Part 5: Measuring Discipleship


By: Justin Anderson

How do you measure maturity? Can you know if someone has been discipled? In the previous installment of this blog series, we talked about defining discipleship. In order to accomplish anything, you have to be able to properly define it. The definition I suggested as an option was:

“Discipleship is knowing, loving and being like Jesus”

I listed several reasons that I use that definition in my ministry, including the fact that it is holistic in scope, action oriented and lastly, that it gave us a means by which we could measure progress. I wrote, 

“If you think defining discipleship is hard, just try to measure it. What does progress in discipleship look like? How do you measure maturity? Is it through Biblical and Theological knowledge? Partly, but all of us know a theologically astute jerk. Is he mature? Or how about the caring and sacrificial woman who doesn’t believe in the resurrection? Is she mature? What about the educated, pious, cold-hearted woman? Is she mature?

The truth is that there isn’t one measure of maturity, there are multiple vectors and a disciple should be growing along all of them. How to measure those things is a topic for another blog, but when you are building your definition, try to include measurement as a part of it.”

The idea that we measure discipleship across multiple vectors is an important one. The spectrum of spiritual maturity doesn’t move along one axis. There are probably a dozen or more things you could measure if you really wanted to get specific. Things like Bible knowledge, theology, church history, parenting and marriage, generosity and each fruit of the Spirit could be measured separately. 

At some point though, we have to get practical and limit ourselves to just a few measurements. Which is why I return to my definition above. The three actions in the definition make for a simple but effective way to measure spiritual maturity. The question is, how do you measure them?

Before we go any further, I want to address some objections you may have to this entire project.

First, should we be measuring spiritual maturity at all?

I’ll admit, I like measuring. I like to know if my effort is having an effect but specifically that it is having the effect that I intended. While I understand the hesitation that some of you might feel with the language of measurement, I think it is absolutely imperative that we do it. Why? Because the call of the church is to actually disciple people, not just to do a random series of activities that you call discipleship and hope are effective. 

If you don’t measure what you are doing, how will you know if it's working? If you don’t know if your plan is working, even if imperfectly, you cannot know if you are actually doing what God has called you to do. So, yeah, I think you should measure your discipleship, even if the measurement is subjective.

Second, spiritual maturity can't be perfectly measured.

I know this, you know this. Perfect measurement is not what we are aiming for, but let's not let perfect be the enemy of good (or even decent). Measuring imperfectly is still better than nothing. It will tell you something and something is also better than nothing.

Third, some (maybe even most) of our measurements will be subjective.

Measurements don’t have to be objective to be effective. Part of any discipleship measurement process should be self-assessment. In fact, self-assessment is probably more valuable than an objective test. Why? Because it forces your disciples to actively and critically assess their relationship with God. This kind of introspection is nearly half the battle. Too many of our people simply roll through life, going through our motions without ever being asked to think deeply about their faith. Done regularly, active introspection alone probably puts them in the top 10% of mature Christians.

So, how DO we measure discipleship?

The three categories we outlined above are the three things I want to measure in my disciples. Over time I want them to grow in their knowledge of God, their love for God, and their becoming like God. So how do we measure those things?

To know Jesus is first to know about him. This category includes Bible knowledge, theology, and perhaps some church history. These are the basic and most common forms of discipleship content and measurement. But knowing a person goes far beyond knowing things about a person. My wife would argue that I know more about certain members of the Arizona Diamondbacks or Arizona State football team than I know about her. She may be right, but I certainly don’t know any of those people as well as I know my wife. Our knowledge of a person begins with knowing things about them but it also must transcend that and go deeper.

So how would we measure our knowledge of Jesus? The Bible, theology, and history can be easily tested. A discipleship process should include a “pre-test” of sorts and intermittent updates that would demonstrate increased knowledge. That’s the easy part.

Buy how would you measure how well you know God? That’s a bit harder.

One of my disclaimers above was that most of our measures will be necessarily subjective. Instead of trying to devise some test that objectively measures how well a person knows God, we should encourage our disciples to ask themselves open-ended questions like, “How would you describe your relationship with God? Would you say that you are closer to God today than six months ago or that you feel further away? What is something you have learned about God that really impacted you in the last six months?” 

The key is simply to get your disciples to actively think about their relationship with God. Over time, they will be able to reflect on the increasing or decreasing depth and insight in these answers which will reveal the spiritual progress they are making.

The same is true for the final two categories, Loving God and Obeying God. These are best measured by asking your disciples to grade themselves in various categories on a regular basis so they can see their progress over time. This can be done using a simple 1-to-5 scale or using short written answers. Ask the same questions each time for consistency's sake and go over the results with them when possible so they can talk through why they gave themselves better or worse grades.

Measuring progress shouldn’t be a solo project, nor should it produce just numbers for a spreadsheet. Measurement is an opportunity for self-reflection and dialogue, so don’t let your distaste for numbers and tests cause you to miss this great opportunity.