Luke 13:6-9: “6Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' 8"'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. 9If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"
Jesus used this parabolic story to illustrate to the Nation of Israel that he had been patiently awaiting many centuries (plus three years of earthly ministry) for them to bear fruit, and it was not happening. Judgment loomed if they continued to reject their Messiah. Through the gracious intercession of Jesus Christ (Luke 13:8; remove the weeds, fertilize the ground again) they would be given another year of opportunity. If there was no fruit by then, the “fig tree” (see Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 21:18-20; Mark 12:1-11) should be removed.
Our Lord’s earthly ministry was largely rejected by the Nation of Israel, and the Roman armies would become God’s instrument of judgment in A.D. 70. We look forward to a future day (Romans 11) when Israel will be delivered from its spiritual blindness and recover its relationship with the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Every time I consider this passage, it reminds me of the frustration experienced by so many urban church planters and pastors in under-resourced neighborhoods; particularly in the C&MA. We have a great team of leaders who are doing a lot of things well, yet not seeing the results we all desire. Pastors struggling in churches without seeing healthy growth often feel like “I will give this one more year, and if things don’t improve, then we might need to close the church.” It is often disheartening to minster to “needy” people (low income, broken homes and relationships, inadequate job skills, etc.) only to watch them go to more “attractive” churches once their needs have been met in the smaller church.
There are many contributing factors to slow church growth, and we must not confuse ourselves by thinking that faithfulness automatically leads to rapid numerical growth. Our job involves devotion to prayer and the ministry of the Word, improving our ministerial skills, developing leaders as we make disciples, and trusting the results to our Sovereign Lord.
It is my privilege to come alongside our urban pastors and aspiring leaders who serve faithfully in our area. I enjoy being available as a coach and mentor, helping them connect with people and resources to continue the important work of making disciples in the urban context.
One of the unique challenges we face in many of our urban churches, particularly in predominately African-American neighborhoods, is the lack of name recognition of the C&MA. Our neighborhoods are saturated with churches of all sizes and demographics. Most of these churches are either connected with denominations that African-Americans have birthed (i.e., A.M.E., COGIC, National Baptist Convention) or attended for centuries; or these churches are completely independent.
Because of this, we often have to explain who we are, and why we have been absent from these neighborhoods if we are indeed welcoming of all peoples. It will take a sustained effort of strategic outreach and life-on-life relational discipleship to establish our presence in these neighborhoods. In an age where new converts seem to care less and less about denominational affiliation, we must make every effort to show the importance of being part of a team that is committed to working together to advance the Kingdom.
Our Lord left the comforts of His home to come and minister in crowded neighborhoods and introduce Himself as the Way, Truth, and Life, the only one that can bring a living hope to hurting people. Will you pray for those who are discouraged by the lack of evidential fruit from their labors, and encourage them to keep faithfully bringing the Lord Jesus into every situation?
By Ron Morrison, Pastor at Hope Alliance Bible Church