I’ve never been much for fruit. My kids eat fruit of all kinds and seem to genuinely enjoy it. Not me.
The past few weeks I have been on a diet. I’ve given up baked goods and soft drinks, I’ve limited portions of everything else, and I’ve begun to eat a lot more (you guessed it) fruit. I’ve never appreciated fruit as much as I do now. It’s amazing how quickly your perspective changes with an empty stomach!
Apples have been my fruit of choice. The other day I bought a big, shiny Honeycrisp and set it on my desk to eat later that afternoon. All day long I stared at that apple. It looked so good. I actually exercised restraint to leave the apple alone until it’s appointed time. Who would have thought?!
Imagine my disappointment had that apple been an imposter. We’ve all seen imitation fruit that looks incredibly real; decoration pieces sold at craft stores that appear genuine from a distance. While we appreciate these as art, none of us would ever want to eat these plastic stand-ins. Fake fruit is just that – fake. Plastic apples look real but lack the substance that otherwise constitutes actual apples.
I’m glad that Honeycrisp was real.
It was delicious. Had it been an imposter, I would have been disappointed to say the least. I would have remained hungry. I would no longer trust the store that advertised genuine apples and sold me a fake. I may have questioned buying other apples in the future altogether and begun looking for an alternative snack for my afternoon routine. I would have felt cheated. And certainly, I would have been.
This past Sunday our high school class studied the Fruit of the Spirit as presented in Galatians 5. We discussed the in-fighting and dissentions that set the stage for this letter, and explored the roles these specific “spiritual fruit” play in bringing peace and reconciliation within churches. Our students were engaged, and helped create a rich conversation. (I love the fresh insights and new perspectives that come naturally from teenagers – I regularly learn from them.)
Toward the end of our discussion, I posed what I thought to be a rhetorical question. “Assuming you could find a church that fully embodied the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5…”
(Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.)
If such a church indeed existed, what would people say about it?
How would people respond to it? What kind of church would this be?
The answers surprised me.
I expected my students to imagine this an amazing church; a group of people unlike any other, living out their faith the way God truly intends. I expected comments about the incredible witness this church would have in the surrounding community and the warm response newcomers would receive as they became part of it. I expected someone to say, “Wow, I want to be a part of that church – after all, who wouldn’t!?” (I’m convinced these are the correct responses.)
Call it skeptical, cynical or just outright dis-trusting, but the actual feedback I received went something like this. “If I walked into a church where everyone appeared joyful and good, I would assume they are a bunch of fakes.” Multiple students shared this sentiment.
Understand something. Most of my students have grown up in our congregation, a church full of great people who teach and model Jesus to their kids. There is no immediate cause within our own congregation for the negative response I heard this past Sunday. And yet there it was, a room full of students suspicious about a hypothetical church identified by the Fruit of the Spirit.
Remember that Honeycrisp?
If discovering it to be fake would have ruined my day, imagine the disappointment of meeting a Christian imposter whose spiritual fruit is merely a facade. This happens to our young people. Teenagers have an incredible gift for seeing past facades. Present a teenager with a Honeycrisp and they have certain expectations. If that apple turns out to be plastic, we can (rightly) expect some painful disappointment.
Unfortunately, it appears my students have already encountered some plastic apples in their lives. We all do eventually. Every church has some. And yet God designed the church as his vehicle for reconciliation with a fallen world. God works through us anyway. By his own design. Bushels of bruised and assorted fruit, assembled at his choosing.
We say it only takes one rotten apple to ruin the rest? At the end of the day, the rotten apples are still apples (I know a few of them). Hear me, church: beware the synthetic fruit. The last thing this world needs is more fake fruit. Plastic apples look good at a distance, but what purpose do they truly serve? Our world craves real apples, and our students need to experience a few good Honeycrisps before we circle back to Galatians 5 again.
For the sake of our churches, our witness and our emerging generations, may we never be plastic apples.
DAVE BLANCHARD is the Director of Student Ministry at the West Houston Church of Christ. He is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in Oregon, Michigan and Texas. Dave has been married for 18 years with three kids and two pug dogs.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.