When a follower of Christ decides to check his progress, what criteria must he use to do so? For the small business or the large corporation there is an easy way to measure success by checking out the “bottom line”. They can determine whether or not they are making progress by seeing what their labor is producing relative to their goal, profitability. For the small child, anxious to see evidence of growth, pencil marks on a door frame serve that purpose well.
But how do we measure our progress as believers? We have a difficult time determining what the “bottom line” is since we are dealing with intangible issues. Hearts and lives cannot always be measured by objective standards. Yet we cannot ignore the need to evaluate and determine whether we are indeed growing just because the task is subjective.
Since our goal as believers is to grow to maturity in Jesus Christ and to introduce others to Him, it only makes sense that we should ask ourselves some probing questions about the presence our absence of some markers that point toward spiritual maturity. Here are eight categories we can use to assess whether we are living up to our commitment to be fully devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Satisfaction with Our Portion. Have you learned to be content with the knowledge that the Lord Himself has promised to be your portion? It is extremely difficult to resist the constant barrage of influences around us telling us to be more ambitious, to settle for nothing less than the best. With our children, our homes, our jobs and in every imaginable way, we are flooded with thoughts that suggest that what we have and who we are is not enough. When we have been given life in Jesus Christ, we can learn to be satisfied and rest in Him.
Sensitivity to Sin. Am I more aware of aspects of my character that are unworthy of Christ now than I was before? One of the most obvious evidences that we are growing to maturity in Christ is the extent to which we are aware of the presence of sin in our lives. The closer we get to Christ, the more His light exposes the areas darkened by sin. Therefore, we should be recognizing more areas of our lives which need to be changed to be more like Christ and become more sensitive to our sin.
Servant’s Heart. Do I have a heart to serve others and to love them as Christ does? Whenever we walk with Christ, a strong impression He makes upon us is the presence of a servant’s heart. We cannot escape the fact that He came to serve and that to follow Him we must also develop the spirit and attitude of a servant. Maturity in a believer will always be characterized by a servant’s heart.
Scriptural Soundness. Is what I believe based upon the teaching of the Word of God? The marriage of belief and practice is such an alien concept in our society that an editorial in the local paper some years ago expressed dismay that evangelical Christians were dangerous because they allowed their “religious beliefs” to influence their social and political thinking. Do we dare plead guilty? We better! Our beliefs must be biblically based and practically expressed.
Submissive Spirit. Am I willing to yield what I want for the sake of others? Until we find an attitude in our lives which willingly submits to others, we will not be able to function in the unity of the Spirit nor enjoy the bond of peace which maturity in Christ promises.
Strategy for Reaching Non-believers. Are we concerned enough about those who do not know Christ to invest ourselves in developing a strategy to introduce them to Him? We should always be looking for ways to share the good news of salvation in Christ with an ever-increasing circle of non-believers. The tendency most of us have is to divest ourselves of most of our relationships with those who do not know Christ. We need to build up more regular contact with those who need to meet Him.
Stewardship. Am I growing in my understanding of the biblical truth that I am just a manager of the resources that God has entrusted to my care? Am I giving faithfully to the work of the body of Christ so that I can share in the blessing of knowing the joy of obedience? When a church is mature, its people are generous and faithful, often sacrificial, and seldom need to be reminded of their responsibility in the area of personal stewardship.
Stable Prayer Life. Is my personal prayer life growing and the content of my conversations with the Lord giving evidence of a deeper walk with Him? The depth and breadth of the prayer life of the body of Christ serves us well in determining something of the spiritual vitality and health of the congregation. Prayer must be an integral part of our personal spiritual lives which adds to the richness and depth of our corporate experience of prayer.
What’s your criteria to measure your own growth? If we want to be the kind of follower of Christ who “measures up”, who is growing to maturity, we need to ask ourselves questions like these. By the grace of Jesus Christ, we are not what we once were, but we are not yet what we are going to be! Through Christ, we are to continue to grow up, to mature, and then by acknowledging the truth about our progress, we can continue on in the right direction!
But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ! (Ephesians 4:15)
Various surveys and polls over the past two decades have shown in statistical form what normal powers of observation have noted for quite some time. When asked about their level of participation in church, the typical survey or poll has shown that only about forty percent attend with any regularity. On the local level, we have seen trends that show that for the children and pre-school ministries in our own church, the average attendance for the little ones comes in just about on target with the national numbers–about forty percent attendance for children lining up with that same percentage for the adults who bring them!
A couple of important observations come out of such data.
First Observation: Whereas I have great confidence in the numbers compiled from our own weekly attendance records, that level of confidence is not there with the national surveys and polls. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, it has long been discovered that people lie to those asking them questions about their participation in spiritual endeavors! For example, those same surveys indicate that 17% answer that they tithe in their giving to their churches, but the actual numbers in the realm of all charitable giving to spiritual causes comes out to only about 3% leaving a gap of 14% between the reality and the wishful thinking of those responding.
When that criteria is applied to church attendance, the 40% number reveals a highly optimistic view of actual practice. Hard data from churches indicates a much more sobering situation with the percentage falling closer to 20%, half of what is reported in polls! Many suggestions have been offered for the disparity, but perhaps the most telling one is that people want to think of themselves as more connected, more engaged, than they actually are. Why? Because they know they should be far more committed than they are.
Second Observation: The culture has introduced a destructive perception that church engagement is just one of many options available each weekend, even for those who say they believe in Christ, perhaps even trust Him as Savior, but have little interest in following Him into the vibrant life He has designed for them within the body of Christ. Confessing faith in Christ, a majority of those who call themselves His disciples have largely abandoned the church except for the occasional appearance to keep some sense that they have not rejected His plan altogether. Church attendance falls way down the list of priorities when other opportunities present themselves as sports events, travel, even household chores often push commitment to the body of Christ to the side.
A Word of Hope: A positive cry is rising up around the nation. The call to come follow Christ the way He outlines it in Scripture is reaching college campuses, singles populations in major metropolitan areas, among young families who are realizing that they need greater connections than they currently have to others heading in a godward direction.
The biggest objection in every generation is that the church is full of hypocrites so why get locked into a dying institutionalized religious system? And can anyone deny that stinging accuracy of that charge? But does it stand to reason that the answer is to abandon, neglect, deride and eventually reject the body of Christ? For all the blemishes on the Bride of Christ, she is still His choice. He still intends for there to be a marriage of the Bride to the Lamb of God and like it or not, the church is His bride!
So the call goes out. Study the Word and discover afresh the beauty He intends for His bride and determine for yourself to become an active, engaged, reforming influence within the church. We need to depend upon and trust Christ. We need to believe that His way is the best way. Therefore, we need to accept the fact that His way calls us to be the church He longs for us to be.
If you have bailed out, when do you plan to jump back in? What will it take for you to return to your calling from Christ to be one of many “living stones” chosen by His grace to be called His people? Many have stated correctly that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. True. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. However, the Scriptures never give any indication that a follower of Christ does so apart from a body of committed believers who love Him and each other as they seek to grow up together to spiritual maturity.
So before you dismiss this challenge as the ramblings of an out-of-touch pastor, consider the exhortation of the following great passage from the book of Hebrews to a Christian culture in the first century that was already witnessing the same trend we see today. And after you consider this passage, search the Scriptures for yourself and see if it is not true…Christ Himself calls you to belong, to serve, to grow and to be sent from the local assembly called the church!
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25).
So…where are you going to assemble with others tomorrow morning? And will you commit to engage there and find the sweet satisfaction of a whole-hearted commitment to follow Christ in everything…even in the church?