A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Clergy and Laity Evaluate Commitment and Spirituality Differently

In a recent update from the Barna Group of Ventura, California (www.barna.org), surveys show that pastors believe that their congregants are more committed to Christianity and are more spiritual than the parishioners believe themselves to be. The article entitled, "Survey Shows Pastors Claim Congregants are Deeply Committed to God But Congregants Deny It!" reveals that of the 627 Protestant pastors surveyed, a large percentage stated that they believed 70% of the active attenders of their churches placed faith in God as the top priority in life. One out of every six pastors believe that 90% of the congregants place their faith as #1 in their lives.

In contrast to the positive perspective of the pastors, congregants (Protestant and Catholic) are not nearly as upbeat. Of the 1002 laypersons asked to identify the top priority in their lives, only 15% placed faith in God as #1. When the comparison is made only to those laity who are Protestant (since the clergy asked were exclusively so), 25% stated that their top priority in life was the faith of God.

Furthermore, the article states, "Some population niches were more likely than others to make God their number one focus. Among those were evangelicals (51% of whom said their faith in God was their highest priority), African-Americans (38%) and adults who attend a house church (34%). The people groups least likely to put God first were adults under 30 years of age, residents of the Northeast and West, and those who describe themselves as �mostly liberal� on political and social matters."

Nevertheless, the study concludes that no matter how the laity perspective is categorized, it does not come close to the positive view pastors have of their own parishioners as committed Christians.

One critical piece of information that the study revealed was how disparate the type of measurements of commitment and spirituality are between the clergy and the laity. When the pastors surveyed were asked to identify the specific standards they used, most used criteria specifically related to church attendance and involvement in other church-related events (particularly Sunday School), and some other vague impressions like the congregant's response to the pastor's sermons.

What is even more revealing (or "disturbing" as the report states) are the criteria not used by pastors to determine spiritual health. To quote the report itself:

"Stewardship is rarely deemed a meaningful measure of church vitality. Church budgets are typically set based on the assumption that the average congregant will give 2% to 3% of their income to the ministry. Consequently, the fact that only 6% of born again adults tithe is not seen as an indicator of lukewarm commitment."

"Evangelism is not a priority in most churches, so the fact that most churched adults do not verbally share the gospel in a given year is not deemed problematic. Only one out of every eight churches bother to evaluate how many of their congregants are sharing their faith in Christ with non-believers."

"When pastors described their notion of significant, faith-driven life change, the vast majority (more than four out of five) focused on salvation but ignored issues related to lifestyle or spiritual maturity. The fact that the lifestyle of most churched adults is essentially indistinguishable from that of unchurched people is not a concern for most churches; whether or not people have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior is the sole or primary indicator of 'life transformation,' regardless of whether their life after such a decision produces spiritual fruit."

"Churches are prone to looking for indicators of serving people within the church more often than seeking signs that needy people outside the church are being cared for. In fact, for every two churches that consider the congregation�s breadth of ministry to people not connected to the church to be an indicator of spiritual health, there are five churches that focus on the amount of 'in-reach' activity undertaken."

"Pastors are nine times more likely to seek reactions to their sermon than they are to assess the congregation�s reactions to visitors."

"Perhaps most alarming of all, pastors were 21 times more likely to evaluate whether people showed up (i.e., attendance) than to determine whether people experienced the presence of God during their time at the church."

What is unfortunately not stated in the report is how the laity measure their spirituality. The criteria must surely be different, for all the persons surveyed are actively involved in their communities of faith. I think it is probable that the laity use more individual spiritually forming practices as measurement, such as prayer, Bible study, and fasting, and, since such spiritual disciplines do not take an important and regular place in their lives, they evaluate their own priorities in life much differently; but that is just a guess on my part.

I am not sure of all the implications of the survey, but one thing it highlights for me is how we evaluate the depth of our commitment to Christ and our sprituality. Moreover, it reveals what I believe is the huge problem of how many clergy and laity do not have a biblical perspective
on the nature of the church and its mission. When clergy are more concerned with a positive response to their sermons, than the laity's friendly welcoming of visitors, and when the laity measure the church's mission more by how it serves its constituency inside its walls, than by evangelizing and reaching out to those on the outside, it has at the very least ignored, and at the very most rejected the teaching of the New Testament.

It sounds as if both clergy and laity are in need of some serious transformation of perspective in order to be in mission to the world in the way God desires.

1 comment:

Brennan said...

Well, I am always suspicious of sociology for trying to determine how we should organize anything in human life, but it does sometimes provoke thought. My thought would be that it sounds like the majority of pastor responses seem to rely on the little things, which is silly, but on the other hand, how many people feel comfortable having deep spiritual conversations with their pastors? I think that there are a lot of missed opportunities in this case, since most people just don't feel comfortable going up the leader of their church, parish, etc. and saying, "Hey, I'd really like to talk to you about issue x that has being really bothering me." And often there does not seem to be an opportunity for people to do this. I think it is this missing link of bonds between the pastor and laity which is, perhaps, the cause of the problem pointed out in this survey.

Also, I'm not sure what we can take from said survey if it is a case of 'Do I put God number one," because I think most people are honest enough with themselves NOT to even kid themselves that they often, or even regularly, put God first. I think they may think something like they WANT to put God first, but as part of the human condition and being conflicted and a creature of the world, they usually fail. (Hey, I'm a prominent member in THAT club.) So, laity, if asked, will probably give an honest answer: they don't feel comfortable in saying that they 'give enough' to God. And what 'make God #1' is a pretty broad criteria. Most people probably feel like they don't put God 1st all the time, so how could God really be the top priority in their lives?

Some thoughts.