"No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing... You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last." - John 15.4-5, 16
As I shared in the sermon this morning, an acquaintance of mine used to own a winery. Ever since he gave me that first tour, I've always been intrigued by wineries, breweries, and distilleries – all of the labor, all of the planning, and all of the dependence on God's work in doing what only comes in God's time. You can't rush it, you can’t hurry it along - if you do, you ruin years of work.
I recently learned that in winemaking and grape growing, a young vine is not permitted to bear fruit for the first three years. At the end of each year, it is pruned back to preserve its strength. If there are branches that don't bear fruit, they are pruned so that the rest of the vine gets more nourishment. I’m told that without such pruning you get fruit that is subpar -– fruit that doesn't last.
I wonder if this is what is happening in the "church growth” movement. Are we trying to get a lot of numbers in our pews and statistical books, but ending up with subpar fruit? It is interesting to me that in the Early Church, prospective members underwent a 3-year catechism - the same amount of time involved in preparing a young vine for fruit. Hmmm.
Judean people in biblical times knew that winemaking was their cash crop, and did not take it lightly. Perhaps we need to put a whole lot more into making quality disciples who bear good fruit, instead of doing whatever gimmick is out there to get a bunch of fruit that isn't fit for anything except admiration on the vine.
It may be that spending time making disciples with fruit that will last will ultimately bear us more in numbers. That sounds that a better plan that using gimmicks to rush the maturation process. Paul Masson sold "no wine before it's time." That might be sound advice for Christians and disciple-making.
Jesus, the great I AM, is the true vine. Should we not bear fruit that will last for the Kingdom?