Fruitful Leadership for a Mission-Shaped Church

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The church calls results-oriented leadership fruitful leadership because it bears the seeds of God’s future, says Wesley Seminary’s David McAllister-Wilson.


The Bible is replete with stories of fields and harvests, vines and branches, stumps and shoots, trees and figs. This imagery of “fruitfulness” gives us a language for understanding effective Christian leadership. While the secular world speaks about “results-oriented” leadership, we in the church think of “fruitful” leadership.

Fruitful Leadership is Purposeful

The other day, I was driving home from Dulles airport. I was not in the best mood. My plane was small and late. I had to walk a mile to get my car. I was tired and worried about something and trying to reach someone on the cell phone. And I was hitting traffic. And then, I looked to the left and noticed the field of flowers planted on the median strip. You see them along roadways all over the country.

The flowers are called “Cosmos.” Well, something about them instantly transformed my mood and I smiled. It wasn’t just that they were so delicately pretty, it’s that they were so random, so “off-the-page,” so gratuitously beautiful. And I wondered: how many lives have been changed by those flowers? How many marriages have been saved, legal decisions re-thought, bills re-drafted, wars averted by this “Visitation of the Cosmos” on the Dulles access road? Stranger things have happened. Souls can teeter on those kinds of tipping points.

And I realized how really very purposeful they are. Plants do not produce flowers for their own sake. A very intelligent God designed an evolutionary process whereby the shape and color of the Cosmos please the birds and the bees. They work hard to do this. They are also sacrificial. Indeed, an annual like the Cosmos dies in the process of bearing this fruit, lifting the flower high in the sky so that the seeds might fall into their beds and a brand new field might thrive next summer. I thought: “A flower is a plant on a mission.”

That caused me to think about my work. I am busy, but in my sane moments, I remember that it isn’t hard to be busy. “Busy” is not an end in itself. Weeds are busy, cancer is busy. I can easily fall into the trap of thinking I am a success if I am busy, if I am working hard. But I considered the Cosmos and I longed for that way of being where everything I do is meaningful, where I am in the flow; that blessed state where I am on a mission and my work is bearing fruit.

Fruitful Leadership is Future-Oriented

Do you remember the definition of a fruit? It comes up when you ask whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. It’s a fruit, because a fruit has seeds. And that means it can multiply; it holds within it the promise and the power of generation. Fruit contains the promise of the future. To be a fruitful leader is to be an agent of God’s future.

As the President of Wesley Theological Seminary, I often reflect on the word “seminary,” which means “seedbed.” That means that as an institution, we must always be asking, “are we bearing fruit?” A seminary is ultimately not in service to itself as an institution, nor even to its students. We serve the church, but we serve the church as it is called to be. In short, is Wesley preparing leaders who will make disciples? As I think about the fruitfulness of the seminary, the phrase that comes to mind is, “We prepare fruitful leaders for a mission-shaped church.”

Fruitful Leadership is Mission-Shaped

In the Bible fruitfulness is not so much about individual accomplishment. It’s like that fig tree in the parable — it’s about families and tribes and generations; it’s about churches and chosen people. Fruitfulness is a team sport.

Is your ministry bearing fruit? Are you leading others in such a way that Good News will reach the unchurched, the hungry will be fed, strangers will be welcomed, and the afflicted will be comforted? Will the people you minister with thirst for righteousness and seek justice and lead sacrificial lives?

Just as the potter’s hand gives shape to the clay, a healthy church is shaped not by the dead hand of how things have been done before, not by its need for members or money and not by the fear that comes from bad-news Christianity. A mission-shaped church is guided by the teachings of Jesus, who proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and by the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be a part of God’s work in the world, to fight injustice and foster the beloved community.

My prayer for all churches is that the Holy Spirit blesses our work together, that we be granted vision and wisdom and courage; and that we be given the blessing of a purposeful life — the life of the Cosmos — that we be fruitful and multiply. Fruitfulness is at the same time a blessing and an offering that is pleasing to God.


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About Author

Photo of David McAllister-Wilson

David McAllister-Wilson is president of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. He is author of A New Church and A New Seminary: Theological Education Is the Solution (Abingdon Press, 2018), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.


Adult Education Studies from the Wesley Ministry NetworkAdult Education Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network

The Wesley Ministry Network brings the best of contemporary Christian scholarship to your congregation’s small groups and adult Bible studies.These video-based group study courses encourage the energetic discussion and personal reflection that are keys to a life of informed discipleship. Courses are designed for use in small groups in a wide range of denominations, but they are also appropriate for individuals seeking self-study opportunities. Learn more now.

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United Methodist studies: Methodist Identity — Part 1: Our Story; Part 2: Our BeliefsWesleyan Studies Project — Series I: Methodist History; Series II: Methodist Doctrine; Series III: Methodist Evangelism