A Church Test — Are We Mature Enough for Meat or Only Milk?*: Old First E-pistle 11.14.13

A Church Test — Are We Mature Enough for Meat or Only Milk?*: Old First E-pistle 11.14.13

What does emotional health and spiritual maturity look like in church (or any other group, even a family)? Perhaps the simplest measure is the depth of relationships that comprise the community.

Still I ask myself that often… surprisingly often for a pastor of a congregation that is not only functional, but adept at good process and strong relationships.

For example, here in Stewardship season, I find myself longing for “less fraught” — or at least more open — conversations about faith and money. And this in a year when Delilah, Elizabeth, Steve and Carrie’s stewardship reflections have been incredibly insightful, honest and inspiring.

How much more could we all be strengthened if, instead of being a family secret or one of a few taboo topics that we let out and try to tackle for a few weeks in November… what if our different understandings of what faithfulness means in our financial lives was shared and discussed comfortably any time– without fear, shame or judgment?

Another example: I was recently reminded of a congregation I know well. A complicated community with a fractious history, it’s divided, unclear about its future and, therefore, the leadership it needs. Disagreements like that often take on lives and legs of their own. They undermine the positives the congregation should be able to build on and are often spread unintentionally to newcomers.

What would it take for that congregation to get beyond its past conflicts and scars… to move into a healthier, more robust way of being the church—internally and in the world?

Then, out of the blue, this week, a colleague called and asked, “Michael, can you describe the marks of a healthy church?” Beginning a tough interim ministry, she is searching for some metrics against which to triage her efforts. I responded that the maturity or health of a congregation often had to do with three different factors:

1) The church community’s culture and mores: does it expect, call for and honor wholeness (or overreact to — or even reward — weakness and dysfunction)?

2) The percentage of people in the community who are spiritually mature and emotionally healthy (even if they are “broken”), as opposed to those who are reactive and hurtful?

3) The ability of the church to identify and raise up leaders who can manage their own needs and anxieties sufficiently to keep from making their church-work primarily “about them.”

She liked my points and gave me an assignment. “Can you come up with a check-list — for individuals to take their own spiritual and emotional pulse.”

It was a fun challenge; something I’ve haven’t done for awhile. I came up with 33 “measures.” It’s not scientific, but see if it can tell you about where you might grow.

No one else needs to know your answers, so, try and be as honest with yourself as you can. For each statement, score yourself for the degree to which the statement is true for you:

1 – “never”
2 – “not very often”
3 – “some of the time”
4 – “most of the time”
5 – “all the time.”

Here are the measures I came up with:

_____ I look inward as well as explore the world around me as part of my faith.
_____ I seek to find affirmation & approval from deeper and more lasting sources.
_____ I accept that I need help from others and from God.
_____ I trust enough to work on being in touch with who I am, recognizing my joys and sorrows, tackling the parts of my life that are difficult and uncomfortable too.
_____ I have a realistic / balanced sense of where I come from; where I am; where I might be heading.
_____ I feel God’s love, even when I’m less than perfect or struggle to feel good about myself.
_____ I dedicate time to God; I find myself undertaking specific actions motivated by my faith.
_____ I recognize gifts God has given me; I seek ways to put them to good use.
_____ I desire to make an offering to God in thanksgiving for what God has already done for me.
_____ I feel I have a vital role to play in a community much larger than myself.
_____ I try to take responsibility for myself, rather than blame others.
_____ I reflect on/work through major life events that shaped who I am, and look for God in them.
_____ I hope to grow towards gratitude in all things, even ones I never wanted or asked for.
_____ I try to admit when I am hurt, angry, uncomfortable because such is one path to growth.
_____ I know it’s not helpful to pretend “nothing is wrong” when that’s not my experience.
_____ I make room for loss, disappointment, sorrow in life; I share such experiences appropriately.
_____ I want to be honest with myself and share with a few intimates the realities of my life (including my faith and doubts).
_____ I accept myself.
_____ I can admit to myself and others when I have been wrong.
_____ I believe in forgiveness. I have known forgiving myself, forgiving others and being forgiven.
_____ I can describe my weaknesses and challenges.
_____ I receive insight, advice, support from outside myself.
_____ I can ask for help.
_____ I can hear, imagine, respect others’ perspectives, even when they contradict my own.
_____ I find myself able to relate to people who are different from me.
_____ I can enter into other people’s lives, even worlds that are quite different from mine.
_____ I expect conflict as part of community; I try not to react with avoidance, subterfuge, triangling, hurt, retaliation.
_____ I go to people with whom I have a difficulty, and remember to speak for myself.
_____ I do not think that I have to “do it all.”
_____ I know my own “constellation” of attributes & vulnerabilities means I will be a help in certain situations and a hindrance in others.
_____ I can say “no” to requests, opportunities and others’ expectations.
_____ I have a realistic sense of my own capacities.
_____ I take the rest I need.

If you scored each measure on the 1 to 5 scale, and added them all up, the lowest you can have would be 33 and the highest would be 165. All of us fall somewhere in between.

Make a list of your 5s: you want to appreciate and work with where you are strong.

Choose a few 4s or 3s you want to work on.

This might say more about me than “the test,” but it’s o.k. to let the 1s and 2s go. None of us is perfect. Anyway, there is usually more reward leading with what you do well (it is about those God-given gifts and needing others!) .

See you in church,


*The E-pistle’s title refers to Paul’s I Corinthians 3