Turnover in the Kingdom: Fruit that doesn’t remain.
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
To open with this particular passage of scripture may seem harsh, disrespectful, or even outright insulting. However, Christian leaders must face the reality that we must indeed return to the basics, because what we have been doing up to this point, for the most part, isn’t working.
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. (John 15:16-17)
In the last several years, a growing trend has emerged: the vast majority of “new converts” to Christianity do not remain in the faith. In fact, only about 6% remain committed to Christ after just one year. If Christ ordained us to bear fruit that remains, then we must consider the possibility that at least some of the responsibility for such a tremendous fall-away rate must lie with us as leaders. Not surprisingly, even churches with follow-up programs, friendship networks, cell groups and a host of other service-oriented features experience similar fall-away rates. It’s good to follow up with people and look after them; in fact, the Bible clearly teaches that we ought to (Proverbs 27:23). However, we must also recognize that if our fruit does not remain, then we must have in some way operated in a manner inconsistent with God’s principles.
Now that we have spent some time studying (and, we hope, developing) the character of Christ, we must then proceed to the application of His character and His word to the principles by which we shall administer leadership. Indeed, many a pitfall, trouble and snare, can be avoided by the application of these fundamental principles, and they are essential to effective, victorious, leadership. One might ask why we should return to fundamental principles, and the answer is simple. In most occupations, it is the application and mastery of fundamental principles that produce greatness. Anyone who has achieved greatness can attest to this. After all, the central reason for the success of Jesus Christ in His mission was that he was obedient unto death, and surely obedience is a fundamental principle.
Departing from the fundamentals of sound Christian leadership, and indeed, from the very fundamentals of the faith, have produced terrible results. Remember that in previous lessons we discussed how thoughts become results. Thoughts become emotions and inclinations, which influence our decisions. Decisions lead to actions, and actions always produce results. Recent polls have revealed the following trends among Christians in the United States:
95% of Christians admit that they are either carnal or still a babe in Christ.
As leaders, we are not just called, but equipped to bring the saints to maturity. Many among us will refuse to accept responsibility for this trend, but if the Bible clearly tells us that God established leadership in the church for the maturing of the saints, then clearly some among us have been slack in our duties. Some of us will go to great lengths to explain this is an evil generation, or that you can’t control what people do, and so on. However, in the business world, as well as in the military, those who are in authority are held responsible for the action, inaction, performance, and conduct of their subordinates in respect to the operations of the unit or corporation. The CEO can’t control every behavior pattern around him, and he isn’t expected to. He is, however, expected to provide the leadership and management that will cause people to do their job, and cause the company to be profitable, at least in theory. If he doesn’t, he may very well find himself out of a job. Should the call to lead God’s people observe a lower standard? God forbid.
The majority of Christians in America do not believe the Bible is the word of God.
When asked whether they thought the Bible was the inspired word of God, this is how thousands of Christians responded:
Episcopalians 87% NO
Methodists 82% NO
Presbyterians 81% NO
Lutherans 57% NO
Overall, only 45% of American Christians (all denominations combined) believe that the Bible is to be taken literally. Only about 20% of college graduates believe that the Bible is inspired, and many of these do not believe it should be taken literally. Why is this important? It means that the vast majority of people who will lead in business, education, and government will be people who do not have a Biblical world-view, and this is readily seen in the growing number of court decisions and new laws that threaten the free-speech and other rights of Christians.
Was Jesus born of a virgin?
As believers, we know this to be true. Yet growing numbers of Christians do not believe this to be true. Our human technology can accomplish such a thing, yet, those who name Christ as their savior are unable to believe that God could do so supernaturally. Similar trends are occurring with regard to Jesus being the Son of God, and whether He rose from the dead. Let us remember that you cannot be saved if you do not believe that He rose from the dead (Romans 10:9). The product of Christian leadership is supposed to be mature Christians.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-15)
In fact, we can see in this passage that the prime directive of Christian leaders is to mature the saints, then to do the work of the ministry. If 95% are babes or carnal, we as leaders have not done our jobs, and it’s time to stop making excuses. What factory would remain open long if its production held to the same standards? What CEO would keep his job if his performance were along these lines? In the airline industry, some CEOs are paid many millions of dollars per year while running companies into bankruptcy, but I’m certain that they are not the example we’re supposed to follow.
We live in a generation in which there is little difference between the Church and the world, and indeed the Church is worse off in a variety of ways. The divorce rate is higher in the church that in the world. In fact, in the “Bible belt” states, the divorce rate is about twice what it is in Massachusetts, which is home to gay marriage and other liberal trends. How can this be so? Unsaved liberals tend to marry when they feel they are ready to make a serious, life-long commitment, whereas many Christians marry so that they can have sex, though few will admit that this is often a primary motivation. Now, there are other contributing factors, such as economics, and the tendency of the unsaved to cohabit instead of marrying, but the bottom line is that as a people we have produced a culture that is conducive to such trends.
Now, I don’t mention these things to discourage, or to be negative, but rather to recognize the present situation, so that appropriate action can be taken. It should be clear now that as leaders, we had better do a better job than our predecessors. Indeed, the enemy has firmly planted the distorted “don’t judge” doctrine for the very purpose of making sure that we do not confront what is wrong, but that we instead just let things lie and watch idly as the devil destroys. Was this the standard of Christ?
Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that whichis within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (Matthew 15: 24-33)
Modern standards of Christian thought would condemn Christ for being “judgmental,” “insensitive,” or just “unfriendly.” However, His words are the final authority on any matter of doctrine, and it is His example we’re supposed to follow, including when it comes to declaring truth which may not be well-received. All this having been said, let us then turn to the principles of sound Christian leadership.
Points for Discussion:
- What are some fundamental principles of the Bible that would make a significant difference in your community? List 3 ways to implement them.
- What has been the retention rate of new converts in your ministry? Evaluate each “awol” situation and determine the causes.