I have never personally met a pastor who did not want their church to grow. We all know that growth is good. It is a sign of life, of health and strength. Scientists say that the basic vital sign of life is change, growth. Growth in living things should really happen naturally though, almost accidentally. I mean, growth shouldn’t necessarily be the goal or the focus; it should be the consequence, the result.

Cathy, my wife, has a green thumb it would seem. Our house is filled with these wonderful plants, in almost every corner. And our front porch and patio is packed with plants and flowers as well. They are beautiful, and she gives them lots of attention. But I’ve never heard her say she wanted any of them to grow. She just does what is necessary to keep them healthy. She waters, prunes and even sings to them, but the focus is never growth; it’s health. And guess what, healthy things grow, and some of them grow a lot!

Jesus said something very interesting during His ministry, and John recorded it in his Gospel in John chapter 15:5. The truth is when you understand the context and the religious audience with whom it was shared, it is revolutionary. He said, “I am the Vine and you are the branches. He that abides in Me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for apart from Me you can do nothing.” It would seem that the key here is not growth and it’s not fruit. It is abiding in Him. It is relationship, total dependence on the Vine. Can you image Jesus speaking to very religious, even legalistic people, and saying, “You can’t produce fruit or growth through your religion or law apart from Me”? When He says that “I am the Vine”, He is clearly saying, “I’m all that matters; all life comes and flows through Me. Your health, growth and fruitfulness come as a result of being connected to Me.”

We get so caught up in form, technique and style, and often miss the importance of substance.  We make the focus the doing, and in the process lose the wonder of the being.  We do need excellence, relevance and systems that serve the church well, but the focus should be health and connectedness, not growth or fruit. They will come, but as a result of our singular focus being to abide in the Vine, and allowing the Vine to abide in us! As it moves and lives in us, we get stronger, larger and produce as Jesus would say, “much fruit”.  A branch that has been cut off from the Vine is never going to grow or produce anything but a good fire.  One of the ways we can evaluate our Vine connected effectiveness is to examine ourselves to see if we are bearing fruit, or are we always just looking for good fire?  (i58-Fast)