Just over a month ago, the huge oak trees on the seminary campus shed their autumn leaves. For several weeks, they were completely bare. Of course, it is normal for oak trees and other types of trees to remain bare during the winter.
However, today, when I looked up into the branches of one of the largest oak trees on campus, I noticed new growth. There were tufts of green springing out throughout the brown and grey branches.
As I looked closer, I realized that the growth was not oak tree growth. Instead, the growth that I saw was Mistletoe, a parasite that had attached itself to the oak tree. So, while growth was taking place, it was not oak tree growth, but parasitic growth. The mistletoe was pretty to look at, and it may have indicated that the tree was alive, but the presence of mistletoe did not indicate that the tree itself was growing. It looked good from a distance, but there was nothing of substance there.
I wonder if our church growth paradigms have taught us to count parasitic and fungal growth in churches even when there is very little or now real spiritual growth taking place. We count noses and programs and activities. We measure buildings and offerings and staff sizes.
But, are these indicators of spiritual growth, or simply measurements of organizational growth that may or may not accompany spiritual growth? Do these things help us discern our walk with Christ, or do they simply indicate that our institution is function efficiently? Do they measure real spiritual life, or do they simply measure parasitic and fungal growth that we’re attached to?
I’m learning to be less concerned with numbers and attendance, and more concerned about the people themselves. I’m learning to be less concerned with programs and activities, and more concerned about serving and helping.
I’m trying to learn how to discern spiritual growth without being fooled by the parasites or fungus that are among us.
Do you agree that organizational activities and characteristics can distract from the ability to ascertain true spiritual growth? Why or why not? If you agree, what are some ways that we can discern spiritual growth without being sidetracked by organizational activities?