Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
—John 15:2b-5 (NRSV)
At the end of my freshman year in high school it was time for rite of passage: my first summer job! A family in my home church owned and operated. Christmas tree farm a few miles outside of town. One day after worship they asked if I might by interested in working for them that summer. They tole me their crew worked from 7 am until noon, five days a week from mid-June onward until every tree on their many acres had been properly trimmed. The job sounded like a great fit! I would work each morning, then have my afternoons free to swim, bike, and spend time with friends. So when mid-June rolled around, I began working with about six other high school students, working my way from tree to tree down neatly planted rows, shaping trees from three years of age to twenty plus, for a dime over minimum wage. I loved it.
Evergreens are fairly forgiving to work with, because a mistake while trimming from the previous year could often be corrected the next. The pruned branches would create several new shoots, filling in gaps and helping the tree be full, healthy and conical. The most important part to trim was the top, especially the shoots at the top that would continue to shape the trunk for the coming years. This shoot was called the "leader," and this is where each tree's trimming began. If you made a mistake, leaving the leader too long or too short, the tree would be disproportionate forever. We had to hand-measure the leader on each tree to ensure we had pruned it exactly right. The rest of the tree was trimmed by sight, based off of the leader's height and proportion.
I never made this connection in high school working my first summer job, but Christian leadership is a lot like trimming Christmas trees. We all lead in various ways with the gifts we have been given through the Holy Spirit. And, as Jesus emphasized in John 15, we all need pruning from time to time to remain healthy, full, and in line with Christ our Lord. Christ is our source of life, our direction and our guide. We are shaped by His lead. What are the branches in your life that reach beyond His lead, and what are the branches in your life that need encouragement to grow more fully? Who are the people around you who help to shape you in your faith in Christ? Pruning the things in your life that are not life-giving is not an easy task, but with Christ as our leader, and taking a step back to see the branches that make us out of line with Christ, we can learn to prune ourselves and others of the things that make our lives disproportionate.
Take a moment this month to thank someone who has helped you prune, grow and flourish in your faith. Take a moment to recognize the branches in your life that need pruning to have healthy life and faith. And, look to Christ, the leader, for He is forever there to shape your faith this day and always.