At the meeting of our Council of Bishops of the UMC earlier this month, I heard a quote which immediately went into my list of interesting quotes that I keep in the Memos of my Palm Pilot on my Treo phone. The quote was offered by one of our new bishops, Bishop Rudy Juan of the Philippines, and he said:

“The problem with success is the absence of successors.”

He went on to talk about how living on a “success” model of life is inherently self-centered and often does not include planning for a good successor. He contrasted that with “fruitfulness” as a model for life, and he indicated that the promise of fruitfulness is another generation of fruit.
His quote reminded me of another quote which I keep in my Palm Pilot:

“The fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but another apple tree.”

All of which is to say that those of us in the so-called Baby Boomer generation need to consider our legacy. Are we simply building our own successes (businesses, churches, organizations)? If so we will likely overlook the need to develop successors and to leave behind a lasting legacy. Or to put it in Gospel terms, “Are we building our own empire, or are we helping to build the Kingdom of God?”

The “fruitfulness” model helps with the usual complaints I hear about the “numbers game.” In reality numbers are just numbers. It depends upon what we are measuring and how we use that measurement. Fruit inspectors measure the health of their fruit. They look for new growth opportunities, and they look for new ways to increase the fruitfulness of others. Success-focused persons and groups tend too easily to look at numbers in terms of “How am I doing?” Fruit-focused persons and groups tend to look at numbers in terms of seeing “How God is working through all of us.”

Perhaps most importantly, fruit-focused persons and groups really care about developing successors, helping others succeed, passing along our knowledge and experience, and delighting in the fruitfulness of others.

“The problem with success is an absence of successors.” But the promise of fruitfulness is another generation of fruit. How are you measuring your fruitfulness? How are you planning your legacy? Will there be … not just more apples … but more apple trees for an on-going harvest?

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church