Growth, fruitfulness and pruning

You hear some talks about church leadership and you get the impression that church life is meant to be about continuous exponential growth.

You read some church websites and you get the impression that if your website doesn’t begin with “We are a lively, growing church” then there’s something wrong with you.

We’ve experienced times when our local church has been growing, those times have been encouraging but it’s not always like that. I’ve seen/heard people describing Bearwood Chapel as a growing church and thought “I wish that was the case” because at that point, we’ve actually been plateauing or even losing people. We also are aware that there’ve been periods when a lot of new people have turned up but we’ve not seen conversions.

This week, we had a leaders afternoon/evening facilitated by James Hyde from The Church Planting Initiative and he said some very helpful things about this.

  1. Growth is not always about linear growth to the top right on your charts.
  2. We are not always meant to be growing in size. For example, it isn’t good fro a man in his 40s to be growing in size because at that stage it means he is putting on weight.
  3. There seems to be a biblical pattern of seasons.

James then took us to John 15 where Jesus calls his disciples to abide in him. He used this to illustrated a cycle of seasons in life.  These can be seen individually, with ministries and with the whole church.

These seasons are

Abiding – Rest, refreshment, encouragement

Growing – New things, new people, new ideas

Fruitfulness -the harvest -results, conversions, deepening discipleship etc

Pruning -things that need to be stripped away in my own life, ministries that it’s time to stoop or reduce, people that are moved on.

I’ve listed these in a linear format but it’s actually a cycle, after pruning you return to abiding.[1]I found two things particularly helpful in this.

First of all, the reminder that pruning happens and that it is for our good and for further fruitfulness. Pruning is painful and, in a success orientated world, we don’t want to talk about it. We love talking about growth and fruitfulness – in fact, we can be more excited by the growth stage than the fruit stage if we are honest. Yet it is important to see and recognise what God is foing at each stage.

Secondly, the importance of that abiding phase in the pattern. God encouraged a pattern of 6 days work and one day rest (as well as night and day) and ancient Israel followed a pattern of sabbath years and jubilee years.  For those of us who are activists, this is hard, we want to be constantly doing and this might be a warning sign that we are relying on or own works and not depending on the Lord. There are times when we must say no or wait. It’s also important in corporate church life that when the answer is no or wait that we listen. We may be frustrated, we may be tempted to rush off to do things on our own but as well as running into danger ourselves, we may be failing to love the rest of the body.

Of course, if this is meant to be a stage in the cycle, then the other temptation to avoid is to become comfortable and stuck at that stage.


[1] Note, this is an illustrative image. We don’t stop abiding in Christ as per john 15. The illustration is of a period of resting, refreshing and not trying to go full speed ahead with new activities