"...each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush." Luke 6:44
"I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5
I've been reading a lot of Henri Nouwen lately. And recently, a friend of mine asked me to look into what Henri might have to say about this concept of bearing fruit. I don't really have the time to put the appropriate effort into an actual study on the subject right now, but I can speculate as to what Nouwen might have to say. And I think I know what I would have to say.
Nouwen has said something to the effect of this: if a word is to bear fruit, it has to point beyond itself, it has to be about something more than itself, it has to emerge from silence and then go back into silence. In other words, the words themselves have to get out of the way and make way for the meaning they are meant to bear. Cryptic as this may sound, I suspect that Nouwen's view of discipleship (bearing fruit) might correspond. It's not about our action, our effort, our ability to pump out one fruit after another. We have to get out of the way and make room for the true meaning of our work—God's work. We have to emerge from silence and return to it. We have to be rooted in God, and the fruit will emerge in our relationships with others and, yes of course, in our ministry. If you are too focused on checking your status, checking your progress, making sure you're bearing fruit, then you're probably in the way, focused on the wrong thing, and you need to return to the silence where God might speak a word. We can't analyze, measure, or strategize love, joy, peace, etc... but we know it when we see it... and it only comes from God's gracious and loving being toward us, with us, and for us. To find ourselves in love, joy, peace, etc., we must find ourselves in God.
There's certainly more to be said. The question of community is still on the table (and I know community is of profound importance to Henri). And, as I said, this is somewhat speculative—this is tentatively and non-comprehensively what I suspect Nouwen might say. This suspicion is based on what I perceive to be Nouwen's basic ontological claim: that the humanity of human beings has been affirmed in Christ and that this affirmation has preceded and does precede all human action—we are God's beloved before we even make a move. So the fruit we bear, like the identity we share, comes solely and universally through God's preceding affirmation of us. Therefore, we are not valued or saved by our ability, our effectiveness, or our success... we are valued according to God's goodness.