Ponderings on the Church as an Orchard (Part 1)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23 NIV)
Fruit Comes from Orchards
Fruit affects us at the point of taste first and foremost, but we rarely consider the work involved in producing the fruit or in the effort it takes to make sure that there can be more fruit tomorrow. Fruit grows on trees planted in soil. The soil must be cared for if it is going to produce healthy fruit.
Paying for fruit only guarantees that the farmer will produce fruit with his or her land as long as it is profitable to do so. And it may mean that they produce it in the most profitable way, not the most nutritional way, or even in ways that ensure the longevity of the orchard’s ability to keep producing it.
Paul, writing to the churches in Galatia, speaks as if they are either a tree or a whole orchard. The fruit which this orchard is intended to bear can only grow by the nourishing sap of the Spirit flowing through the trees. Those trees are planted in the soil of congregations (orchards?) and the health of those congregations will determine the quality of fruit born.
The Industrialization of the Church
In the industrial age, we’ve tried to industrialize just about everything; even farming. Gone are the days of the small farmer, who had a real connection to the land and the trees that produce the fruit. They still exist, fortunately, but they are becoming fewer and farther between. We’ve replaced that with more “efficient,” mechanized farming methods which require fewer people to be involved in the process.
These “more efficient” farms produce inexpensive food in excessive quantities while sending the excess laborers into cities to find “better” work. Sounds great, right? Well, not so fast. Such foods also have lower nutritional value and some of these methods have led to an increase in bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. As for the displaced laborers, their “better jobs” make them utterly dependent upon corporations rather than the land. All in all, it doesn’t produce a healthier society.
Following the same path of industrialized farms, the church of the last 50 years has created the industrialized, more efficient church. This more efficient church requires fewer people to be involved and increasingly professionalizes those in ministry. In many ways the industrialized church bears much more visible fruit for which its efficiency can be argued. But what about the nutritional value of the fruit and the side effects of creating spectators and celebrities instead of fruit-bearing disciples and shepherds?
A More Productive Church?
In our industrialized world, productivity is the highest value. We’ve saved so much time in farming that too many farmers have nothing to do. They are unproductive. Applied to the church, productivity means more people, because (as industrialization has taught us) bigger is better. We haven’t questioned that logic. Who said bigger is better? Why is bigger better? Is it possible that bigger is cheaper (rather than better) in the short run, but maybe more costly in the long run?
Others, who have shunned the bigger is better idea, follow the “more is better” philosophy. We don’t need bigger churches; we simply need more churches. More, it is assumed, is better, so we’ve developed systems for franchising the church. If we just have enough money and marketing, we can start a church and know it will succeed. Succeed at what?
Of course, the short answer is, “Fulfilling the Great Commission.” For many that simply means getting more people saved, but the Great Commission itself suggests it involves making disciples. What is a disciple? It is someone who is learning how to live out the commands of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20), i.e. learning to live in Jesus’ ways. Productivity, in the modern sense of the word, certainly doesn’t measure that kind of disciple-making.
A More Fruitful Church
Fruitfulness is measured by the presence of love. Love can be measured in “forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” and is experienced in contexts of joy and peace. Fruit then is the outcome of living in the ways of Jesus.
Small farming is not merely a project of individuals or even families. It certainly requires a whole community in order to be successful. But it doesn’t require large scale mechanization and industrialization. It works better when families are involved personally in the community effort of farming. (Wendell Berry provides ample evidence of this in his Port William series of novels and in his essays.)
In the language of Galatians, to live by the Spirit is to also walk or live one’s life in the ways of the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). This is where fruit is born. In John’s language, it is necessary to have the life-giving sap of the Holy Spirit flowing in us, to abide in Christ (John 15:1-10). A community that does these things will bear fruit. Indeed, John’s language points us to the first great commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but the fruit itself points us to the second, equally great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. The two cannot be disconnected.
Forbearance is done in a community big enough to have many differences, and small enough that you can’t avoid them. The same can be said for kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But they all grow out of knowing how the God we love treats his children and his enemies.
Finally, we can hardly imagine a farmer being impatient for the seed to start growing, or the fruit to ripen faster. In farming, time is assumed, and patience required. The same goes in the church. Our results-driven culture teaches us to be impatient. We want results, now. That drive, in itself, is counterproductive to fruit bearing. It is impatient and rarely kind. It lacks self-control. Fruit takes time to ripen.