Friday, May 4, 2007

Spiritual Evaluation?

Why is it that we never evaluate spiritual growth?

When something is important to us, we usually find some way to evaluate it. It's important that our kids get an education and actually learn things in school, so we give them tests and grades to see how it's going. My health is important, so my doctor routinely does various blood tests. Airplane components... infant car seats... promising pharmaceuticals... it's important that these things actually work. That's why they get tested and evaluated.

But in the Church, I can't recall ever encountering a significant attempt to find out if people actually grow in faith, actually mature.

The "annual physical" is a common idea. Where's the annual spiritual?

Eugene Peterson embellishes a bit here, but his The Message version of 1 Corinthians 13:5 really lays it out straight:

"Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don't drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it."

So tell me, if you paid a visit to The Great Physician and he sent you out for some labwork, what kind of tests do you think he'd have them run?

What's the spiritual counterpart to a cholesterol test?



Anonymous said...

You are referring to 2 Cor., not 1 Cor.

Feral Pastor said...

Whoops! Thanks for the correction.


Derrick said...

Great post - I am actually working on a sermon for this weekend on spiritual evaluation, based on the 2 cor passage - I, like you feel it is something we have overlooked for too long in the church.

Feral Pastor said...

Thanks, Derrick!

Connected to the idea of evaluation is the assumption that people do grow and change, or at least that we're supposed to.

Recently I've had opportunity to sort of quiz several groups of people about growth over a few weeks at the congregation I'm serving. I tossed out questions like "What does the Bible say about growth? What does spiritual growth - or its aim of "maturity" - actually look like?" I kept pushing people to think of Bible passages or stories that they could draw on to answer these questions.

The results were very interesting. For the most part, people were largely stumped by the questions. With some time and encouragement, things did begin to come out. For example, one person did brought up the fruits of the Spirit as descriptors (Gal. 5). But I was struck by how largely unprepared people were to engage the topic. It was as if it was somehting they hadn't quite considered before. (When I pointed out that the very idea that people can grow spiritually implies that some people are therefore more spiritually mature than others, you could feel the anxiety level rise in the room! I read them Heb. 5:10-14 about milk vs. solid food and it was like a little epiphany.)

What was most interesting though, was the one case where, as soon as I brought up the topic, a woman responded right away with several good, basic indicators for looking at maturity; worship attendance, financial stewardship, daily devotions and Bible reading and - particulary important - meeting regularly with people who hold you accountable and help you grow.

It wasn't so much her answer that struck me, but the fact that growth - what it looks like and how to foster it - was a topic she was well familiar with. As I talked more with her, I learned that she had been active in a regular small group for several years. Ah.

Now, I may just be looking for things that confirm what I already believe, but that sure struck me as a good confirmation of one critical component for spiritual growth: substantial, intentional, faith-based relationships. Sadly, I find those kind of relationships to be relatively rare in the congregations I've seen, and thus it's not too surprising that I don't see a lot of growth occurring.

Well, there's a bit more grist for your sermon mill. Hope it's helpful.