“As I read, reflected, and taught, I came to the conclusion that a more biblical theme for evaluation than either success or faithfulness is fruitfulness. Jesus, of course, told his disciples that they were to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8). Paul spoke even more specifically. He spoke of conversions as “fruit” when he desired to preach the gospel in Rome “that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles” (Rom 1:13 KJV). Paul also spoke of the “fruit” of godly character that a minister can see growing in Christians under his care. This included the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). Good deeds, such as mercy to the poor, are called “fruit” as well (Rom 15:28).
Paul spoke of the pastoral nurture of congregations as a form of gardening. He told the Corinthian Christians they were God’s ‘field’ in which some ministers planted, some watered and some reaped (1 Cor 3:9). The gardening metaphor shows that . . . [g]ardeners must be faithful in their work, but they must also be skillful, or the garden will fail. Yet in the end, the degree of the success of the garden (or the ministry) is determined by factors beyond the control of the gardener. The level of fruitfulness varies due to ‘soil conditions’ (that is, some groups of people have a greater hardness of heart than others) and ‘weather conditions’ (that is, the work of God’s sovereign Spirit) as well. Therefore, ‘When fruitfulness is our criterion for evaluation, we are held accountable but not crushed by the expectation that a certain number of lives will be changed dramatically under our ministry.’” (Tim Keller, Center Church)
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