A Book Overview by Kwasi Kena
Want to find something that clergy and regular folks have in common? Put the words “name your fear” in a search engine, and you will find entries from writers struggling to find their writing voice, people trying to overcome self-conscious concerns about their appearance, and students worried about fitting in at school. Missing from the top of the list is the voice of clergy and laypersons in leadership in the church.
What concerns to church folks have? What keeps pastors up at night? In the introduction to Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results authors Lovett Weems Jr. and Tom Berlin state “…as [pastors and highly committed laypersons] grow older, [they] carry a deep and imperative fear: that the ministry of the church will be fruitless in their generation.”
In local churches, conversations about bearing fruit can quickly turn into opportunities for pastors to boast “we’ve got 1,500 on the rolls.” More often the conversations give way to rationalizations: “I’m not called to effective, I am called to be faithful,” or “I am called to a ministry of presence,” and, “You have to understand where we are in our lifecycle as a congregation.” Juxtaposed to these comments is the parable of the barren fig tree—three years barren, spared for one more year for cultivation in hopes of bearing fruit (Luke 13:6-9).
With the precision of skilled surgeons, Weems and Berlin name not only the fears and objections to bearing fruit, but they also outline workable processes that can lead a congregation into fruitful ministry. As usual, one key to forward progress is strong leadership development.
Remember the Three “Cs”: Character, Competence, and Contribution
Weems, through The Lewis Center for Church Leadership, the director, studied the most common recurring expectations of clergy leadership. The study identified three descriptors of effectiveness: character, competence, and contribution. The first two categories, character of the leader and that leader’s competence in carrying out duties, are normally the only measures of faithful ministry. These two categories focus on who people are, what people do, and how people do a task. According to the authors, the third category, contribution, holds the most potential for generating more fruitful ministry. They urge clergy and lay leadership to focus on competence, i.e. what we accomplish.
Weems and Berlin describe contribution as a leader’s ability to work with a congregation “to discern God’s vision for them and [guide] the implementation of the vision so that the congregation bears fruit…” Unfortunately, the authors note that the job descriptions at the denominational level, in churches, and in schools pay “very little attention…to ‘what we accomplish.'”
A most impressive feature of this book is its practicality. Weems and Berlin help the reader discover how to repurpose common practices into methods for producing good fruit. Take evaluation, as an example. Change the function of ministry evaluation from mere reporting to leading the group into outcome-based results. For example, an evaluation of a choir retreat could merely list the number of people who attended, the repertoire decided upon for the Easter musical, and so on. Or the evaluation could help choir members clarify their roles in music ministry that support the overall mission of the church.
A recurring quote appears in Leading Ideas, an e-newsletter produced by The Lewis Center for Church Leadership: “Leaders do not need answers. Leaders must have the right questions.” This truism runs through each chapter. Questions lead to bottom-line answers. Ask the perpetual “why question” and begin your answer with the words “so that,” and you will quickly discover the ultimate aim and purpose of what you are doing.
Why do we worship? We worship so that…. The way your worship committee completes that sentence should underscore the mission of the local church. How does your worship help make disciples for the transformation of the world? By the time you include the musicians, ushers, and pastor, in the so that experience, you will begin to discover where you are bearing godly fruit and where you are not.
The last part of the book focuses on vision: the church’s vision for ministry and the leaders’ vision for ministry. Here you will find a break from the normal rhetoric that spouts the importance of the pastor “casting the vision” and getting the congregation to buy into it. Instead, the book emphasizes the reality that fruitful biblical vision is about discovering “the vision to which God is calling a people,” not the sole vision of the pastor. The leader’s role is to help the congregation take the next faithful step toward fulfillment of God’s vision for that church. This is a collective process.
Bearing Fruit is a breath of fresh air among so many books promoting cookie-cutter approaches to church growth. This is no formula-driven text. This is a practical read for both clergy and lay leadership that can actually guide a church out of stagnation into fruitful ministry. This is a book an entire church should both read and put into practice.