I’ve had one question stuck in my mind since completing my reading of Jeremiah:
How do you determine a fruitful ministry?
What makes it successful? Is it the number of converts? The number of professions of faith?
At Compassion, one of the ways we measure our fruitfulness is the number of children we see sponsored. For our ministry, this is an incredibly important metric, because if we don’t see children sponsored, we’re failing in our jobs.
But are these kinds of metrics—the number of professions of faith, the number of people attending a church, the number of people serving in a particular ministry—the thing we should measure?
If you look at converts, Jeremiah’s ministry was a spectacular failure. He had two people listen to his calls of repentance: Baruch, his scribe (see Jer. 32:12) and Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch who served King Zedekiah (see Jer. 38:7-13).
Years of ministry. Countless sermons. Powerful & provocative words.
Everyone else tried to kill him.
Jeremiah’s ministry has taught me something incredibly important:
Fruitfulness is not determined by metrics—It is determined by obedience to God’s Word.
In the 80s, the “seeker-sensitive” movement took off, which was really an attempt to make Sunday services accessible and “fun” for non-Christians. To create a good experience and get people into the (usually massive) buildings on a regular basis.
Now, I don’t have a problem with churches seeking to engage non-Christians. I think it’s a great thing, and something that we’re commanded to do (see Matt. 28:18:20). But more often than not, there’s been a softening of obedience to God’s Word. Rather than preaching from the Scriptures, a pastor might tell a story completely disconnected from them. Rather than giving the full counsel of God, the message shared is “God loves you and has a plan for your life,” which, while true, is incomplete.
So the question becomes: If our ministries are about having a “good experience,” at the expense of God’s Word, can we really say that they are fruitful? And is it the right kind of fruit?
I’m not writing this as a shot at any churches that do fall into the seeker-sensitive category. I think many have some very godly pastors who are trying to do whatever they can to minister to people.
But what I’m seeing more and more in the Scripture is that God is less concerned with making us feel good and entertained than He is our holiness. His Word is unapologetic, and so we must be also.
During his ministry, Jeremiah faced off repeatedly against false prophets who professed to speak in the name of the Lord. Their message: “God loves you, he’s not going to discipline you.” Even after being exiled to Babylon, the message did not change: “God will bring you out of here in no time.”
These men were rebuked for their lying prophecies. God responds to their claims, “[I]t is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:9).
May we all take those words to heart. May we all, in whatever capacity we serve, “not shrink from declaring…the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), lest Jesus say to us as we stand before Him, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23).
Because obedience to God’s Word will only produce good fruit in the end.