Posted on 12 Comments

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) 
Posted on 12 Comments

12 thoughts on “The Spiritual SAT

  1. Faithfulness.

    1. Great definition Mitch. Do you ever feel the pressure internally or externally to have success be more than faithfulness or obedience?

  2. You read my mind! Thanks for writing this. I went to a one day in-house Sticky Faith seminar with my team (put together by our CE supervisor). I wanted to bang my head against the wall. Even though we say we want sticky faith…more often than not our job descriptions and “benchmarks” for success have ZERO to really do with that. At the end of the week it’s always and has always been about measured numerical growth. Numbers and noses. That’s it. (Lasting) Faith formation matters and I hope our job descriptions and staff evaluations reflect that someday.

    1. Thanks for sharing Gina. That’s tough. I’ve been there, and still am to some degree. I changed all of our volunteer roles and staff roles (the ones that report directly to me) to have a different success matrix, but this new thinking clashes with the old metric too often. How might you champion change in your current context?

      1. Well it is an old school environment…I know sticky faith matters in theory to Senior Leadership (we did get to have a Sticky Faith Retreat), but has little to do with the “benchmarks” of what keeps youth workers on staff. It’s time to look more deeply at long term faith formation as opposed to old fashioned numbers based metrics of success. At least if we as youth workers hold a healthier view of youth ministry “success” we can make a difference in the midst of the numbers game and share the stories and wins we encounter as we minister with sticky faith in mind.

  3. I personally see success of a youth group in the preparedness and activity of the youth while in the group and beyond. Granted, this is not as easy dynamic to “test” as say the population of a group. It relies on discipleship, in cultivating the need and sense of urgency to share the Gospel in word and action in day-to-day life with all we may come in contact with. Success is also derived from helping young people understand what it means to be “Christian”, and that in Christ alone can we find true significance and security as He is the only real source and supply.
    I guess I could sum up success of a group could be deemed by their ability to help fortify a person’s foundation in The Lord and encourage their hunger to continually pursue Him and others in love, truth, and respect, that will carry on in the rest of their lives. Or to put it even simpler, “Make disciples”.

    1. I agree with you Dave. Success should be about making disciples. So because we know that many of our supervisors are looking for numerical factors to define success, how can we navigate this new reality? What “evidence” can we point to that provides our senior leaders with the hard data that they crave?

      1. There in lies the challenge doesn’t it.
        Sadly the easiest way to approach that evidence is from the negative perspective. There are several studies that show the decline of participation and the eventual walking away from faith of young people. However, I believe studies with these results do little to solve problems and only increase the emphasis on numbers as many people believe that the greater the population the greater the chance of having an impact on a select few, the “starfish mentality” as I call it, you know based on that story about the kid “making a difference for that one”.
        We could start longitudinal studies that follow some of the more Impassioned students and see what becomes of them. Or really start having honest discussions about the impacts of individual leaders and mentors that ave influenced people who currently hold places of authority within churches. I enjoyed my time in youth groups while growing up. But neither junior high or high school youth groups themselves had half the impact on my life as the individual leaders who invested in my life, mentored me, and disciples me. I doubt I am alone in this understanding and that if people were to look at their in church upbringing with honesty I am sure they would be able to single out one or a few people who had direct, positive impacts that encouraged their relationship with The Lord to be where it currently it. For as much as I love the teaching of the pastors I have learned under, I cannot attribute as much to my spiritual growth to them as I can those who again, actually invested the time in my life. So I guess it can become a matter of compiling testimony to the impact of personal discipleship in the lives of current ministry leadership and church authority.
        As for “the data they crave”, I find it rather silly that one must use data to measure “success” of ministry, because I have a feeling our measures of success are vastly different than the standard by which God measures success. In my limited experience I have found that once people get a taste for meat and potatoes they crave it more than the milk or processed foods. One must evaluate that which is being fed to a congregation as well, youth or adult.
        Sadly, this issue is just another vein of iron running through gold. There are many areas of thinking that have been adopted by the Body that could use some tending to. I wonder how much of the metric issue would be solved if a change in understanding of the purpose, responsibility, and design of the church congregation and the individuals within the congregation. Since even those roles have become blurred over the years as many have become concerned with the number of attendees.

        1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think there is a natural human tendency to look at numbers and feel successful. If our bank accounts kept growing numerically, we’d probably be ok with it. 🙂

          The purpose of any Christocentric community should be to make disciples. I simply hope that this mission captivates us more than any data of numerical reference ever could.

          1. Totally agreed. It has become a bit of a conundrum over the years, finding the balance of missional success and worldly success. If I didn’t need money I would bother having any, but I highly doubt that my bill collectors and student loan operators would appreciate me going AWOL for Jesus until they get what they are owed. Lol.
            As my former boss once told me, “After I realized that my duty as a Christian was to be a living model of Christ for others my daily prayer has been, “Lord, give me the opportunity and ability to make a positive impact in someone’s life for You today.” I wasn’t going to argue with him in that. Lol.

          2. Wouldn’t* ….. Wouldn’t bother having any money… Lol

  4. Absolutely. Revolutionary change at an evolutionary pace.

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