The Church as an Orchard

Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.

(Psalm 1:1-3)

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing…When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” (John 15:5-8)

Through the years Cindy and I have developed some annual traditions. In the early summer, we pick strawberries. A little later in the summer, we pick blueberries. In August, we freeze corn. In October we go to a local orchard and pick apples. In fact, we are planning to pick apples this week.

You don’t have to go apple-picking very long before it becomes clear which trees are the ones you want to spend time with. Most years the apples have been abundant and juicy; sometimes the trees are almost bare and the apples that are there aren’t worth the effort.

The Scriptures are very interested in fruit, particularly in God’s people bearing fruit. In fact, both the Psalmist and Jesus declare that bearing fruit is a sign that disciples are in right relationship with God; they are just as adamant that the lack fruit is a telltale revelation about something amiss in our relationship with God.

Both the Psalmist and Jesus describe our relationship with God not as a tree and a vine, but as trees and vines; it’s an organic relationship that is alive and is intended to grow. They both affirm that this growth will only take place as we remain connected to the One who gives life and maintains life. But the image of tree or vine is always in the context of the entire orchard of trees and the entire vineyard of vines.

Most of the time we tend to view fruit in the singular. We think about each one of us bearing fruit and this certainly revelatory to our relationship with Christ. We should each bear fruit. But fruit-bearing in the kingdom of God is primarily about the people of God, which is why an orchard seems an especially apropos metaphor for the church.

The beauty and power of an orchard is that the trees protect each other, feed off each other, and gain strength and support from each other. We desire our congregation to be an orchard for growth—spiritually, mentally, emotionally and relationally. Whether you are a college student or a year-round resident of the area, we would love for you to be a part of this orchard as a means of challenging each of us to spiritual maturity.

The orchard also symbolizes the call, actually the natural result, of bearing fruit. We are convinced that we bear fruit more effectively as a whole than as individuals. Jesus says that people will know that we are His if we love each other. It’s in the corporate nature of faith that we most successfully lead others to Jesus.

And what exactly does it mean for the church to be a fruit-bearing orchard? It means that we are thinking about how we can help others see and experience the love and freedom of Christ. It also means that we encourage, train, challenge and help each other seek and yearn for God so much that together we reveal the presence of Christ, what Paul refers to as “the fruit of the Spirit”—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” As a congregation we nurture these qualities and we consider them natural and expected for congregations committed to Christ.

When people think of the Houghton Wesleyan Church, I hope they see a group of people who are bearing fruit that looks not like us, but like Jesus.