Imagine a car without a speedometer, information pills a game without a scoreboard, or an education without a graduation. What’s missing in those scenarios is a sense of progress – a way to measure movement. And that lack of feedback leads to a feeling of frustration and failure.
In the church world we have a measurement problem. Not necessarily with finances or attendance, but with the one thing we’re tasked with doing…making disciples.
This raises a fairly important question: What does spiritual progress look like, and how can we help people recognize movement in their own journey? Here are six indicators that something might just be going right…
1) You’re making better choices
Jesus put a lot of emphasis on obedience, which can really be defined as living up to what you already know. Spiritual growth is revealed in our choices. The more we grow, the closer the alignment between God’s will and our activity. And we can see this in habits, associations, schedules, conversations, and all the practical pieces of our daily lives. This kind of living leads to a reduction of shame and regret, which means our overall happiness is going up when we do what we know is best. That’s progress!
2) You’re developing determination
According to the Apostles, determination (or perseverance) is a quality that God is working out in all those who call themselves followers of Jesus. What is that quality? It’s the willingness to press on in doing what’s right when our circumstances aren’t supportive. It’s the ability to keep going when others would quit. Experiencing God’s faithfulness over time reinforces the fact that there’s more at work than what we can see. That faith is what forms the determination that marks movement along our journey with Jesus.
3) You feel for others
This one might seem less measurable at first. But who can argue that growing in love is part of God’s agenda for each of us? After all, what did Jesus have for people? Compassion. He felt passionately moved by the situation of those he encountered. In the sales world they call this empathy. And the best salesmen have the most empathy. That simply means they are willing to put themselves in the shoes of their customers. When we do that with those around us, we are behaving more like Jesus.
4) You want to learn
“Like a kid in a candy store.” That’s a common expression used to describe eagerness when we see it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if spiritual eagerness and curiosity naturally increased over time instead of decreasing? It almost seems like we expect people’s vibrancy to wane after having a certain amount of experience with faith in God. Doesn’t that seem backward? That’s because it is. Growth feeds curiosity, and curiosity feeds growth. Jesus referred to it as a hunger and thirst for righteousness. That’s what you see when you start to move forward.
5) You influence people
It’s true that a rising tide lifts all the ships. If you want to know whether you’re growing, look at the people around you. There’s an undeniable transference of attitude and action when someone steps out to do something bold. If everyone around is negative and stagnant, it might be time to look in the mirror. On the other hand, if the people in your circles are becoming more open to God’s work in their lives and taking steps toward Jesus, you may have something to do with that. Who are you influencing?
6) Your relationships are getting better
Think for just a minute about several of the people you admire most. Chances are, they are really good at relationships. I mean, they know how to get along with people from all walks of life. On the flip side, we’re repulsed by the person who always has to prove their point and insists on being right all the time. They isolate people and burn bridges. A sign of spiritual maturity is harmony, and harmony may very well be the key factor in improving relationships.
Hopefully this short list helps stir up some ideas about how we can begin to recognize the spiritual development in ourselves and in the people we lead.
For more insights on how to develop a discipleship pathway that helps produce these characteristics, stay tuned for my upcoming post, “5 Questions for Better Discipleship.”