The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”
I've always wondered how the fig tree in the vineyard fared once the gardener gave it some special attention. Did his efforts pay off? Did the pressure of a deadline bring a useful focus to his work?
Sometimes, in the church we can be very fuzzy (and sometimes lazy) about how we measure things, perhaps because, often, the metrics of church growth don't allow enough leeway for less quantifiable aspects of ministry.
Faithfulness, a quality revered in church speak, may be ineffective while fruitfulness may only result in poor quality produce.
We need a much more multi faceted way of measuring ministry efforts and the impact, not on the church, but on the kingdom of God.
Some of that will involve numbers, but those numbers must always be tempered by stories of lives changed, of glimpses of God along the way, of accountability for resources assigned and of learning gleaned as risks are taken.
Communication and evaluation are important in ensuring that our focus remains clear. And, difficult decisions and pruning are also a part of good stewardship. The extravagance and abundance of God's gifts means we should be more, not less, careful of squandering them but, rather, seek diligently to discern those tasks to which God calls us and equips us for the mission of God in our world today.
Over the next few months, reporting on the movement that is Path of Renewal will require focus on articulating our discernment of God's purpose and calling in all our different ministry contexts, gathering together stories of lives changed and communities impacted (obeying Christ's commission to "Go and make disciples"), reconciling church growth and kingdom growth and disseminating the many lessons learned that will contribute to our continued ability to be a "sent church" that takes seriously the many and varied ways God invites us to be partners in mission and ministry today.