Several months back a friend of mine gave me a simple assignment, meant to be an encouragement to me as I lead City Church. He told me I should come up with a vision for the upcoming year of ministry–some idea that could serve as a reference point for the staff of City Church and for the Church as a whole. Spurred by this friend’s advice, I’ve been thinking about what it means for City Church to be an always growing church.
The image that captures this vision of City Church as always growing is a tree. It’s a helpful image because it is at once simple and complex. A tree is immediately recognizable to all (even young kids) but has layers of meaning. A tree is not a simple organism. At first, we think of a tree’s growth as what is visible, spreading branches, budding leaves, ripening fruit. On closer inspection, there is invisible growth, hidden under the service, beneath the bark, underground. As I’ve thought about how the growth of a tree can describe an always growing church, I’ve been thinking about three categories: 1) Roots, 2) Shoots, and 3) Fruits.
Growing roots refers to growth in faith. Scripture repeatedly uses language of being rooted in God. Psalm 1 describes the blessed person as “a tree planted by streams of water.” Paul, in Ephesians, prays that his friends would be “rooted in ground in love.” A church with growing roots is a church founded on God’s grace as it comes from God’s Word. A person with always growing roots pursues the spiritual habits of Bible reading, Scripture memorization, and prayer.
Growing shoots refers to growth in love. The shoots of a tree are its branches. Relationships of love and care within a church become the steady limbs which support all sorts of ministry. The shoots of a tree are manifested in all the ways that members of a church “one another” each other. The descriptions of the early church in Acts are replete with meeting with one another, giving to one another, encouraging one another, bearing with one another. A church should be always growing in the way that it cares for itself. Jesus Himself valued the growing shoots of Christian community in telling his disciples, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Growing fruits refers to growth in service. While a church’s fruit can be measured in several different ways, one key indicator is whether more un-churched and de-churched people from the community are encountering Jesus through the church’s ministry. We expect to see growth in numbers of people affected by the ministry of City Church—people who begin to follow after Jesus, people who renew their commitment to Jesus, people who surrender more of their time and resources to Jesus. With his friends, Jesus often used the language of fruit to describe the impact that their service would have on the world around them: “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”
Conditions for Growth
I was away from work and on the beach. It was also refreshing and restorative because I turned off some of the distracting noises in my life in order to be attentively present with my family. I didn’t take my laptop. I deactivated email. I stayed off Twitter. I didn’t carry my phone with me.
Perhaps I’m at risk of sounding morally superior because of this intentional two-week break from technological distractions, but it provided me with an uncommon awareness. I discovered that quiet, restful attention is the condition for growth in my relationships with my family. Growth in our relationship with God requires similar conditions. If we desire to be an always growing church, we must find ways to turn off distractions and become attentive to God’s presence.
Every arborist knows growth requires space. A sapling tree doesn’t look like much. It doesn’t occupy much space. But it needs room to grow. That space allows it to draw nutrients from the soil and send down firm roots. Through its development, that tree will need pruning so that branches don’t overlap and crowd each other. As it begins to bear fruit, it will need enough space to avoid competition over resources like sun and air—the conditions of fruitfulness.
As the fall begins and you establish new routines and rhythms of life, I hope you’ll think about what it means for you to be always growing in your life with God. And I hope you’ll consider ways that you can partner with City Church, committed as we are to always growing our roots, our shoots, and our fruits.
Over the next three Sundays, I will be exploring in greater detail the theme of what it means to be Always Growing. Won’t you join the discussion?
Upcoming sermons in this series...
September 4th, Roots
September 11th, Shoots
September 18th, Fruits