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The Spiritual SAT

1517798383_9bd851eee6Sweaty palms. Loss of breath. Fear and panic.

These are some of the many symptoms different people experience when they are confronted with life’s most unforgiving tutelage… the test.

I can remember the first time I wrote a mid-term exam in university. I had studied more intensely than I ever had before, and had even decided to sleep on top of some of the study material I was supposed to memorize hoping that osmosis would allow for more absorption and retention of information in my nearly exhausted body.

Exam day came. I entered the room, found a place to sit and began feverishly attacking the test with great vigor. Two hours later I found myself back in my dorm room, mentally and physically exhausted, hoping that I had done enough to pass the test and continue on with my course studies.

Several days later, I received confirmation that I not only passed the test, but did better than I was hoping to do because of something called the bell curve that my professor had decided to implement for this particular exam.

This was probably one of the most significant times where I took notice of a metric, something that is used to measure the success of failure of an individual. This bell curve pushed me into an entirely different category than what I had labeled myself to be, and I wasn’t too sure how I felt about it.

The Spiritual SAT

I think one of the most challenging facets of ministry is measuring success. We’ve learned through studies like the Willow Creek Reveal, Sticky Faith and Hemorrhaging Faith that what we’ve typically used to measure the spiritual success in others isn’t working. Our metric seem wrong. These studies have shown us that we cannot assume a person’s attendance at a religious activity will develop long-term transformation in their life. But we still have this desire to measure how successful we might be, and so we continue to utilize the broken metric. The metric; the Spiritual SAT. The test that doesn’t really tell us anything that matters, but something we continue to point to cause we don’t know what else to do.

Maybe I’m the only youth pastor in the world that will ever say this, but I’m tired of the metric.

This test that we’ve created doesn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know, and it places a label and structure on the lives of teenagers that they don’t need and aren’t asking for. I’m tired of asking teens to find our fit instead of allowing them to find how they fit into the life of the community they so desperately need to connect to. I don’t want to view teenagers through the lens of attendance, or spiritual merits achieved. I want to see them for who they’ve been created to be. Intentionally flawed masterpieces.

It’s time to find a new metric; a new way of defining what success looks like. Success should be based on character development and life transformation instead of attendance and compliance. Death to the Spiritual SAT.! Life to a new creation!

Define your success. What does that look like?

Photo credit: Davidalender Hu via Flickr (Creative Commons)