She explained that in the tradition in which she was raised, communion was an afterthought. Nobody took seriously that anything spiritual happened in this bread and wine transaction; it's just something Jesus said to do, so we do it. "But you Lutherans," she said, "do it different. You take it seriously. You really believe Jesus is there, and he's as good as his word to do something when you take communion." Then she went on to introduce me to her excellent question. "Jesus said that you can evaluate preachers by the fruit they bear," she said (see Matthew 7:15-17). "Well, I think you can do the same thing with a church's doctrine. You ask, 'What fruit does this bear?' And then you see what kind of fruit that church's teaching produces." She went on to tell me that in her eyes, my church's approach to communion bore good fruit. "You can see it in people's eyes, in their faces, in their lives -- they connect with Jesus in this meal. The church I was raised in, we just wanted to get it over with because it didn't mean anything anyway. But people here take it seriously, they take their time, and God honors that. Communion done this way produces good fruit."
I have come back to this excellent question over and over and over again. What fruit does it bear? When I look at a new evangelism program or a method of Bible study or a denomination's political stance or a preacher's leadership style, I often ask, "What fruit does it bear?" Very often I look at my own life and I ask about some area of my work or a habit that I'm trying to evaluate, "What fruit does it bear?"
This question goes deeper than just wondering if a thing is functional. A church may find a creative way to do evangelism that brings dozens or hundreds of people through the doors. It seems to be functional, at least in terms of numbers. But what fruit does it bear? This asks a deeper question. Does this influx of people produce disciples -- people who are following Jesus? Or do we just have a crowd assembled in one place for some other reason? We may not like this question. We would rather see ourselves as successful, but bearing fruit is often different than success. Success is so often measured in terms of numbers -- numbers of people invited, numbers of pounds lost, numbers of dollars brought in, numbers of homes built, or whatever. But fruit has more to do with long lasting change of character, change of the course of a life, change of ongoing relationships.
What fruit does it bear?
This is the question that drives us to discontinuous change, because this question so often points out that what we have been doing forever and ever, amen, is no longer producing good fruit -- if ever it did. It is possible that at one point, having a pastor lead a congregation of roughly a hundred and fifty people, gathering them once a week to preach and teach at them and receive an offering from them, provided a fruitful leadership model. Today, however, that same model tends to produce passivity. What has changed? Many things. Bottom line is, what once may have been fruitful no longer produces good fruit. This is the point at which we can keep in lockstep with tradition and The Way We've Always Done Things, or we can make strategic, discontinuous change.
Often it is not hard to imagine discontinuous change. We can envision a different future, imagine a fruitful pattern, see a better way. We are just afraid to take the leap, stick our necks out, make the required change. It is risky.
So the biggest barrier to discontinuous change is first about wisdom -- wisdom to discern the right direction to move -- but then it's mostly about courage.