Living in the Land of Ambiguous Fruitfulness


I grew up in one of Canada’s fruit-belts, the Niagara Peninsula in southern Ontario, and I spent my adolescent summers picking fruit. I learned at a young age that farmers know early in the season just how fruitful any given year will be. There’s not much ambiguity there (though occasionally an early summer storm will completely mess up the calculus).

A few months ago the Canadian Ministries Team held a prayer retreat, and during our time together a common theme emerged: there are significant challenges in assessing the fruitfulness of denominational ministry, and that ambiguity can mess with one’s soul.

I’ve been pondering that ever since, not just because this messes with my own soul, but also because Synod 2019 will, for the first time, begin an annual rotation of assessing the fruitfulness of various ministries. Faith Formation Ministries, along with Worship Ministries and Calvin College, are the first ones up in the rotation.

I’m very curious to hear how synod will discern what fruitfulness looks like, especially because I struggle with it so much myself. In the meantime, I try to look at it this way:

True fruitfulness happens through the witness of local congregations. We at FFM work with congregational leaders (who are continually rotating in and out), and they in turn serve in their local contexts to coach their congregations toward fruitfulness. Frequently, such local fruit grows more than a year after FFM was involved. By that time, we’re invisible, and that’s the way it needs to be.

A guiding Scripture for me is “Sow your seed in the morning, and in the evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well” (Eccl. 11:6).

This tells me that our calling is to be faithful: to listen carefully to how the Spirit is moving or being quenched in local congregations, to provide encouragements and challenges to enhance the Spirit’s freedom to move, and then to get out of the way. It simply has to be ambiguous; there’s no other way. My soul doesn’t like it, but hey, my soul’s likes are irrelevant. My soul is called to be in tune with the Spirit, and that is enough. That’s how my soul is called to live in the land of ambiguous fruitfulness.

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What interesting way of putting all this. Like you, I grew up on farm in Southern Alberta and hoed sugar beets for seven years (spring and part of summer) between the ages 9 and sixteen. No ambiguity in hoeing 12 rows a day.  It was very fruitful in October when we harvested up to 50 tons of sugar beets per acre which would have produced 300 lbs of sugar per ton!

Show me the formal annual performance reviews of every senior person in the hierarchy of the CRCNA H.O and I probably could soon tell you  what fruitfulness or fruitlessness of the organization would be on a scale of 1 to 10.

The trouble with most jobs is the lack of unambiguous standards and or goals/objectives. Reading performance reviews (and I have read  thousands over my 40 year career ) I could soon separate  fluff from fact. 

I agree with  you it will extremely interesting how synod comes at this and who the presenters will be!

I believe the basic tenets of Christianity  are not as ambiguous as some people would like them to be.


Sid, I too wonder about the efficacy of assessing fruitfulness in rotational ministry basis. (The 2020 assessment).   My mind drifts back a number of years when our CRC leadership thought it wise to predict out membership numbers for the year 2000. Growth had been robust as that time and so we needed to prepare for the future. As you know, the outcome wasn’t good. The church did not just split, it splintered. I think we need to rely on God’s grace and Spirit to guide our outcomes not try to predict or assess “fruitfulness” He knows!


I’m finding Harry B to be a helpful voice here.  Discerning fruitfulness....   slippery slope on the way to forgetting that it’s God who give the increase.   And yet...  I think there’s an awful lot we can do to do discern well, and it’s important that we do so.  I think it’s about doing our best for Jesus, and it’s about good stewardship of the resources we’re in charge of, and it’s also good for my own mental health!  

    In a nutshell I too think it’s about thinking carefully about the planning process, nothing really new here, it’s just that we tend not to do it rigorously in the church setting.  But we should.  Carefully, prayerfully, we assess the environment, our resources, needs and opportunities. Etc.  This is a prayerful discernment process, done by leadership, but always done in community.  And then the next steps are the old familiar ones too...  vision, mission, goals and objectives, and key indicators of success.  And assessment of progress along the way so we can learn and improve.  This organizational stuff is important for Jesus’ body too, not just for secular organizations.  What’s key to the process when it’s done in the ecclesiastical setting is that it be done in a way that is embedded in a communal discernment process, with prayer and dialog enriching the insights and decisions at every step.  And then real accountability is possible, as together we talk about whether we are achieving the intended outcomes, and if not why not, and what are we learning and what needs to be fixed.  Frankly, I’m feeling a bit embarrassed to be going over all this old stuff here.  But here I am, an old retired guy, and convinced that this stuff can be valuable for following Jesus faithfully.  This enables us to be stewards of our resources, builders of community, and robust in our thinking about how to do it better for Jesus.