What is the purpose of an apple tree? Think about that for a moment. Most people (myself included until yesterday afternoon) would say that the purpose of an apple tree is to produce apples, but that’s not really the case.

At a meeting yesterday, we were talking about the purpose of the church. Many times we look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians and we think that the Fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23) – are the reasons why we follow Jesus. The idea is that following Jesus makes you a person who has those nine characteristics, but while these are certainly characteristics of a disciple of Jesus, they aren’t the reason why we follow him.

In the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20), we see the purpose of being a disciple of Jesus, and it has nothing to do with making us into nicer, more pleasant people – that’s a by-product, but not the purpose. The main thing that we are supposed to do as disciples of Jesus Christ is make disciples. When a church forgets that main purpose, it becomes inwardly focused and no longer fulfills its mission.

You may have heard me mention a time or two about the Fruitful Congregations Journey in which our church is currently participating. In Step 1 of the process, a team of lay people went to a few sessions to learn about the importance of focusing the church on reaching those who don’t know Jesus and making disciples.

We are currently preparing for Step 2 of the process, in which a consultation team from Church Development for the Conference will come to the church, conduct several interviews with different groups of people (pastor, staff, lay leadership, regular attendees), do a teaching session with the Administrative Council and lead worship on Sunday morning. During the worship service, they will read a series of “prescriptions” that will include: things that we do very well as a church, things that we need to work on as a church and a list of five recommendations of things that we can do to take our church to the next level. In the weeks following, we’ll have open meetings to discuss these prescriptions, and the last step in the process is to have a Charge Conference in which we will vote whether or not we want to undertake the changes that have been recommended.

Two important things that you need to know about this Charge Conference:
1) Only members of the church can vote. If you’ve been attending for 35 years, but haven’t joined as a member of the church, I’m sorry, but you don’t get a vote. In the coming months, we may have a membership class if there are enough people that are interested in it.
2) We either accept all of the prescriptions or we reject them. We can’t just pick two that sound like easy changes to make and run with them. It’s all or nothing. If (when) we decide to accept the recommended changes, the Church Development team will provide us with a coach that will work with us to make the necessary changes.

Churches that have gone through the process, take it seriously and go to this next step are churches that have begun to see some growth because they are intentional about reaching the community. New people are coming to Christ because of it. New people are becoming followers of Jesus. It’s an exciting thing to see people’s lives being changed, and when lives are changed, the world is changed. Sound familiar? To Welcome All, To Follow Jesus, To Change Lives and the World.

So, back to the original question: what is the purpose of an apple tree? To produce more apple trees. The apples are nice. They are a by-product. The purpose of an apple tree is to produce more apples. The purpose of the church is to produce more followers of Jesus Christ.