Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christian Camps and Our Youth

I'm writing up my master's thesis right now and thought I would share a few of my findings. I'll try not to get into the details and really paint the broad picture of what I found. My thesis is on two main topics: understanding the changes that occur when youth attend Christian camps and understanding the mechanisms and interconnections of adolescent spirituality. I might decide to blog on the second topic but for now I will stick to what effect attendance at a Christian camp had on adolescent spirituality.

First off, I should note my methods. We gave questionnaires to campers at two Christian camps (confidentiality prevents me from saying which ones), half receiving the questionnaire at the beginning and half at the end. We looked at the differences in spirituality between these two groups, inferring that any significant differences were the effect of the camp. We looked at God concept, religious motivation, religious coping, and spiritual well-being.

What did we find? Well, first off, I should note that we found that the kids attending these camps were already very religious. They attended church about once a week, they rated their religion as being "Very important" and nearly all rated their belief that Jesus is the Son of God as a 5 on a 5 point scale (what researchers call a ceiling effect). This is important to note because camps often focus more on conversions than on spiritual growth. But with a very religious camp, this might not be appropriate. Of course, some camps might have a greater representation of the less religious than we found at these camps.

What changes did we find? Campers changed their God concept so that they believed more in a Christian God concept (God is loving, kind, and not distant). Although campers were religious at the onset, their God concepts moved towards being more Christian, and this change was statistically significant, despite the "ceiling effect." We also found that campers had higher religious and existential well-being at the end of the camp. We weren't too surprised by higher religious well-being, which has to do with a sense that God loves them, but an increase in existential well-being, which has to do with a positive orientation towards life in general, was a bit more surprising. This means that the mechanisms targeting spiritual development at camps, the speakers, small groups, games, and free time, lead to an improved outlook on life as a whole. Our conclusion: the camps are doing a good job.

What changes didn't we find? Well, we didn't find any significant changes in belief in Jesus Christ. The reason: they had such high belief at the onset. The fact that some people still did not have a 5 out of 5 rating reflects doubt rather than unbelief, and there have been some studies that suggest doubt and questioning can be a positive aspect of spiritual development. We also didn't find any change in 7 variables of religious coping, or how campers use religious resources, such as prayer, clergy support, and listening to religious music, for example, to deal with problems in their lives. This is the area where we see the most room for growth for camps. Instead of trying to persuade campers about the truthfulness of the gospel and their need for salvation, camps can address the practical aspects of religious life, as the problems in our lives really do define who we are.

We also found that campers were increasing in extrinsic personal reasons for pursuing religion, rather than intrinsic reasons. That means they were increasing their religiousness because of what they got out of it, rather than because they found more to enjoy within religion. This finding may seem to be negative, but we suggest that this may simply be a stage that must be entered in order to progress towards a more intrinsic faith. Adolescents who find a lot of external reasons for becoming religious may be more likely to stick around religion and have positive feelings about faith in general. However, there is always the alternative explanation that these Christian camps are so much about fun that they distract campers from intrinsic faith. But we do not think that this is the case (as the campers are clearly changing positively in God concept and spiritual well-being).

To sum up, Christian camps change beliefs and increase external reasons for being religiously involved. They also increase religious and existential well-being. They do not seem to increase intrinsic reasons for pursuing religion (enjoyment of being religious for its own sake) and don't seem to change how campers use their religion in everyday life (but maybe this occurs when they get home, it just takes time to implement these changes). Of course, campers may change on variables that we didn't study and it's important to remember that, as well. Hope this clarifies the positive role that Christian camps can have on the spiritual life of youth in the course of a week.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Imitation of Christ

This quarter I've been taking a class entitled "Imitation and Mimetic Theory." It's a class that integrates research on human imitation with Rene Girard's theory of mimesis (think miming). Mimesis refers to the way that humans learn about the world through imitation. One of the fundamental aspects of being human is that we imitate one another, according to Girard. This can be seen in the interaction of two toddlers: one is playing with a toy and another comes along. When the new toddler sees the one playing with the toy, he immediately wants to play with that particular toy, even if there are other toys exactly like that one. Girard believes, and I am fairly convinced, that adults interact with one another in a similar fashion, albeit more sophisticated. The result is that humans tend to get into conflict because we want the same thing.

Research on imitation has found that humans are born with an innate ability to imitate. Newborns are capable of imitating facial movements, such as tongue protrusions (i.e. sticking your tongue out at the baby) even before they get the chance to see themselves in a mirror. Scientists discovered about ten years ago how this might occur with the discovery of "mirror neurons." Mirror neurons are neurons in the brain that fire regardless if the person is performing an action or if they are watching another person perform an action. The result is that the person will have the same experience regardless if they perform an action or watch an action performed. These mirror neurons are scattered among the brain and scientists are still trying to learn more about them.

Why is this important? Mirror neurons would mean that when a toddler sees another toddler playing with a toy, they will experience pleasure as if they themselves were playing with that toy, to a limited extent. That toddler will have desire for the toy awakened in him/her and will want to play with the toy.

Advertisers have known this implicitly for years. Showing a clip of a man or woman enjoying a product will leave viewers with the neural experience of having enjoyed that product. They will want that product more after they have seen someone else want it.

Where am I going with all this? The reality is that we all imitate. We try to be like others. Not exactly like them, but in the rhythm of our lives. We want to be successful, powerful, rich, influential, charismatic, beautiful, and funny. We learn how to be this way from our parents, our peers, media, and countless other sources. We choose others as our models for how to live.

The solution is not to revoke those people as evil but to choose better models for how to live. We find people who are living their lives for a greater purpose and imitate them. We choose our friends wisely and seek to learn from them. But most importantly, we hold up Christ, who was the perfect human for whom our innate motive to imitate was designed. We live like Christ, not in being a first century Jewish rabbi, but in his rhythm of living. We choose to live out his connection with the Father, his willingness to serve, and his pursuit of perfection. That is how we turn around our God-given imitative qualities to worship Jesus as Lord, rather than ourselves.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Elections and the Abandonment of Humility

I have been enjoying the lead-up to the presidential election. I'm naturally competitive and so I love to argue about policies and personalities. Most of those arguments happen only in my head with imaginary foes - where I naturally always win. But if there's one thing I hate about elections it's that morality goes right out the door. I'm not talking about "moral issues," I'm talking about the morality of the candidates themselves. Now lots has been said about negative campaigning and I hardly think I have much to contribute there. I want to discuss the deprication of humility in the campaign.

Now, in some ways, we don't expect or want the president to be humble. He (or she) should be the best person in the nation for the job and should know how to lead the country. The president needs to show confidence in decisions in order to bring together the country. For example, when John McCain said that the economy is not his strong suit, I took that to be a mark against him. The president should be strong in areas where he will be expected to make important decisions.

But a little humility is warranted. And it's not always respected in the election. When Barack Obama was asked when he thought a human life began, he responded that it was above his pay grade. Now, as one who thinks that abortion is wrong, I can still respect that he is willing to say that his opinion does not decide the matter. At the very least, I saw Obama being willing to admit his limits, that the president does not decide these matters. (As a reminder, Roe v Wade was decided not upon when life began but on medical privacy - )

The fact is that a lack of humility has been present throughout both campaigns. McCain said that experience is of the utmost importance in the presidential campaign then selects a vice-presidential candidate with almost no experience and then has the audacity to call her experienced. Obama made the argument that he would bring change to Washington then selects an experienced Washington insider, coloring him as one who would shake up Washington.

The problem is bipartisan. But it's not a Washington problem. It's an American problem and a people problem. We've lost our faith in humility as a core value in being human. We excuse it in ourselves and idolize the narcissist, forgetting how tough it is to actually deal with people who are so self-absorbed. We present ourselves under the guise of a mask in order to keep people from knowing our flaws. And when we see someone else exposed, we pounce on the opportunity to strengthen our image by attacking their deficits, selfishly ignoring our own shortcomings.

We should learn to expect humanity from our leaders, from our fellows, and from ourselves. We should not kid ourselves and believe that we are better than others. We should expect occasional failure and admire those who are willing to admit it. I hope your friends look past your occasional poor decisions and I hope that you are willing to look past the occasional poor decisions of these presidential candidates. The real reason they have abandoned humility is because we have abandoned it. Let's remember how important it is by remembering how important it was to Jesus - the divine man who said that his creation was more important than he was and gave up his life to that end.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Believing in the Miraculous

I took a course this summer on the miraculous in the New Testament. We looked particularly at the miracles of Jesus and what the gospel authors wanted to convey through these miracles. The miracles included healings, exorcisms, feedings, and nature miracles. What became evident was that Jesus himself understood his miracles not as a validation of his ministry but as an essential part of what he was doing. In other words, the Kingdom of God was the miracles. Jesus, who ushered in this kingdom, did so by performing miracles of healing and exorcism.

Why is this significant? Well, for a number of reasons. If miracles are the Kingdom of God, then being followers of Jesus means that we are expected to bring miracles to the world as well. We are to bring healing and we are to expel Satan from the world. We cannot assume that we cannot perform miracles. We ought to have faith in our ability to perform miracles in the name of Jesus. We can't believe that salvation means that we convert people to a belief system alone. Salvation, entering into the Kingdom of God, means that we bring earthly good to our fellows as well as showing them the truth of Jesus' identity.

So where does that fit with psychology? I think that as a counselor, I would not perform any ritualistic exorcism on a client. But I would try to expel Satan, the fountain of evil, from their lives. This means leading them to make better choices in their lives and restoring them to the sanity of a life well-lived. I would also bring healing by allowing their minds to work more effectively. Can I not believe that it is miraculous to perform effective psychotherapy? Jesus wasn't the only one performing miracles in his time. And so we shouldn't be surprised in finding that non-Christian therapists are making miraculous changes in people's lives.

A talking cure? Come on, you've got to admit that it does seem a little bit like a miracle.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What's Inside that Noggin of Yours?

This year I will be working as a neuropsychology clerk at a rehabilitation hospital as part of my clinical training as a psychologist. I will be administering various tests to patients, primarily with traumatic brain injury but also a wide variety of other issues. Traumatic brain injury occurs when the brain receives a significant jolt, for example from a car accident, that causes memory and attention deficits, as well as personality changes. These changes are typically temporary but they can often persist long enough and be severe enough to cause great concern.

The real issue that I wish to bring up is that I have been reflecting on my difficulty in understanding mental issues to be caused by problems with the brain. I simply find it difficult to attribute behavioral problems to physiological causes. Not to say that I do not believe it, I just find it difficult to incorporate that knowledge into how I conceptualize others.

The trouble is that people with brain damage or chemical imbalances can often look healthy. While many of the patients at the hospital are still recovering from their wounds, there are also plenty who appear to be healthy but nevertheless behave in bizarre manners. So when we see them acting strangely, we are tempted to disassociate from them and label them as odd.

What we must remember is that we have a common bond with all of humanity, and we may be just one car crash away from being severely changed. We must remember that we can have so much taken away from us, even our personality. And we must show great love for all others, including those who have been changed by physiological problems.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Psychology of the Eucharist

A week ago, I returned from a 5 week vacation in Europe. It was a combination of a study abroad program, church mission trip, and holiday as I traveled in Italy, Estonia, and England. The class I took in Orvieto, Italy was entitled "Medieval Spirituality and Art" and I would like to discuss a few of the things I learned, particularly about the Eucharist, a.k.a. The Lord's Supper, a.k.a. Communion.

Taking Eucharist in Orvieto is a special experience because it was in that relatively obscure city that the doctrine of transubstantiation was firmly established as a doctrine of the Catholic church. In the 13th Century a priest was performing the Eucharist when the bread mysteriously dripped blood as he blessed it. The Duomo (main cathedral) of Orvieto was built shortly after to house this miraculous cloth. The Corpus Christi celebration was established by the pope after the duomo was built to honor the Catholic belief in transubstantiation.

I should begin by pointing out the points of disagreement I had going into this trip about Catholic views on the Eucharist. First of all, I did not believe (and still do not) that the bread and wine became the actual body and blood of Christ through transubstantiation. I also disagreed with how Catholics excluded Protestants from taking Communion. And I did not share the belief that the Eucharist should be a daily event, taken in the Mass, but should be a special event. I point these out because I want to convey that I am examining Catholic beliefs and practices as an outsider.

So, as an outsider, I would like to share the insights I gained regarding the Catholic Eucharist and why my complaints were softened in many ways. But first I want to ask you a question: what is the central focus of a Protestant church's design? The podium. The spoken word is the central focus. For Catholics the podium is offset, preaching is secondary. At the very center of the Catholic church is the altar table where the Eucharist is situated. That is to say, the actual body of Christ is the central focus. I point this out because I want to convey a sense of the importance of the Eucharist to Catholic spirituality.

Now I believe the best place to begin is with the doctrine of transubstantiation. As a Baptist, I have never received a push to believe that "Communion" was about eating the actual body and blood of Christ. I've always believed it had symbolic content; that the elements were meant to remind us of the death and resurrection of Christ, his atonement for our sins, and our call to be resurrected with him. So the doctrine of transubstantiation has always superfluous, because I felt like I had enough respect for Communion by treating it as a spiritual connection with Christ.

But I began to wonder, might there be a benefit in believing that the elements are Christ's actual body and blood? Well, perhaps the most obvious benefit is the feeling that there is a constant presence of the miraculous. It is a remarkable thing to believe that bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ every time you attend Mass. In fact, pious Medieval peasants would often rush from one cathedral to the next within their city (there were usually several), knowing the exact timing of the liturgies, so that they could witness the blessing of the elements, where they are believed to turn into the actual body of Christ. Now I can understand that kind of piety. It would certainly mean something to me if I were to witness what I believed to be a miracle everyday. In fact, I think I would gain a deeper sense of God's presence within my community, as a result.

But a sense of the miraculous was not all that there was to gain. The Catholics, as you probably know, hold the Virgin Mother in high regard. I, however, did not realize there was a connection between the Eucharist and Mary until this class. For just as Mary held Jesus in her insides (her womb), we could hold Christ in our insides (our stomachs). There would be a shared experience between us and the woman who gave Christ birth and nursed him, who knew him intimately as both human and divine. They would gain a sense of closeness with Christ through their connection with Mary and through their physical closeness with his body. I could go into why they held Mary in such high regard, but that is a longer post than I can write here.

Now I have always objected to the exclusion of Protestants from taking Eucharist. In fact, I did not take the Eucharist in Italy and was saddened that I could not (they never said I could not but it was common knowledge). But I always thought that it was a matter of pride - that the Catholics thought they had it right while Protestants had it wrong. But I now see it differently. Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ. Now as a Protestant I may believe in Christ, just as they do, but I do not believe in transubstantiation. So when I took Eucharist, I would treat the elements differently than they would. So Catholics exclude those who do not believe in transubstantiation because we could potentially profane the elements by our lack of faith. (We witnessed nuns run out of the cathedral with the chalice and return with a new cup of wine because a bug apparently landed in the wine!) Now that sort of reverence is something I can respect, even while disagreeing with the outcome.

I write all this in the hope that your view on the Lord's Supper might be expanded. My assumption is that the majority of my readership are Protestant. But I hope that, regardless of your religious affiliation, you gain more clarity on your own views of the Lord's Supper and what can be gained through this sacrament of faith in action. May you all be blessed by the presence of Christ in your lives and through the fellowship that comes through his life, death, and resurrection.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Motivational Preaching

I have been taking a course in Motivational Interviewing this past quarter. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a "client-centered, directive method for enhancing intrinsic motivation to change by exploring and resolving ambivalence." That basically means that it's a way to make people want change through compassionate and informed communication. Rather than giving people reasons why they should change, MI focuses on eliciting change talk from the client that will ultimately lead to action. It has been used effectively as a therapeutic intervention in several areas, most notably in substance abuse, but I see possibilities for its application in preaching.

One thing I have noticed is that sermons can often be confrontational in nature. On a surface level, this type of preaching doesn't promote seem to produce defensive resistance in the attendees. That's due in part because there is diffusion of responsibility throughout the congregation. However, that is not to say that those sermons aren't producing some resistance among those listening. Now resistance can sometimes be obvious: excuse-making, avoidance of responsibility, blaming, etc. But, more often in a church setting, resistance can take the form of over-enthusiastic "acceptance" of the message, followed by a lack of action. Psychologically the individual is assenting to the position but they are not "owning" the belief.

I would like to suggest that preaching might become more effective if motivational interviewing techniques were employed more often. Now this includes: acknowledgment by the pastor of benefits of staying the same, acknowledgment by the pastor of the difficulties of change, envisioning what the future would be like if they became more holy, asking the congregation to quietly consider how important change is and how confident they are they can change on scales of 0-10 (then pointing out that anything more than 0 is a good place to be). Another technique could involve the pastor and the congregation getting into a debate, where the pastor gives the reasons why he should continue living a sinful lifestyle while the congregation can yell out reasons why he should be holy. All of these can gently move the congregation towards greater ownership of the reasons for change. It would make sermons more interactive, and I think that's a good thing (in some cases).

Now of course this only addresses motivation to change, which is only half of motivational interviewing. The second half is developing a change plan while acknowledging the individual's autonomy and their right to forego change. The pastor can suggest a plan of change that works for most people but then admit that each individual must decide whether change is even the right thing for them. This empowering act allows the person to feel like they aren't being persuaded to change but that it really can be their own decision. While this is only a perfunctory start to the integration of motivational interviewing and homiletics, I think that they make a good pair. What do you think?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

50 Great Date Ideas

This is a little off topic from the rest of my blog but a couple years ago I became frustrated that every time I went on a date (which admittedly was rare) I would have to rack my brain to figure out ideas for what to do. I looked online for a list of date ideas but there really weren't any comprehensive lists so I decided to make my own. I guarded this list jealously until I realized recently that there are probably many others interested in such a list. Below you will find my list of 50 great date ideas, in no particular order. Feel free to add your own ideas in a comment. I hope you enjoy!

50 Great Date Ideas

  1. Ice skating
  2. Roller-skating
  3. Picnic
  4. Dinner and movie
  5. Hiking
  6. Museum
  7. Sporting event
  8. Concert (in the park)
  9. Go karts
  10. Fair
  11. Pool hall
  12. Miniature golfing
  13. Bowling
  14. Dancing
  15. Zoo
  16. Kayaking on the ocean or in a lake
  17. Wine tasting
  18. Theater
  19. Fly a kite
  20. Horseback riding
  21. Scuba diving
  22. Theme park
  23. Karaoke
  24. Comedy club
  25. Snowboarding
  26. Amusement park
  27. Arcade
  28. Tennis
  29. Dance lessons
  30. IMAX Theater
  31. Aquarium
  32. Magic show
  33. Laser tag
  34. Dancing lessons
  35. Paddle boat
  36. Hookah bar
  37. Batting cages
  38. Golfing/driving range
  39. Farmer’s market
  40. Shooting range – shotguns or handguns
  41. Horse track
  42. Walk on the beach/ beach trip
  43. Window shopping
  44. Hollywood Bowl
  45. Scenic bike ride
  46. Happy Hour
  47. Church event
  48. Feeding the poor
  49. Book reading and signing
  50. Air show

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

I have a couple apologies that I would like to make this week and I've been thinking about what place "clarification of my intent" ought to play a role in the apology. In other words, what excuses are okay to provide and which will just drive a wedge deeper between us. From preschool we learn that we are not to make excuses for our actions. But every action that we take has a cause and that cause may actually help the other person understand and forgive us. But the flip side is that every excuse that we give can indicate an unwillingness to act differently in the future. If our actions made perfect sense, why would we need to apologize in the first place?

I think that one rule of thumb is that any excuse that we might give for our action ought to come from our vulnerability. Our excuses should not simply state that someone did something to us and therefore we did what we did. No, it should state how we were emotionally affected by another action. It is not simply stating that we felt angry that something happened so we responded in kind. A valid excuse focuses on what need we were hoping to have met that went unfulfilled.

The best emotion to get to the core of vulnerability is, of course, fear. That's because fear is in it's very nature an emotion of vulnerability. And unlike most other emotions, like anger, disappointment, and disgust, there is no condemnation of others in its tone. And people respond better when they are not being attacked. Fear conveys the message that the individual needs one type of response, rather than demands it.

Expressing your fear means that you do not simply state the antecedents of your actions. It means you explain the meaning you interpreted from being treated a certain way. Although this may feel awkward, it opens each person up to the other person, where there is possibility of reconciliation. Rather than "excusing" your behavior, sharing your fear conveys your essential humanity and need for love and acceptance. Finally, the apology can occur because whatever we were expecting from the other person, and fearing that they would not provide, was a need that could be provided by God. Without that connection, we could never really admit our wrongs because we would have responded the only way we could without God.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Personal Viewpoint on the Elections

I'm scared to tell you who I plan to vote for in the election. I'm afraid that some of you will think I have just jumped on a bandwagon that most young adult men have found themselves on, without really engaging the tough questions. But simply by stating that you can likely guess who I favor. I get excited about Obama because I sense in him a powerful charismatic spirit and a vision for the future that gets me excited about being an American.There is something inside me that longs to witness something historic. Perhaps that's why I was torn between rooting on the Patriots and the Giants. Regardless of what happened, whether an upset or perfect season, it would be a historic game. Yes, I'll admit it's not just about his political stances, I want America to be something different. And I want to be a part of it.

I grew up following in the political footsteps of my parents, who are Republican. They weren't dogmatic and they held pretty sophisticated political beliefs, which I certainly respect, but the upcoming election felt like a change of tide for me personally. I sensed that the Democrats values were closer to the vision of God's world that I've come to hold. Now I must admit, I got a thrill telling my parents I was likely going to vote for a Democrat, just to shake them up. But as the election has come closer, I catch myself feeling like I'm betraying someone or something that I have sworn loyalty to. I've realized that, for me, voting was about more than just deciding who would lead our country in the right direction; voting was about my identity.

I encourage you to take this election time as an opportunity to shake up your identity. Question your motives for why you want to vote for a particular candidate. Discover what draws you away from certain candidates. Of course, fear will creep up at the slightest hint that you would change your political stance. It would mean that part of your identity will be forced to change. It will mean admitting that you were wrong in the past. But exploring these fears and hopes will help you learn about yourself and help you make the best decision.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Assessing the Church

A few months ago, Willow Creek conducted a series of surveys to assess how churches were promoting spiritual growth in the congregation. If you would like to read about the results, you can visit the REVEAL blog. Since my research area is essentially focused on how people grow in their faith and since I work with a small business that does church consulting, I consider myself to have some authority on this topic. Although I have thought about the study quite a bit, I really want to focus this discussion on the place of assessment in the church.

There are four main issues related to church assessment: (1) what do we measure? (2) how do we measure? (3) what do we learn? (4) what do we miss?

1) What do we measure? Or, in other words, how do you measure someone's spirituality? Now there will be some who argue that spirituality is a completely personal affair and therefore it is impossible to measure it objectively. But I find this unpersuasive, as spirituality inherently stretches beyond the mystical, and is full of theological beliefs that we either hold to or deny, religious behaviors we either engage in or don't, and phenomenon we either experience or don't. To say that our spirituality is devoid of anything religious is to say something objective about our spirituality.

Next, on this same point, we need to consider what are the important variables inherent to faith. Sometimes we make these decisions based upon theological reasoning. For instance, it makes sense not to study how food preferences are related to religious behavior. And the flipside could be that it makes sense to study how prayer is related to a sense of closeness to God. These are our a priori theological beliefs that can inform us. But additionally, we can simply use trial and error, in a scientific manner, to figure out what variables are important to study. For example, one study may look at 10 different variables related to church attendance and find that only one is significantly related to it. We would therefore decide to further study that variable, since it seems to be important (if our theological beliefs state that church attendance is a good thing).

2) The question of how we measure spirituality is also an important one. Are we to assume that those who rate themselves as a 10 (out of 10) on closeness to God are really closer to God? Should we even use paper and pencil (or nowadays, computers) to assess someone's spirituality? Should we rely on spiritual exemplars to study what factors are important to spirituality? It is easy to generate more and more questions. But the truth is that we need to start somewhere. Face-to-face interviews are time consuming. Using spiritual exemplars risks finding people who have their outsides clean. And of course paper and pencil measures have plenty of problems. The real place to start is by engaging a variety of different methods. We should not limit ourselves to one way of approaching the problem.

3) What do we learn from assessment? Assessment can tell us whatever we want to know. It can tell us if people like the preacher's sermons. It can tell us how people use their faith to deal with problems. The real task is learning to ask the right questions. What is most essential to the life of the church? This means that we must really dig in to the Word, explore our theology, and dialog with people from other denominational and faith backgrounds. Again, the point is to begin the discussion. Willow Creek seems to have been scared prematurely by their findings. If we learn anything from the REVEAL study, it's that we should not shift paradigm's too quickly but we should also not be afraid to admit we have been doing things wrong.

4) What do we miss? By this I meant that we should always be aware that we have blindspots. Assessment is never going to be comprehensive so we should always be willing to take a step back and look at the full picture, as best as we can. No one in the congregation may realize that using multimedia in sermons is affecting them and assessment is unlikely to evaluate this issue, but that doesn't mean it's not an issue, for instance.

REVEAL is the first large scale step towards something that I have become a huge believer in since being in grad school - using assessment to improve our churches. While there are some limitations and problems in REVEAL, it does add a great deal of knowledge and has opened up the Christian culture to the use of assessment. I hope that this trend continues, hopefully without being abused, and allows the church to repent and grow where it needs to.