Thinking as the True Vine
By José Bernardo
A few years ago, a well-known Brazilian pastor decided rashly to compare evangelization with the automotive industry. He referred to the moment in 1923 when the market began to prefer the innovative diversification of GM to the monotony of the assembly line of Ford. That was the historical shift from industrial economy to market economy. I can summarize the idea of such pastor about the Church quoting what Alfred P. Sloan said about the cars: the church should offer a gospel "for every pocket and every purpose". At the time, I wrote a text to observe the fundamental flaw in that proposal: the 'customer' of the Church is not people. What the Church produces must please God, even if it displeases many people, and indeed displeases. Jesus warns us of this: "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." John 15:19. Chapter 15 of the Gospel according to John, account of Jesus' last teaching before his trial and death, is a milestone. There, Jesus defines the purpose of the Church, and its expected outcomes indicator. The Church in Christ must be the True Vine which gives to the Father what he wants. The Church's results are the fruits of transformation, in the believers themselves and in those they must reach preaching the Gospel. All this is set in the first three verses and then Jesus goes on to teach how the disciples must remain objective, preserving the purpose and outcomes. I see seven different principles that Jesus taught in that chapter about the objectivity in the Christian ministry.
Principle of systematic disposal (John 15: 6) - "If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned". I do not intend to offend anyone by using the word 'disposal'. I am reflecting the illustration that Jesus gave, dry and useless branches left to burn. Certainly, we would like to keep all the people who approach the ministry, and we should strive for it. However, two conditions determine the systematic disposal of people, for the sake of objectivity: not be productive (v. 2) and not be fully connected to Christ and his Body (v. 6). It is a painful process, and I have thought and written extensively on the subject, so I give the same advice that I heard at the beginning of my pastoring: a pastor can not love one member more than loves the whole flock. Therefore, a Christian leader should make every effort to ensure that people under his leadership are productive and well connected to each other and to Christ. Whenever it is not possible, a leader must face the disposal as a blessing: the blessing of the reduction.
Principle of resource optimization (John 15: 7) - "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you". There are carnal believers who get excited with the idea of ask God what they want and receive it. What they do not realize is that being in Christ by prayer and having in themselves the words of Christ by meditation, one's wishes must be the will of Christ. Therefore, what they ask and receive is the necessary resources to produce the fruits that Christ wants to present to the Father. On the other hand, think of how harmful would be resources that were not given by God. Many groups loose objectivity and deviate from their purpose because of alternative resources, things the world has given them, not God. For what God gives is necessary to be in Christ and He in us. Likewise, in order to have the resources of the world is necessary to be fully involved with it, and then love for the Father, or love as the Father, is not in them. Wanting only the resources of God, only what God wants to give, leads to the rejection of what is offered by the world, and helps to maintain objectivity. So, to have a well-focused team and the objectivity in the ministry, the Christian leader must ensure that they depend only of God's resources.
Principle of integrated certification (John 15:8) - "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples". The word 'glorify', in the original language, is rooted in a verb meaning 'to have formed an opinion'. Therefore, the person who glorifies someone expresses its opinion about that person, certifying qualities which have verified. Such opinion is built after checking the subject. Jesus taught here that we only certify that the Father is good, wonderful, worthy, powerful, when we produce much fruit. Obviously, the lack of fruits attest a contrary opinion. In addition, the fruit also certify our own identity if we became disciples of Jesus or not. In times when people talk about worship as an event separated of sanctification and mission, this teaching takes us back to the truth. We cannot say whom God is and whom we are in Christ if not objectively focused on the purpose of the vine. Therefore, all fruitless worship is dispensable; every action not guided by the purpose is useless. A Christian leader must lead his or her group to objectively prove what they say with fruits of their actions, avoiding the dispersion in the activism and the empty speech.
Principle of synergistic interactivity (John 15:9-14) - "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be que complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you". We are deeply influenced by our relationships. Neuroscience has discovered, lately, that a neural network to people with whom we live binds us. Each of their attitude drives us to imitate and reproduce behaviors, so that living together synchronizes people. In addition, good relationships trigger joy or happiness in our brains, which predisposes us for collaboration. To this productive alignment, we call synergy, when the group together produces more than each member individually. Good relationships not only drive but also guide the action. When Paul called the good Church at Philippi to a higher level of quality, he pointed to the synergy of feeling, willing, planning and doing as way to build up development. Therefore, a Christian leader should motivate good relationships to maintain objectivity: all members synchronized in the same measure of success.
Principle of personnel selection (John 15:15,16) - "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you". People, people and people! That is the most important lesson about leadership we need to hear. This was the subject for most of what Jesus taught in that crucial moment and here again. To keep a group objectively oriented these are key: selection (I chose you), integration (you are the branches) and designation (I appointed you). Basically, what a leader should do, is to choose people whose character is adaptable to the purpose of the group he leads. Even if people are not fully adequate, it is not the identity or the indicator that must change. The leader will help people to adapt, teach them and train until they can cooperate objectively for the stated purpose. A Christian leader will lead well if know how to choose personnel wishful to devote time and effort to be part of the True Vine. Thus, there will be fruit that last.
Principle of the absolute Lordship (John 15:17-27) - "Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also". Jesus does not paint a very favorable scenario for the fulfillment of the purpose of the vine, there would be rejection, disobedience, hatred and persecution. The master then offers three solutions that jump from the text. The first is "This is my command:. Love each other." (v. 17) - the full interactivity of the branches in the vine helps to face the difficulties of the environment and maintain objectivity. The second is "Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master" (v. 20) -. Jesus leaves no doubt that he is the master, it is he who determines what and how everything should be done; he leads with absolute power and puts himself as a model. So, to do what and how Jesus commands maintain the objectivity of the vine. The third solution to keep fruitful in a hostile environment is "And You also must testify ..." (v. 27) -. fruitfulness depends on a persistent action, done in love, under the command of Jesus, in cooperation with the Counselor: TESTIFY! That is all what matters, from the first to the last line. A Christian Leader must keep in focus what was commanded to do, in order to maintain objectivity.
Jesus called us to simplicity. We must remain objective in maintaining our purpose and outcomes according the indicator. Purpose and outcomes define the nature of the Church and the Christian ministry. The father should receive the fruits he wants, let us do just that; let us make it simple. While Martha's complex dominates the contemporary Church with activism, and people run from one side to the other trying to do something of everything, as the church becomes ballroom, NGO, travel agency, services' court, we are called to sit at the feet of Jesus and just do what he tells us to do. We are called to open ourselves to the divine gardener verification, to bear fruits which remain. Nothing more, nothing less. The Father is the gardener, the son is the vine and we are the branches. To God be the glory.