuse for failed discipleship, failed attendance growth, or failed discipleship, failed attendance growth, or failed outreach efforts. And, of course, that’s not what they say—they say they are just being faithful. The problem is they are not working in such a way to also be fruitful.

Here’s the danger. If we raise up a generation of theologically-minded people who have no tools for applying it to practical ministry, then reproduction stops. If we become so theological to the neglect of the practical, then ministry will be hindered.

That doesn’t mean we embrace the practical to the neglect of the theological. It’s also dangerous to go too far in the other direction. Practicality cannot be the driving force. Pragmatism cannot be the central focus of what we do. You have to be theologically-minded as well as practical.

Some essentially say, “I just want to do anything I can to reach people for Jesus.” That’s a bad idea. Don’t do anything you can to reach people for Jesus, because then you will end up losing the gospel.

The way we do ministry has to be driven by what we believe about the gospel and about theology. But if all we care about is theology and not how we might best apply theology in the world then we’re not taking seriously the gospel and theology.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

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4 Questions to Check Your Church Culture

There’s only so much you can learn about a church from their website.

Sure, you can check the church’s doctrinal statement to find out what the people believe. You can see from the church calendar what programs run and how active people are in church activities. But the calendar and confession don’t necessarily tell you about the church’s culture.

Culture is the heart of your church, the atmosphere your church creates – whatever makes your church unique.

Unfortunately, the culture of a church doesn’t always match the confession. And when the culture isn’t aligned with the confession or the calendar, the culture typically wins. Which means, as church leaders, we shouldn’t spend all our time stocking the calendar or tweaking the confession. Instead, we need to take a step back and ask some questions about our culture.

In Creature of the Word, Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger write:

“A church culture is healthy when there is congruence and consistency between what the church says is important to her and what others know really is important to her.”

So how do you know what your church culture is like? Here are a few questions:

1. What are you funding?

If your website says “missions” is a core value, and yet the music ministry budget is four times as big as your missions ministry, your church culture doesn’t line up with your stated values.

Follow the money. What are you funding? It’s likely that the more inward-focused your budget is, the more inward-focused your church is.

2. What are your people talking about? 

I recently spent some time on a college campus, and went to dinner with a couple guys. For two hours, all I heard about was the people these guys were discipling. Drug addicts. Homeless people. People far from God. It was clear from casual conversations that the culture of the school was mission-focused.

Spend time in casual conversations with the people in your congregation. You’ll discover what people are excited about. Talk to them long enough and you’ll discover the motivation behind the excitement. Are volunteers excited about VBS because of their love for kids, or because they hope to outshine the other churches across town? Are people always talking about personal preferences or how to be better effective in mission?

3. Who or what is the focus of attention?

What is the church focused on? Certain programs that give the church a good reputation? A ministry that gets good press? Powerful worship? Preaching? All these are good things can eventually supplant the worship of Christ.

Pity the pastor whose message is all about Jesus but whose ministry is all about himself! It’s possible to say Jesus is the hero from the platform and yet live as if you’re the hero of the church.

4. What are signs that back up your talk?

In Creature of the Word, a gospel-centered framework is described as a house.

  • Theology is the foundation – what your church believes.
  • Ministry philosophy is the structure and the design of the house, the commitments that undergird all your church does.
  • Practice is the furniture of the house, what your church actually does.

Look at what your church is doing, the activities your church is involved in. And ask yourself where your practice aligns with your philosophy and theology. What are the signs that your people actually believe the confessional statement about evangelism? Or the core value of hospitality?

Look for the signs that back up your church’s talk, and then publicly celebrate those signs constantly. You become what you celebrate.

Conclusion

It’s possible to talk about grace and still be a legalist. It’s possible to talk about Jesus and still be self-centered. It’s possible to talk about guests and still be unwelcoming.

So check the culture of your church. Listen to those who visit. Ask friends to give you feedback. Don’t give up until the Jesus you worship and proclaim from the platform is the center of everything your church does.

Read more from Trevin here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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COMMENTS

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Adamson — 10/22/14 8:18 am

I M Very much blessed and helped.

Beau — 06/27/14 3:41 pm

Great insights. Id add one more - is it reproducing and do they have a reproducing plan?

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Better Worship Requires Better Theology: How to Increase Joy, Fidelity, and Intensity in Worship

“How do I help people engage in worship?”

I know of few church leaders for whom this isn’t a concern on some level. Whether we’re small group leaders, playing in the praise band or the senior leaders, we all want to see the men and women in our churches increasingly engaged in worship (in every sense of the word).

So… how do we do that?

Is it through turning up the speakers? Singing songs with lots of participation, clapping and suggested actions in the lyrics?

D.A. Carson offers a pretty different suggestion in his recently released book, Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed:

We increase the intensity, joy, and fidelity of our worship, not by including the verb “to worship” in every second line in our so-called “worship songs,” but by knowing more about God, and bringing our adoration to him, as he is.

Insofar as our conceptions of him diverge from what he has disclosed of himself, so far are we worshiping a false god, which is normally called idolatry. To study hard what holy Scripture says about the Son of God, who has most comprehensively revealed his heavenly Father, is to know more about God, and thus to begin to ground our worship in reality rather than slogans. (Kindle location 1204)

Carson’s point is simple: better worship requires better theology.

It seems counterintuitive. Indeed, some have suggested it’s simplicity, rather than complexity, that increases the intensity of worship. You often see this argument used in connection with battles over hymns in modern worship services.

The language is unfamiliar (unless the lyrics have been updated) and the theology expressed is too complex for the average Christian, or so go some arguments (never mind that the audience for many of the hymns we still widely sing today was illiterate farmers).

True, many (but certainly not all) of the hymns are anything but simple. But, then, neither are many of the preeminent examples of songs of worship found in the Psalms and throughout the rest of Scripture. They communicate profoundly deep—and often complex—truths about God.

At the risk of overstating, I would suggest the objection many have today about complexity in worship is not because “simple” is better. It’s that we are too ill-equipped to handle much more than the most basic truths of Scripture.

While we must always be careful that we don’t succumb to sinful intellectual elitism, we can’t ignore the way God appears to have wired the Christian faith—increased knowledge and understanding of God leads to increased worship.

Depth begets awe.

This is (at least in part) the desire that is to fuel our disciple-making, as Paul’s prayer for the Colossians makes clear. Maybe it should be our prayer, too:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share inthe inheritance of the saints in light. (Col 1:9-12)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Armstrong

Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty (Cruciform Press, 2011). He is a writer, serves as an itinerant preacher throughout southern Ontario, Canada, and blogs daily at Blogging Theologically.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.