Sunday, February 19, 2012

Checklist Christianity: How to Measure Spiritual Success

One of the questions I often get asked when talking about discipleship, spiritual formation, and small groups is:

"How do you measure success?"

I'm not a big fan of this question. See, there was a time in my life, when I could have easily answered that question. Back in the day we (me and lots of other Christians like me) used a formula to measure how spiritual someone was. It looked like this:

SQ = [(SUa+TUv)/26]+[(SUp+WPM)/52]+[(TRM+MC)/5]
8 is the perfect score, meaning you are very spiritual.

Of course you could apply a bonus formula to gain two extra bonus points if you wanted. Those two points could come in very handy if you fell short of 8, or if you wanted to be elected to a committee during the annual fall elections. A score higher than 8 virtually assured you a spot on the committee of your choice.

The bonus formula was as follows:

If you grew up in a church like mine, this is all old hat to you. You've seen these equations many times before: on overhead projectors, flannel-graph boards, and maybe if your church was high tech, via slide projector.

For those of you who are seeing these formulas for the first time, let me translate:
  • SQ is "Spiritual Quotient". This is your level of spiritual maturity.
  • Of course, BSQ is "Bonus Spiritual Quotient".
  • SUa is Sunday morning attendance. TUv is Tuesday Visitation attendance. Add up all your Sunday morning and Tuesday evening participation over the course of a year, and divide that number by 26.
  • SUp is Sunday evening attendance. WEP is Wednesday evening prayer meeting. Again, add up all your participation over the course of the year, and divide this number by 52.
  • TRM is "Tent Revival Meeting" and MC is "Missions Conference". Add up your participation in these and divide by 5. (If your church did more than one of these a year, or they lasted more than 5 days, you're at a definite advantage)
  • Bonus points for using a King James Version Bible and for calling yourself a Baptist.
This process of determining spiritual maturity makes things very easy. You can quickly determine who is the most spiritual person in your church, as well as those who probably need to sit closer to the front on Sundays. Deacons and Elders can use these formulas to carry out church discipline and Sunday School Teachers could regularly have their students work out their own scores to inspire them to do better in the coming months.

I personally have several trophies in my basement from my four consecutive "perfect 10" years. (That string was broken when my mother unknowingly gave me a New American Standard Bible for my birthday)

[I'm just kidding]

But seriously. Too often people have the idea that Christianity is just about checking off the right boxes. And if you attend all the right things at the right times, then you're going to come out all right on God's scorecard. I call this, "Discipleship by Attendance".

Marianne and I were talking tonight about how difficult it is for some people to shift out of this way of thinking. Particularly if they were reared in a church which emphasized attendance as the primary means of spiritual growth. It took me years to shake loose from this kind of thinking, which too often exhibited itself in my life when I judged others for their lack of attendance at "church stuff." My assumption was that their non-presence represented a spiritual immaturity. Little did I know that my judgement on them for their non-presence represented a much deeper level of spiritual immaturity.

So now, when I get asked how I measure success in discipleship... I sigh deeply and then hem and haw about how it's hard to measure the work of the Spirit. I mention the parable of the sower and the soils and point out that sometimes initial growth is false growth. I talk about Galatians 5 and explain that the fruit in ones life being a dashboard to measure by, but not a checklist to live by. And I keep talking about lots of stuff like that until they're sorry they asked. But I don't really ever talk about measuring success... Because I'm pretty sure as one who doesn't sit on a throne and won't be presiding over any judgments at the end that that's not my job.

But if you really want to know what I think, I have identified 8 markers that I think are Biblical evidences that the Spirit is working in someone. I guess if you want to call these measurements, you can. I think of them more as landmarks along a journey. Here they are:
  1. Knowing who God is and what He expects from men
  2. Relying on Jesus for salvation from sin and a new way of life
  3. Growing in knowledge, devotion, and influence
  4. Living out the one another commands in a community of fellow believers
  5. Leveraging God's resources to meet the needs of those in close proximity
  6. Living uniquely in the world so as to demonstrate the glory of God and bring those in proximity to repentance
  7. Seeking to constantly share the message of Christ and show the mission of Christ.
  8. Expanding influence to impact people around the world for the good of the Kingdom
I know at first glance this kind of list doesn't seem to be any different than the ones I joked about. But, in my mind at least, this list is far less about the actual "doing" and far more about the actual "being." Any time we try to put "being" type concepts into words we run the risk of slipping into the Pharisaical legalism of "maturity by list", so we need to be careful even with a list like this.

But in the end, the main idea is simple. The more we look like Jesus (the revealed, biblical Jesus who is the image of the Father; not like some Jesus that we made up) the more spiritually mature we are.

Hey, I'm just sayin'.

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