Selling Our Fruit

Frank Decker

Frank Decker

By Frank Decker –

A missionary friend had an eye-opening experience while sharing at a local church’s mission conference. She was representing the urban ministry that she and her husband oversee. Theirs was one of many ministries represented at this event. Like you might expect, each mission representative had been given a space for a display for the conference attendees to peruse. There were photographs, brochures, and opportunities to sign up for newsletters. “I had the uncomfortable feeling,” observed my friend, “that we were all at a market, and each of us missionaries had placed our fruit out on the table for sale.”

I know the feeling, and I don’t like it — this sense that we are “selling our fruit” and putting it out there for inspection and approval in a market that is competing for support. In fact, I imagine that this feeling is experienced by most people involved in ministry, whether one is raising funds for a mission trip or simply submitting an annual conference report that indicates how many members were received on profession of faith.

During my family’s years as missionaries in Africa, we spoke in dozens of American churches. And, yes, there were times when I felt like I was tending a fruit stand. In the process, I observed how an audience could be drawn in by slides of needy children or of large crowds gathered to hear a gospel message, or by telling stories of danger. I confess that I occasionally mentioned the times when a black cobra had come into our yard, or a green mamba had to be killed inside our home. I later realized that my intent in telling these stories was, to some degree, manipulative. It was as if to say, “Pray for and support us as missionaries because we are putting our lives on the line for Jesus.” I was trying to make my fruit appear more compelling.

Certainly donors and prayer supporters should have access to information about what is happening in one’s life and ministry, and telling snake stories or showing photos of people in need are not implicitly wrong. After all, Jesus did say, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

On the other hand, Jesus did not say, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and … donate to your ministry.” And this is where we arrive at the heart of the matter — the motivation.

I am mindful of two missionary couples that visited our offices at The Mission Society within the past two weeks. One couple is comprised of two medical doctors, faithfully serving in a difficult place where they are helping to combat malaria and other life-threatening diseases. The others are two engineers who are helping to bring clean water to African villages, among other ministries. Both families have been witnesses to the growth of God’s kingdom through many years of faithful service in far corners of the earth. And yet, when listening to their stories or reading their newsletters, one does not get the impression that these servants view their ministries — or need to present them — as indispensable. There is, rather, a sense that they see themselves as playing a small part in a very big thing.

I believe that we must constantly seek a sense of humility that will remind us that we are entrusted with whatever role we have been given in kingdom work. The more focused we are on the advance of God’s kingdom, the less concerned we will be about how our fruit appears to others. After all, our role — whether as those who go or those who send — is to be obedient to our calling. Fruitfulness is the subsequent work of the Spirit.

In other words, a tree should be known by its fruit, not by how well it can market its fruit. And in this age of information gluttony, we should be mindful of this distinction.

Frank Decker is a vice president at The Mission Society.

 

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