Updated: Mar 21
“What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” [Genesis 50:20]
I enjoyed a very stimulating conversation with some of my colleagues over breakfast this morning. Later, as I replayed our conversation in my mind a single, but, oh so important, thought began to press into my consciousness: Many of us looked at the COVID pandemic of the past couple of years as an event seized upon by demonic forces to hinder the church’s health and effectiveness in the world. It is true that many churches closed, never to open again and many church members left, and have not returned.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
My friends, COVID is just the beginning of a process of difficult years that lie ahead. I am compelled to share my thoughts from this morning’s conversation.
As I meditated on the thoughts of my brothers in arms, I could almost hear the words of Jesus as He said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2) In that same passage, He says this: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:6)
While it may seem like the pandemic was used to attack the church, to hinder the church, in fact . . . to close the church, what we have been experiencing has been a season of pruning. Our Heavenly Father, the faithful vinedresser, has been examining the church looking for fruit. He has been rustling through the leaves of our fig tree, searching for fruit, and wherever no fruit is found . . . it withers and dies. Jesus says that wherever a believer or a group of believers exist without bearing fruit, they will be lopped off and cast into the fire.
I am sure it is safe to say, more dead churches will be closing in the days ahead, and more fruitless lives will be walking away. As I sit here in the solitude of my study I have to confess my feelings about this: I am not glad about it, but I'm not sad about it either. If SOMETHING doesn't change in the church NOTHING is going to happen in the church.
We are in a season of pruning and I believe the pruning process is just beginning. I write these words as a warning. There exist in every fruit tree two basic types of branches: fruitful boughs and "suckers." Suckers contribute nothing to the fruit-bearing, they just consume resources and energy. They never give, they just take and they produce nothing toward the harvest. When the husbandman comes with pruning shears, the branch that is not bearing fruit is lopped off. Whether as a church or as an individual now is the time to examine our
branches to determine if we are bearing fruit . . . of any kind.
Like the fig tree on the edge of town, when Jesus found leaves (singing, talking, rites, and rituals) but no fruit (transformed lives) He cursed it and it died. One can only wonder how many so-called churches that seemed to wane during the pandemic were simply lopped off and cast away. Jesus warned us that His Father is searching for fruitless branches which He will lop off and cast into the fire.
The fruitlessness of the American church is being exposed. The empty religion of many who name the Name of Christ is being revealed. That’s why many churches did not reopen after COVID and this is why so many attendees have not returned. They haven’t closed or left––they’ve been lopped off.
The healthy branches are pruned so they may bear more fruit. This is indeed an hour for healthy self-examination lest we find ourselves thrown aside into a heap by the Lord of the Harvest. I am convinced that in the next two to five years we will see a powerful, fruitful, transformational church rising up that looks nothing like what we now call church. There is an intense day of trouble on the horizon that we may be tempted to attribute to attacks from the devil. However, the shadow I see looming on our horizon is not that of the devil, but the Vinedresser Himself coming to prune His orchard.
Lord of the Harvest, examine your church and where it is needed, prune Your Household. Whatever you must do to separate the chaff from the wheat or trim back the deadness in our lives and ministries, do it so that we may be fruitful for the Kingdom.