Showing posts with label discipleship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label discipleship. Show all posts

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'.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Measuring Success in the Church

Numbers can never tell an accurate story of a church's success. To assess a church, a group or a ministry's level of success or failure with any type of numerical measure is to impose upon the church an institutional criteria and burden never discussed in the New Testament.

The successful church, the successful ministry or group within a church, and the successful Christian is the one who is faithful, not the one who is large or rich.

Faithfulness for a church, for a ministry or group within a church, or for an individual believer is measured in obedience and worship.

By obedience, I mean striving to be and do what Scripture has clearly prescribed; and trying to accurately determine and live out what Scripture has implied.

Obedience precedes worship because:
A) True obedience is an act of worship.
B) Worship without obedience is disgusting to God.

By worship, I mean utilizing every resource available to appropriately revere and represent God.

Church people often ask questions like, "How many small groups do we have?" or "How many people are in small groups at our church?". While most pastors could, with a minor amount of effort, know the answers... those might actually be the wrong questions.

I think the right questions are:

"How are our spiritual formation efforts enabling people to live lives obedient to God?"

"How are our spiritual formation efforts equipping people to worship God with all the resources He has given them."

That's all for now.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

5 Lists of 3. Simplifying the Process of Spiritual Formation

Captain Jack Sparrow held one of the Pirate Lord's eight pieces of nine. I just get a kick out of that term. Today, I give you five lists of three.
These are five different lists which each seek to describe (not necessarily define) the process of spiritual formation. These lists are not meant to be comprehensive, nor are they solely instructional; but hopefully they provide some opportunity for reflection. Here we go:

1. A Church's Approach to Spiritual Formation:
  • Teach Biblical Content
  • Encourage Spiritual Disciplines
  • Empower Christlike Mission
2. A Group Approach to Spiritual Formation:
  • Partnering for growth together
  • Serving the church together
  • Engaging the world together
3. A Personal Approach to Spiritual Formation:
  • Be a disciple
  • Be invitational
  • Be missional
4. A Progressive Approach to Spiritual Formation:
  • Leave Life (for Christ's)
  • Live Life (of obedience)
  • Give Life (for others)
5. A Progressive Approach to Spiritual Formation (2):
  • Obey
  • Love
  • Bear Fruit
What do you think? What would you add? What would you subtract? What would you change? What needs further clarity?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

10 Questions to Evaluate the Spiritual Formation Process of Your Church

Since I love lists, I often save good ones I find. A few years ago, I came across this one from Mark Waltz. He asked the following ten questions about spiritual formation in the church. Back then, I thought it would be fun to answer the questions from my perspective and then get feedback from you as to whether or not you see things like this?

Looking back at my answers several years ago, I am at once encouraged because I still very much believe what I wrote then. However, I am also a bit frustrated because I'm not sure we've done an effective job in accomplishing some of the things I wrote about then.

What do you think? Were these good answers then? Are they good answers now? Do we need to re-look at some of this stuff?

1. How is spiritual transformation defined in our church?

The work of the Holy Spirit in transforming us to the image of Christ who is the perfect representation of the Father.

2. What does a "win" look like in spiritual transformation?

For us, it is when an individual commits themself to a community of believers.

3. In what ways is spiritual transformation expressed in our mission, vision and values?

We call ourselves "commuities connecting to God and others". Point of Connection #3 is "Partnering with Others"

4. How are we trusting or not trusting the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of our people?

Because we believe the Spirit's primary "weapons of transformation are the church and the Word, we emphasize those two things, believing the Spirit will work through those efforts.

5. Does this feel like an “add-on” to everything else we’re doing... or how is it integrated into the fabric of our church life?

As we simplify and sharpen our focus, it will more and more become our DNA and less and less "another program/ministry"

6. Is there evidence that our people are engaging spiritual transformation as a lifestyle? If not, what's preventing that reality?

yes and no. many are committing themselves to the life-sharing relationships which lead to transformation, however we are likely not at 50% yet, so there is much to be done.

7. What key words, what important concepts will we use to cast vision and create a culture of spiritual transformation that is embraced by our people?

Explore, Launch, Partner, Serve, Engage; Formative, Caring, Missional

8. What environments will we intentionally continue or create to help our people engage the story of the Bible in their journey of spiritual transformation?

Our celebration gatherings and LIFEGroups will continue to be THE PRIMARY vehicles we use for spiritual transformation. Simplifying to these focused "environments" allows our people to be "in the bubble" less because after all, someone did say, "the fields are white to harvest...the laborers are few."

9. How do we help our people engage spiritual disciplines as pathways rather than task items to mark off their to-do lists?

I think this is why disciplines must be tied to community. i engage in spiritual disciplines not for my own benefit, but so that i can better image God. my vertical relationship is no more mature than my horizontal relationships.

10. How will we measure and celebrate spiritual transformation in the lives of our people?

this is the next step. we are currently identifying "landmarks" of spiritual formation that we will encourage our LIFEGroups to celebrate together. There are some that can be celebrated in our gatherings... baptism is the first that comes to mind.