Spiritual transformation is the goal of our lives as Christ followers - and something all healthy church leaders think about for the congregation they lead. I am often asked whether spiritual transformation can be measured. The answer is yes! In fact there are some very practical indicators of spiritual transformation in the life of a believer and corporately as a congregation. These five indicators or the lack of them speak directly to whether spiritual transformation is taking place.
The first indicator is kindness. This is about being friendly, generous and considerate to others - those we naturally like and those we don't. Kindness is a trait of God and is often translated "loving kindness" in the Old Testament. It is God's posture toward us and therefor as we become transformed by Him, we grow in our loving kindness toward others. It is an attitude that is reflected in our words and actions toward those around us.
Congregations characterized by kindness indicate a high level of spiritual transformation. They are generally peaceful, friendly and exhibit love for one another. They care about one another and show that care in practical ways. You cannot be kind and ignore needs that those around you may have. Kindness and grace have much in common.
The second indicator is forgiveness. Those who are quick to forgive - and willing to forgive even the hard things and hard people exhibit the character of God. This is not a human trait but a divine one. Untransformed people hang on to their grievances and bitterness while transformed individuals choose to forgive, leave their bitterness and hurt behind and live in God's forgiving grace.
Forgiveness is not easy and often must be done over and over again, hence the words of Jesus that we must be willing to forgive many times. In forgiving we shed our bitterness and choose to live in peace.
How many congregations are characterized by factions, gossip, harsh attitudes and conflict? These are all indicators of a people in need of God's transformation. Churches can be mean places with mean people! Where forgiveness is the hallmark, however, none of the above are usually present because an attitude of forgiveness rules them out. Every time we forgive we demonstrate the attitude of God toward us. And we choose His way over our way.
The third indicator is generosity. This is an unselfish attitude toward others characterized by generous attitudes where we think the best, generous actions where we help those in need - or those we simply desire to bless. If a selfish attitude is all about me, a generous spirit desires to bless others. It is an unselfish life. Generous people always want the very best for others.
Congregations marked by generosity are contagious because generosity is contagious. Generosity of spirit, time, encouragement, help and forgiveness. This is something you feel and experience from someone who has it and congregations who live it.
Then there is the indicator of humility. Not thinking too highly of ourselves. In fact this is one of the most powerful traits of one who has been transformed because they understand that life is not about them. Humility indicates that we are not primarily focused on ourselves but on Jesus and others. We don't need to fight for our own way or prove ourselves to others. It is a heart at peace because we have nothing to prove, nothing to lose and nothing to hide.
Congregations marked by humility have very little conflict, look out for others and as a congregation are not pretentious but service oriented. Humble congregations are those that are focused on God, His will and plans and serve others generously. Even other congregations in the community that need help. Pride says, life is about us. Humility says we are here to serve.
Finally there is the mark of patience. Here is something to consider. Impatience is a sign that my needs were not met, that my agenda was not kept, that someone did not live up to my expectations, or that someone's spiritual life is not growing at the pace I want. The common word here is "my" and "I" which is not an indicator of transformation. It is a focus on self and what I want without an appreciation of others and their situations. Patience is a character trait of God who is infinitely patient with us on a daily basis.
Congregations marked by patience are generally full of grace and give one another great latitude. They are understanding, kind and not easily irritated. Oh, and they are patient with their leaders and their leaders are patient with the congregation. What a joy that would be in many congregations.
Can spiritual transformation be measured. It can be! By the growth of these traits in ourselves and in our congregations. It is hard work but with the help of the Holy Spirit it is all about becoming more about Jesus.