The Meaning of Fruitfulness



By Russ Polsgrove

When the Senior Pastor at my church asks us to turn to a passage in a meeting, we sometimes interrupt him.

“Let me guess….John 15?!?”

Because we talk about that passage ALL THE TIME in our church. It’s on the walls, our website, even the concrete floor underneath the stage has that passage written on it. It’s a reminder of what our church cares about, and how we’re called to live in our community. Jesus is talking to his disciples in this chapter, and issues a command in verse 5.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing…

As much as we love that passage, it’s easy to misread it. And youth workers are notorious mis-readers of this passage. Because there IS a command in there, but it’s not what we remember it to be.

We think the command is to be fruitful. Fruitfulness can be defined in lots of different ways. A teenage girl who’s been involved in youth ministry for four years finally coming to faith is fruit. A student confessing to you he’s kicked a destructive habit is fruit. A group of middle schoolers who voluntarily give their time to serve at the downtown food pantry is fruit.

Fruit is good, but it’s not the command. The command is to “remain in me,” and fruitfulness spills from that.

Too often, youth workers have too much to do. On top of the Wednesday-Sunday grind, there are trips to plan, parents to counsel, and basketball games to attend. We do all this because we love it; but all this work is an effort to produce fruit. We do this work because we hope a light will turn on in more teenagers’ heads so they will be participants in the kingdom of God. Even if we don’t count baptism numbers or conversions, the metric by which we judge ourselves is fruitfulness in our ministries.

But Jesus doesn’t ask for us to strive towards fruitfulness. He asks us to do one simple thing.

Remain in me.

We are not commanded to bear fruit. We are commanded to remain in Christ. The command is to cultivate relationship with Jesus, so that any fruit that grows is borne out of that relationship. Out of the overflow of our “remaining” is where the best fruit springs forth. Jesus simply asks us to stay connected to him.

This means reading scripture for our own sake, and not to prepare a lesson. This means travel to the lake on our own time, and not just to take our group on a weekend retreat. This means praying from the comfort of your own couch, rather than blessing the pizza that came before worship. This means making space for silence, for reflection, for honest conversation with God about your hopes and dreams and failures. The saddest irony about youth workers is we all got in this work because of an encounter we had with Jesus, then we often neglect further encounters with Jesus in order to facilitate those encounters for the students we serve.

This isn’t new. Many of you have read a post like this before, or thought about this before, and the grind is just too much for you to stop and consider what to do. So pull out your calendar right now, identify a time this week for you to knock off, turn your phone on silent, and just remain.

This isn’t a request from Jesus. It’s a command.