The gap between what Americans say they believe and what they do is great and growing. The same is true of Christians. Values don't always translate into actions.
A group of Christian leaders known for their skill in discipling, and headed by Texan Bob Buford, is developing a tool, the Christian Life Profile, to assess the spiritual maturity of a church's attenders and aid the pastor in leading the church to deeper and more active faith.
LEADERSHIP editor-at-large Kevin A. Miller joined the group at the end of a two-day planning session. He brought to the discussion another pastor, whose West Coast church is making disciples in unusual places.
Around the table:
Larry Crabb, a licensed Christian psychotherapist for more than 25 years, is currently on faculty at Colorado Christian University. Crabb's newest book is about the church, The Safest Place on Earth: Where People Connect and Are Forever Changed.
Ken Fong is senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead, California, a multicultural congregation that ministers throughout Los Angeles.
Randy Frazee pastors Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas. His is the pilot church for the Christian Life Profile Project.
George Gallup, Jr., regularly surveys the nation on politics and religion. His new book, with Timothy Jones, explores The Next American Spirituality.
Dallas Willard, former pastor and now philosophy professor at the University of Southern California, is the author of Spirit of the Disciplines and more recently The Divine Conspiracy.
Can you measure spiritual maturity? You'd be the one to ask first, George.
Gallup: In my experience there are four markers: beliefs, practices, attitudes, and lifestyle. Those indicators tell you whether a person has a transforming, integrated faith or just a statement of faith. The test is in the action. The deeper one goesfrom belief to lifestylethe more obvious are the markers.
Crabb: But there's still a mystery about it. I would want to preserve a little mystery in our attempts to measure.
Fong: A Chinese philosopher once said, "If I ask you to describe how much you love your wife and you actually can, then I don't believe you do." If you can quantify something so exactly, that's not capturing the whole thing.
I'm learning over time that the real issue is the heart, and even though we need some markers, the heart is hard to measure.
Crabb: When you emphasize the markers exclusively, the danger is that people then can check themselves off as mature with a certain smugness. But if maturity is thought of as a relational concept and an ongoing process, then you never get to a point where you say, "I am now mature."
Frazee: On the other hand, one danger of not assessing the maturity of our congregation is that we'll then evaluate only the ABC's: attendance, buildings, and cash. Typically we set goals only in those areas.
While we have to be very careful in what we measure, we need input as to where our congregation is struggling. We surveyed our leaders on the fruit of the Spirit a couple of years ago. The number one issue in our church was self-control.
Did that surprise you?
Frazee: Surprise me? It scared me.
It makes you not want to have a board meeting! (laughter)
Frazee: But it also excited me. This information gave me something to work toward other than increasing attendance. I'm now working toward life transformation. That is intensely powerful.