February 16, 2017

6 Indicators of Spiritual Growth – Defining a Simple, Effective Discipleship Path (Part 1)


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Imagine a car without a speedometer, a game without a scoreboard, or an educational track without a graduation. What’s missing in those scenarios is a sense of progress – a way to measure movement.

That lack of feedback would createĀ a sense of frustration and failure. Maybe you’ve felt it?

In ourĀ churches, we have a measurement problem. It’s not necessarily with finances or attendance, but with the one thing we’re tasked with doing: making disciples.

This raises two fairly important questions:

What does spiritual progress look like? And, how can we help people recognize movement in their own journey?

In our recent webinarĀ on leadingĀ change, we explored practical steps churches can take to clarify and create a simpler path of discipleship. Several of you asked us to elaborateĀ on whatĀ questions you should be asking yourself as the leader to evaluate how well people actually are movingĀ along the path.Ā 

So, in two articles we’re going to look at 6 Indicators of Spiritual Growth, as well as 5 Questions to Ask for a Better Discipleship Process.

As a lead pastor, here are six things I’ve found over the years – both in Scripture and in experience – are good indicatorsĀ someone is growing spiritually.Ā 

1) Making Better Choices

Jesus put a lot of emphasis on obedience, which can really be defined as living up to what you already know.

Spiritual growth is revealed in our choices.

The more we grow, the closer the alignment between God’s will and our activity. And we can see this in habits, associations, schedules, conversations, and all the practical pieces of our daily lives. This kind of living leads to a reduction of shame and regret, which means our overall happiness is going up when we do what we know is best. That’s progress!

2) Developing Determination

According to the apostles, determination (or perseverance) is a quality that God is working out in all those who call themselves followers of Jesus.Ā 

It’s the willingness to press on in doing what’s right when our circumstances aren’t supportive.

It’s the ability to keep going when others would quit. Experiencing God’s faithfulness over time reinforces the fact that there’s more at work than what we can see. That faith is what forms the determination that marks movement along our journey with Jesus.

3) Feeling for Others

This one might seem less measurable at first. But who can argue that growing in love is part of God’s agenda for each of us? After all, what did Jesus have for people? Compassion.

JesusĀ felt passionately moved by the situation of those he encountered.

In the sales world they call this empathy. And the best salesmen have the most empathy. That simply means they are willing to put themselves in the shoes of their customers. When we do that with those around us, we are behaving more like Jesus.

4) Desiring to Learn

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if spiritual eagerness and curiosity naturally increased over time instead of decreasing? It almost seems like we expect people’s vibrancy to wane after having a certain amount of experience with faith in God. Doesn’t that seem backwards? That’s because it is.

Growth feeds curiosity, and curiosity feeds growth.

Jesus referred to it as a hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). That’s what you see when you start to move forward.

5) Influencing People

It’s true that a rising tide lifts all the ships.

If you want to know whether someone is growing, look at the people around them.

There’s an undeniable transference of attitude and action when we step out to do something bold. If everyone around is negative and stagnant, it might be time for us to look in the mirror. On the other hand, if the people in our circles are becoming more open to God’s work in their lives and taking steps toward Jesus, we may have something to do with that. Who are we influencing?

6) Improving Relationships

Think for just a minute about several of the people you admire most. Chances are, they are really good at relationships, knowing how to get along with people from all walks of life.Ā 

A sign of spiritual maturity is harmony, and harmony may very well be the key factor in improving relationships.

On the flip side, we’re repulsed by the person who always has to prove their point and insists on being right all the time. They isolate people and burn bridges.


As you’re taking time to look critically at how well your church produces disciples, I hopeĀ this short list stirs up some ideas about how we can begin to recognize the spiritual development in ourselves and in the people we lead.

Read Part 2 of This Conversation:
5 Questions for a Better Discipleship Path ā€“ Defining a Simple, Effective Discipleship Process (Part 2)

Gabe Kolstad -

Gabe is the Lead Pastor at Westside Community Church in the Portland, Oregon area where he serves with his best friends. He has had the privilege of leading Westside through a number of exciting changes, from turnaround to relocation to multi-site. Gabe has a dream for seeing new churches planted, and a passion for connecting with leaders to make a difference in Portland and the Northwest. He is a trainer, a coach to pastors. Gabe is married to his Jr. High sweetheart, Melissa, and they have 3 children: Dawson, Caitlin, and Caleb. They love great food, traveling and finding new adventures together.

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