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.