We also find Jesus calling on his disciples to bear good fruit: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
So a lesson we learn is that God is outcome-oriented: he wants a good product. And with that reality we have our own instinct to produce things—perhaps a reflection of our creation in God’s image.
But what constitutes a “good” product in God’s work?
I ask because many churches today use outcome-based measures. Growth in weekly attendance—along with strong financial numbers—are key signs of success. Bigger is better. And to get there the “good” churches adopt the best business practices of the day. That, in turn, calls for driven leaders who understand bottom lines and firm leadership.
Yet the earlier question of God’s measure of success isn’t necessarily answered.
Jesus, in fact, didn’t measure up if we apply these metrics to his ministry. His end-of-life-on-earth numbers were very modest: he only managed to gather about 120 dedicated followers by the time he ascended to heaven. This despite his having had some golden moments with larger crowds—sometimes reaching into the thousands. Yet he seems to have squandered his momentum with an “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood” talk cited in John chapter six.
As a second question, what defines a proper process in ministry? Is that also important?
I can think, for instance, of a major church in Seattle that imploded last year. It had numbers, finances, publicity, property, and polish. But over time rumbles emerged that the lead pastor was insufferable with his staff. I’m in no position to assess the charges but I was saddened to read them—whatever their merit—as headlines in the local newspaper. Something in the process failed no matter how great the product seemed to be in the heyday of this church.
Other less dramatic examples exist, of course. We all know what it feels like to be treated as a useful object rather than a person, even in church settings. So maybe it’s time to reconsider the relationship of process to product.
Is it possible that for God the process is the product? So that God is not motivated to reach a destination as much as he wants us to enjoy the communion that comes with the trip. Is it even possible that the eschaton—the eternal future of God with his saints—is simply the continuing communion in God’s love that is already present in the hearts of the converted.
The Trinity comes into play here as we answer. The twice-stated truth that “God is love” in 1 John 4 offers an Trinitarian insight: God’s eternal communion as Father-Son-and-Spirit defines love. As Jonathan Edwards once noted, love is the label for God’s inherent bond. It speaks of the shared motivation of self-giving and mutually shared glory of the Father and the Son as facilitated by the Spirit.
With this in mind we can return to Jesus in John 6. The context there is intriguing: the crowds were pragmatists as they came to Jesus for the products he seemed to offer.
Some wanted to make him their king (verse 15)—probably the Zealots who were intent on overthrowing Roman rule—but most wanted him to provide an ongoing breadline after Jesus fed the five thousand as a one-day event (verses 1-14). So they came to Jesus as utilitarian followers: seeing him as a potential source of power and security.
Yet Jesus, following the Father, had a different ambition: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (verse 35). He continued. “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” And then again, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me . . . . Truly, Truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life: I am the bread of life.”
Jesus was, in fact, offering the crowds the gift of joining his love relationship with the Father. Their problem? They were looking at their own interests. Their soul-gaze was on the products he offered in this life—for meals and power. Jesus was instead inviting them to gaze on him and share in his life as the relational entry point to eternal life: this was the bread of real life and the true drink they needed.
So, in the end, only a few responded. Most walked away, still looking for meals or better schemes to overthrow the Romans. In the process they missed the real gift of Jesus—a gift that is both a process and a product.
Listen, then, to this in his wonderful prayer of John 17. He offered it for the few who didn’t walk away from him: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
So what lies ahead for authentic believers? The shared glory of God’s love. And by this all men will know his true disciples from mere “users,” even in this age, by the fact that we love each other. We are those who are captured by the process of his love spilling through us to our neighbors. The future product will be more of the same, but in the eternal state.
If this is true let’s leave our utilitarian aspirations in this life—both religious and secular—where they belong: in the trash bin. And with that let’s taste and see that the Lord is good!