Bearing Much Fruit in India
In John 15:8 Jesus said, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” So, how does one bear much fruit and in doing so prove they are a disciple of Jesus Christ?
The key to bearing much fruit is found in John 15:5, “I [Jesus] am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” This spiritual fruit is planted by grace, grown by faith, matured by truth, pruned by love and shared for the nourishment of all, is to abide, to remain, to dwell, to continue, to tarry, to endure in Christ. For apart from him, we can do nothing.
This principle of abiding in Christ was never more clear than during my recent trip to India. The faithfulness of Christ's disciples is producing an incredible harvest of fruit in the lives of thousands. One such story is worth repeating in print even though I have told it several times already. It is to the glory of God!
When we arrived in the capital city of the State of Tamil Nadu, it was midnight. This city formerly called Madras is now known as Chennai and is located in the Southern part of India along the Bay of Bengal. The city proper has more than five million inhabitants and the surrounding metro area many more. It is into this context I heard an amazing story of a man who by abiding in Jesus was bearing much fruit and therefore demonstrating God's glory for the world to marvel.
For the sake of this article and protection of this man and his ministry, I will call him William. As we jumped in the taxi for the two-hour drive to the hotel, I began to talk with William. He spoke with humility about his upbringing, his family, his exposure to the gospel, and his acceptance of Christ by faith, which in and of itself is quite remarkable. His entire family came to faith through the faithfulness of a Christian pastor who, several years earlier, had prayed for God to heal William’s brother. God answered this prayer and his brother was healed. All other options tried by the family with the local Hindu priests had failed.
My first question to William was for him to tell me about the church he pastors. He stated plainly that he has been a pastor for almost six years and the congregation is roughly 150 people. He also went on to say that his more recent challenge is to train, equip and empower leaders for which he was glad we were there, because that is exactly what we were going to be doing with William and his leaders the following day. My mind didn't fully make the connection at that moment while he was speaking, given I was thinking about the leadership requirement for 150. How hard could that be? Leadership development to take care of 150 didn't seem like that big of a challenge and to think I traveled to the other side of the planet to help with this. Surely there had to more to the story; so, I dug a bit deeper.
I then asked William to explain what else he has been doing in the immediate geography as it relates to pursuing God's heart to see every man, woman and child hear and see the gospel. William stated that he has worked with some others to plant churches in those six years, which I was very encouraged to hear. I then asked him how many churches has he planted in that time-frame. Sixty-three was the reply. Surely his Tamil accent was blurring the response I thought; so, I asked him again. He looked me straight in the face and clearly said, “Sixty-three.” Wow! One guy, from one church, is now responsible for 63 churches in six years! That is just under one per month. Clearly my mind was now swimming in some interesting waters, but I pressed onward wanting to get a better picture of what was happening. So, I asked him how many people on average are in these 63 churches. He replied between 100 and 150 each. Some quick mental math and I soon realized I was talking with a man of little worldly wealth who was directly influencing and leading a combined congregation of more than 7,000 people.
Now for the real question in my mind, leading a church of that size is impressive no matter where in the world you are located, but how did all of those people get there? Were they merely drawn by William's personality and communicative abilities, or were they tired of the church they were at and wanted to go to the newest thing, or were they disgruntled with the existing church waiting for something else to come along? Actually, it was none of these things. I asked William how many of these people came to faith as a result of this ministry. He said well over 90% of them which means well over 6,000 of the 7,000 came to faith in Christ. This was not a redistribution of the existing Church; it was God harvesting a church from and out of the world 'en masse.' I sat in silence for several moments as I pondered the purity, the simplicity and the power of God working in a through a man who simply did what God had invited him to do, which was to proclaim the gospel and as people responded he would plant a church.
As I thought more about the logistics and requirements of leading 63 different congregations my mind ran to what that would mean for such a network in America. I then asked William about his budget and funding to do this. He looked at me with a curious smile and said he didn't have a budget for any of it, nor did they have an account of any kind to get started. This was hard for me to grasp. No budget, no start-up funds yet 63 churches birthed with over 6,000 people coming to faith in Christ Jesus. Don't get me wrong, they have needs. He was quick to state they struggle but they make do with what they have. I was convicted of many things at that moment. We do take much for granted and put high thresholds on what we do in America. A reasonable budget to plant 63 churches in America would exceed $8M and likely approach $10M depending upon context, and yet they were doing it for a fraction of that in India. Now, I realize the culture is different, the context is different and the receptivity to the gospel is different. However, I do think it is worth noting where they start, how they start, and what they are doing. We as the Church of America can, should, and perhaps even need to, learn some things from our brothers and sisters in India. Church planting as the result of evangelism for the evangelization of a geography, is much different than fundraising for a building to do programming in hopes people will come to the new thing. I am not saying buildings and programming are bad. We do and have them. What I am saying is, perhaps it is worth considering the what, why and how we have them and are they serving the mission as God intends, or have they become the mission as we have allowed them to become.
So, as a result of the car ride from the airport to hotel, I began to understand that while I was there to teach, to encourage and to challenge, I was taught, encouraged and challenged. If I, like William, was there and responsible for 63 churches, then I too would be burdened with equipping and empowering leaders.