Root Before Fruit

“I am the vine; you are the branches.”
John 15:5a

My wife and I came to Christ in 1973, when we were twenty years old. It was during the Jesus People movement in Southern California when many young people were coming to the Lord.

By the time we were twenty-one, we were the worship leaders at our church. We quickly got involved as cell group leaders and were having weekly meetings in our home. I also volunteered to take care of the tape ministry for the pastor.

I preached my first message in 1975 and it was on John 15; the vine and the branches. I had no idea what I was talking about! (Back then, of course, I believed I was an expert on that text). In the next fifteen or so years, we were very busy doing Christian work. I served as a deacon, an elder, a worship leader, and a preacher.

I did evangelistic work with street preaching, door-to-door, and tract distribution. I worked helping the poor through World Vision, a local rescue mission, and sponsoring Cambodian refugees. We also traveled and shared our music ministry and ran a halfway house for wayward youth.

By the time we turned thirty-eight, we were exhausted! We left the institutional church because we really felt that there had to be something higher that God wanted.

It was then that we made a startling discovery. After all those years, we realized that we didn’t know our Lord very well at all. Oh, we knew a lot about Him. We knew the Scriptures (at least we knew them along certain lines). But what had we been giving those people to whom we had ministered? Had we given them Christ? Or had we given them doctrines, rules, regulations, and systems of self improvement? Since we ourselves had not experienced Christ in a deep way, how could we give Him to others in a deep way? There was no lasting fruit to show for those 17 years of hard work.

So we dropped all “ministry” at this point in our lives. We were determined to know Him and His church in a whole new way. During the next two years we discovered (by revelation) that we had an indwelling Lord. Christ lived in us and we lived in Christ. And we discovered that we could know and experience the Christ who lived within us in a much deeper way than we ever thought possible.

The Lord then began to give us a vision of His Church. One that was much more in line with what we saw in the New Testament. And it didn’t look anything like what we had seen around us. But we only had a vision. We had not actually experienced it yet. That would not come until several years later. But the one thing we did discover by experience was that:

“Root Must Come Before Fruit.”

The Current Scene 

There are many groups of Christians today within the house church / simple church / emergent church movement that emphasize the mission of the church. These groups are filled with many people in their 20’s and 30’s. They are hungry for authentic Christianity. They are longing for spiritual reality.

Yet, as I see it, many of them are still putting the proverbial cart before the horse. They have placed mission and social action before a deep inward knowing of the Lord. They have placed the fruit before the root. And I can’t help but wonder if this “fruit” will last.

“Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I 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.” John 15:4, 5

The Tree of Life

What the Lord is talking about here is not missions, evangelism, or social action. He is talking about Life! God’s life. Divine life. Where there is life, there will be fruit (at least eventually). We love to focus on the fruit, but it seems to me that God focuses on the life. That is, the life of His dear Son. He knows that if life is flowing in the tree, fruit will be produced naturally, organically.

There is a very important reason why the Lord used the metaphor of a tree (or vine). He wanted to convey the idea of internal life being expressed. There is life flowing inside of the tree! Please don’t get the idea that there is nothing happening inside of that tree. Where there is life, there is motion. The sap is flowing; the bark and the branches are growing. Leaves and flowers are developing. But the fruit comes last.

What is Fruit?

In a word, you could say that a piece of fruit is a “life-pod.” It is a container (pod) that holds the excess life of the tree. This life-pod is for the benefit of others. It is eaten by other creatures for the purpose of providing energy and nourishment to them. Fruit does not benefit the tree itself.

“I have come that they may have life and may have it abundantly.” John 10:10b

The fruit contains the internal life of the tree. The fruit will reflect the quality of the internal life of the tree. But it takes time for the fruit to develop so that it is a true expression of the internal life of the tree. In other words, it takes a mature tree to develop fruit. This doesn’t happen overnight. However, if the tree is in the proper environment, and it is properly nourished and develops a strong root system, it will produce fruit much sooner.

Practical Application

Christianity has manufactured a huge “machine” which we call evangelicalism. This machine pumps out instant preachers, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. This is the opposite of organic. It is mechanical. But what can be done to turn this tide? I would like to offer a two-fold solution.

1. Learn to know an indwelling Lord. Before you rush out to the mission field or to the inner city to “minister,” get to know the Christ who lives within you, experientially. Learn to touch Him and fellowship with Him in your spirit.

This is not doing nothing. This is not passivity. This is the tree developing a strong root system. The bark, branches, leaves and blossoms will display the life within as the tree matures. You will not be passively sitting around as the life grows because you are part of the Body of Christ.

How do you do this? First, you need some instruction. As an introduction, I would recommend the books on Spiritual Formation at www.HouseChurchResource.org. Second, you need to find a body of believers who are learning to live by Christ together. That’s the next point.

2. Learn to know your Lord in a shared-life community of believers. We learn to live by Christ by growing in Him together with a group of Christians who are all functioning under the headship of Christ in an organic way. Learn to be a brother/sister in an organic expression of the church where everyone serves one another. If you don’t know of a such a group where you live, then I would encourage you to fill out the “find an organic church” form at www.HouseChurchResource.org

Everyone who was sent out to work for the Lord in the first century was first trained by being a brother or sister in an organic church. Church life itself was their training ground. They were called, prepared, and then sent. Today, if someone feels called to “the ministry” they are immediately shipped off to Bible College. But God uses His church to prepare people for His work.

Now when I say “church,” it’s important that you understand that I mean a group of believers who are all functioning under the headship of Christ in a shared-life community. That’s the only “church” that the New Testament knows.

Our God strongly desires to have a living expression of His Son in every city in the world. This harvest is great, but the workers are few. Where are the men and women who are willing to actively pursue Him within the context of organic church life? Where are the men and women who are willing to learn Christ as non-leaders in a community of believers who are living and functioning under the vibrant headship of Jesus Christ?

God is raising up such young people in our day who want to know Him first before anything else. May He increase this work!

Author: Milt Rodriguez

Milt is an author, speaker, and organic church planter.

24 thoughts on “Root Before Fruit”

  1. Milt,
    This is an excellent testimony with tremendous insight. Thanks for sharing! I really love your reference to fruit being a ‘life-pod’ and that it is for the benefit of others. We so often forget spiritual fruit has eternal value.

    I once looked at Psalm 1 and asked the question, “How is your root system?” The analogy being that just like the tree’s roots were able to tap into the unlimited spring of water we too must tap into the unlimited well of the Holy Spirit. We so often look at the visible (leaves, blossoms, fruit) that we forget about the unseen activity occuring inside. Jeremiah 17:7 also refers to a tree spreading its roots.

    We are currently experiencing the sprouting of an organic church. We don’t know yet what the fruit will look like, but it is exciting watching the tree grow.
    Jim

  2. I’m familiar with and connected to house church resource.org. It has been a great resource. We are hoping to attend a confernece in 2009. I have read “Reimagining Curch” which rocked my world, and came at the most opportune time. The others in our group have not fully embraced RC but I am watching the organic principles unfold without everyone fully recognizing what’s happening. It is an exciting time to be a Christian and to be free to let Jesus build his his church. I want to thank you and Frank and others for sharing truth in spite of the evangelical machine.

  3. Hi Milt. Bro Johnny sent me over and I’m glad I came.

    In reading your post it seems to me that you do understand the essence of John 15. Andrew Murray wrote a little book about it – The True Vine.
    Jesus was the only ‘normal’ human being to live because he lived the Life of the Father that was in him. When we live that life we are bearing his fruit.

  4. jeeez miltee, write a book on your blog why don’tcha. 🙂

    Hey, this is wes!

    aaaaaaameeeeeeen to that last part. Their are tons of us out there, I can assure you that. The crop is overwhelmingly plentiful and the workers are extremely scarce in comparison. Pray that changes.

    P.S. Just finished “the butterfly….”. Here’s my two cents: “A delightful, color-by-numb-ber picture of experiential spiritual insight that the reader won’t see comin’.”

    that just happened! 🙂

  5. I agree with every word except that some of us are not so young ;o).

    However, I agree that most who are desiring real organic life in Christ in genuine organic Spirit led relational community are not my age.

    This is one of the the best teachings on fruit that I have personally heard. You have said here what I have tried to communicate whenever I do on this topic only you have done so with greater simplicity and clarity.

    I look forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Wilson
    http://www.ReligionFreeJesus.com

  6. hi Milt,

    Thanks for your post of root before fruit. 100 % agree. Even the life giving sap that flows in the branches resulting in the production of fruits is not of the branches but of the vine coming from the roots. This means everything is of the Lord. I am just reminded of the small gate(Jesus) and the narrow way(Jesus) and the end of that narrow way is Life(Jesus)-Matt. 7:13-14. This is discipleship(Matt. 28:19): A disciple is one who enters the small gate and walks the narrow way/path. Could it be that people just pray the sinner’s prayer but in reality never entered the narrow gate, much more walk the narrow path? Or may have entered the gate then happily wait for thier time to go to heaven. The Gate: Where we surrender-not my will but your will, my way over His way(Gethsemane), death by crucifixion (Golgotha). His death my death, His burial my burial. The Path: His resurrection my resurrection. Yet not I but Christ who liveth in me. Not I doing but He doing. Where He increases and I decreases (John 3:30). We are to make disciples not decisions. Mark 3:15 talks about the order of things a). be with him(there is only one thing that matters to the Lord and Mary found it) then b). He might send us We tend to substitute spending time with Him, knowing Him with doing His work.What good is it even if we become excellent in doing the work without knowing the owner of the work. Our first calling is to know Him and then He’lll send us. Our main calling is to minister to Him. In the Temple there are three compartments. Most of the time we spent all our energies in the outer court or even the holy place-ministering to the people but we are called to spent so much time in the Holy of Holies-ministering to the Lord like Mary(Luke 10:42).

    I think I do not need to bolt from the institutional Church, the organization, unless the Lord tells me. It should not be of much concern because I know that I am part of the Ekklesia-the Spiritual Fellowship of Disciples, He is building. Instead of leaving I’ll continue to serve the people God is bringing to me so that any errors there be shall be corrected as a result of new revelations the Lord is giving. Institutional church, organic church, house church or any new phraseology are just methods/vehicles, I think, and may not matter so much for as long as God’s ultimate purpose is accomplished-that of the manifest preeminence of Christ over everything here on earth starting with the individual disciple, to His Ekklesia and to all of creation (Col 1:18).

  7. Milt,

    We could not agree more. Just the other day I was telling a good friend of mine, “I’m tired of all the talk about ‘movements’… and ‘missional church’… etc.” Our only concern is to know the indwelling Christ in community. Everything else will take care of itself. There is a great difference between talking a lot about Christ… and having Christ as central and supreme in all that we do individually and corporately as the Body of Christ.

    Thanks for this encouraging post. I look forward to our friendship with one another. Peace.

    David D. Flowers

  8. Amen to the fuss about being missional, or a movement, etc… Seems like once you get caught up trying to dissect and analyze what God is doing, we’re just putting ourselves back into the driver’s seat. Supposedly being “organic” is about not trying to control and understand everything with our human oversight, but it’s a hard habit to break I suppose. We all need to be reminded to just focus on the life that is in Christ, instead of trying to get our fruit to hurry up and grow….

  9. “Our main calling is to minister to Him. In the Temple there are three compartments. Most of the time we spent all our energies in the outer court or even the holy place-ministering to the people but we are called to spent so much time in the Holy of Holies-ministering to the Lord like Mary(Luke 10:42). ”

    So true, Macario. I have been thinking about this ever since I listened to a message by Tim Richey.

    When Barnabas and Saul were sent out is was when a group was spending time ‘ministering to the Lord.’

    He is worthy!

    Great article, Milt.

  10. Milt, this was an excellent article. I’m glad you wrote it. It especially speaks to me during the season of life I’m in.

    I’m quoting your article on my blog, RawReligion.com.

    Thanks!

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