I’m an Ed Stetzer fan. Among other things, Stetzer works with Lifeway to do research on the state of the contemporary church.
They recently interviewed nearly 3,000 church members to determine their level of spiritual maturity and what influenced the most mature to become that way. It’s a vital question.
Serving clearly impacts growth, Stetzer summarized. “The study shows that individuals who have positive scores for Serving God and Others have higher scores in the other seven attributes of the Transformational Discipleship study, as well.
“For example, scores for Sharing Christ jump 24 percent when individuals have positive Serving God and Others’ scores and 51 percent for individuals with the highest Serving God and Others scores,” he said.
Likewise, Stetzer pointed out that positive responses in the other seven attributes of discipleship correlate with higher scores in Serving God and Others.
“Growth leads to service and serving leads to growth – it’s deeply connected,” he explained. For example, Stetzer said that positive scores in Bible Engagement result in a 17 percent increase in scores for Serving God and Others compared to those who do not have positive scores for Bible Engagement.
You know, if you judged by how we act, you’d think that spiritual maturity comes primarily from church attendance, since that’s what we emphasize most.
You then rank a little below that Bible class and small group. After all, most churches dedicate their staff time nearly entirely to the assembly, to class, and to small groups. Surely we figure those are the most important things to accomplish the most important thing — and what could be more important than learning to follow Jesus?
But the study finds the highest correlation with service, and not just any kind of service.
“Service and activism have become popular in our culture today, especially among younger adults,” Stetzer said. “However, most of this benevolent activity is fairly low-level involvement that does not cost the giver much. The midrange responses on the Serving God and Others attribute reveals lots of good intentions and some occasional actions but much lower intentionality, consistency or sacrifice.”
Joggers run a 10K to raise money to free slaves. That’s truly good, but a lot of these people were going to be running anyway. No, I know people who’ve raised money to travel to Nepal and free slaves — risking their lives to enter a foreign land to serve people in desperate need for the love of Jesus. That’s high-level involvement.
It’s easy to give money to help tornado victims. It’s harder to serve meals or cut down trees or patch roofs. It’s even harder to meet with the families and talk to them about their losses and look for ways to help them person-to-person. But it’s only when you meet them face to face and listen to their stories that they learn who Jesus really is.
You see, the reason service leads to spiritual maturity is that, well, to a very large extent, service is spiritual maturity.
Consider these charts —
Recall that people who answer surveys tend to exaggerate their own goodness. It’s embarrassing to admit to a Christian polling organization that you don’t serve or give! It’s just so easy to rationalize that what you do once every 20 years is characteristic of yourself. Therefore, you have to figure the numbers are, if inaccurate, show more people giving and serving than really do.
And yet on average only about 50% of those surveyed claim to be engaged in any meaningful service to others. (And I’m skeptical that the real numbers are even that high.) Therefore, at least 50% of our members do not sacrificially give or serve others.
Just what kind of gospel are we teaching? Why does our teaching have so little impact on our members?
Have we substituted right positions on the issues for right living? Have we over-intellectualized Christianity?
Have we taught a legalism that doesn’t transform hearts? Have we taught a form of grace that doesn’t transform hearts?
What is the cure?