Recognizing Spiritual Transformation
Recently, my friends with Facts & Trends Magazine asked me to write briefly about the research project behind my book Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow. I was glad to do so.
An assignment without a means of measuring success normally ends in frustration or abandonment. In the church, our work is to make disciples. But can you really measure discipleship?
A strong case can be made that it is ludicrous to attempt to measure transformation in a person’s life. Nevertheless, there are biblical injunctions that halt our progress into sin and prescriptions that lead us toward spiritual maturity.
In the Transformational Discipleship project led by LifeWay Research, we did not set out to randomly create objective measurements against which a person’s life would be deemed infantile, growing or mature. However, we did uncover attributes that indicate spiritual growth and/or the desire that growth is occurring.
The research revealed eight factors at work in the lives of believers who are progressing in spiritual maturity. We refer to them as the attributes of discipleship. They are not necessarily new ideas, but they stand out as key ideas in the lives of North American Protestants.
1. Bible engagement
It should go without saying believers will be engaged in studying the Scriptures. However, leadership must often begin restating the obvious. Transformation can be recognized in people when their minds are sharpened by the Bible, their perspectives are shaped by the Bible and their actions are directed by the Bible.
2. Obeying God and denying self
Discipleship is the process of obedience to one who is in authority over you. In our study, we found people progressing in their faith prioritize God’s desires over self-will. Transformation can be seen in them, because they progressively set aside earthly delights for Kingdom priorities.
3. Serving God and others
Just as Jesus said He had come to serve and not be served, so must believers. The choice to serve others is just that—a choice. It highlights a maturity of soul that we allow the needs of others to trump our own. Transformation is evident when personal needs, and even life goals, are set aside for the needs we see in others.
4. Sharing Christ
Inherent in being a disciple of Christ is the making of other disciple makers for Christ. Even with the need to live out the effects of the gospel, maturing believers know speaking about the message is a necessity. Transformation is evident when we talk about the source of it.
5. Exercising faith
Can you measure a person’s faith? Probably not. But you can see it when it is put into action. Believers participating in the research noted they knew the importance of living by faith as opposed to living by personal strength. Transformation is seen in believers when risk aversion is set aside and lives are characterized by faithful obedience to God’s will.
6. Seeking God
People become disciples of Christ because they intend to follow Him and become like Him. A continuous hunger should arise from this life. It is referred to in Scripture as our “first love” and believers are commanded to return to it. Transformation is seen when our desire is to know God more deeply and experience His work more fully.
7. Building relationships
Our faith is personal, but it is not intended to be private. Jesus established the church for our collective good and our collective growth. After all, humans are naturally relational. Spiritually, we are no different. As believers, our horizontal relationships with others should develop just as our vertical relationship with God does. Transformation is occurring when relational maturity is evident in our lives.
The research noted believers felt it appropriate and even necessary for others to know them as Christians and be held accountable for a life exemplary of that name. Transformation is evident when a believer is unashamed in presenting his own life as being aligned with Christ.
The adage is “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” At the very heart of Christianity is the work of making disciples for Christ. It should never sit at the fringe of our lives or the church. Through work like that of Transformational Discipleship, we are able to better recognize when we are effectively reaching toward that goal.
This article first appeared in Facts&Trends magazine. For more information visit LifeWay.com/factsandtrends.
Transformational Discipleship Assessment
The Transformational Discipleship Assessment crafted from LifeWay’s discipleship study is being used by churches in urban, suburban, rural, domestic and international locations to discover how their church is doing in the realm of discipling believers. To learn more, visit LifeWay.com/tda. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.