“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
Sometimes I speak before thinking. The Bishop had come into town to address a gathering of clergy about upcoming initiatives and events in the life of our Annual Conference. We spent a significant amount of time addressing the metrics that all United Methodist Churches are required to measure and report on a weekly basis including: Worship Attendance, Weekly Offering, Professions of Faith, Christian Formation Groups, Mission Giving/Persons in Mission. When the presentation came to a conclusion, the Bishop opened the floor for questions. A few timid hands rose from the pews with standard questions about particular theological issues that the church is still wrestling with, and before I knew it I had my hand sticking straight up in the air and the bishop asked for my question.
I thanked the bishop for taking time to speak with us and then I launched right into my question. It went something like this: “I can appreciate the need to log our metric data every week as we seek to be better stewards of our churches and continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. However, what are we doing about the churches that are no longer fruitful? Are we addressing their negative data? Because I seem to remember a time when Jesus said ‘I am the vine, and my Father in the vinegrower, and he removes the branches that no longer bear fruit.’” At that moment a number of the clergy in the room began to laugh nervously and I continued on, “I’m not kidding around. If we’re serious about living into God’s kingdom here and now, then are we willing to cut off the branches that are no longer bearing fruit?”
The silence that followed was palpable.
The Bishop took his time to address my question and explained that we need to mourn the loss of any church, but the coming reality is that some churches are no longer bearing fruit and we will have to do something about it eventually. I recognize now that I could’ve articulated my question in a gentler fashion, but I still stand by Christ’s words.
In our faith journeys, and in our churches, we tend to desire change by addition while Christ articulated an alternative. If something is not bearing fruit in our churches or in our lives, what would it look like for us to cut them away? The future of our faith and church is largely dependent on our willingness to sacrifice the branches that have continued to wither away while other branches are bearing fruit in other places.
This week, let us take a good look at our lives to see whether or not we are bearing fruit. Let us pray to the Lord for guidance about how we can be better stewards of our churches and bear fruit for God’s kingdom.