By Alan Nelson on Feb 1, 2010
Alan Nelson explains the concept of spiritual intelligence and offers pastors and church leaders a chance to assess theirs.
Deeply engrained in the American psyche is the notion that slavery ended in the 19th century. The brutal fact is that girls and boys, men and women of all ages are forced to toil in the rug loom sheds of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan, and fight wars in the jungles of Africa. Go behind the façade of any major town or city in the world, and you are likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings.
I believe the answer is related to a concept I refer to as spiritual intelligence (SI). A few years ago, psychologist Daniel Goleman and his colleagues wrote a bestselling book called Emotional Intelligence (EI). While they did not originate the concept of EI, they popularized it. EI explains why some people are well-balanced, cultivate healthy relationships, and respond effectively to difficult circumstances, while others are less stable, upset easily by others, and frustrate quickly when things don’t go their way. The resiliency and relational health that emotional intelligence provides are powerful characteristics of people who live well.
In a similar but more soulish fashion, spiritual intelligence is about a person’s ability to assimilate faith—what he or she learns in Christian community, Bible study, worship, and prayer—into everyday life. In short, the fact that so few exhibit Jesus-like qualities despite decades of attending church is a matter of low SI. The good news is that, just as researchers suggest we can raise our EI quotient, most of us can improve our SI quotient, as well. We do this not necessarily by finding a better church, listening to more pithy sermons, becoming more committed, tithing or serving more, or simply trying harder. The solution is not to mimic Jesus through self-control, like a weightlifter straining under a barbell. The key is to understand and practice the methods that Jesus used with his disciples, so that we become like him and acquire true maturity. This isn’t an idea about doing church differently—it’s about you.
SI provides a pattern, a framework, for developing your own soul growth plan based on how Jesus developed his followers. Indeed, unless our tools coincide with the methods of Jesus, we’ll fall short of spiritual maturity. Most people never assess their spiritual growth, or they use unreliable standards (such as Sunday school pins, seminar certificates, or election to a church office) that don’t really reflect what they’re after. After all, a weight-scale alone does not measure good health, even though weight is an important factor in health.
Many assume it’s not possible to establish observable benchmarks for soul growth. Some try to measure spirituality using a list of externals, assuming that by achieving these, we prove we’re growing. The problem is that you can accomplish externals without developing internally at all.
A soul assessment reveals potential targets for initial growth emphasis. It also allows you to establish a benchmark, so that you can see where you’ve progressed. Like pencil hash marks on a door jamb that a parent uses to record a child’s height, you should be able to regularly compare old feedback with new. In order to improve the accuracy of your assessment, you’ll want to solicit input from people who know you in a variety of settings (family, work, church, neighbors, community).
The differences in spiritual assessments come down to measurement preferences among the designers. Some are more knowledge-oriented, looking at what you know. Others only look at self-perceptions, and still others are personality and strength indicators. I have developed one that I’ve used over the years called The Journey. This tool is a short, four-page, user-friendly, yet relatively comprehensive response tool that you can complete to establish a benchmark. There is also a one-page survey for others to fill out about you. This soul cartography exercise helps us determine where we are now, where we want to go, and how to get there.
Following is a description of and instructions for The Journey. It includes a section for you to tell your story and thus highlight the events that have marked your life. There is a succinct assessment of twenty SI indicators you can provide to those who know you, so you can glean from their perspectives in addition to your own. Finally, you’ll find simple directions that help you summarize your development and next steps for growth. With this information, you can develop your own soul growth plan and structure based on individualized goals, not just generic concepts. The Journey will not recommend specific resources or activities, but will give you insights into how you’re progressing and where to invest more attention for continued growth. You may want to revise The Journey every 6-18 months, but a nice rhythm is an annual update.
Familiarize yourself with The Journey assessment and then use the following instructions for responding to the instrument. There are five parts of this tool:
- Narrative Snaphot (page 1)
- LifeLine (page 2)
- Growth Indicator (page 3)
- Progress Plotter (page 4A)
- Next Steps (page 4B)
Narrative Snapshot (page 1)
This section prompts you to assess spiritual growth activities in a brief, narrative format. Four strategic questions or statements of common soul growth efforts help you create an overview of your experiences. Writing them out will exact your thinking, aiding you in clarifying your ideas and experiences, and the limited response space forces you to prioritize your answers. While you may not think this exercise would be beneficial to do annually—especially if the past year did not seem to involve significant changes—the big picture awareness that comes from this exercise can be insightful. As we grow, our perspectives change in how we perceive marking events and prioritize defining moments in our lives.
LifeLine (page 2)
Determining where you are now and where you should head are often related to where you’ve been and what has taken place in your life. The Lifeline is an effective tool for seeing the events that have marked your life and for sharing your story and spiritual topography with someone. It is a visual depiction of where you’ve been and events that have helped define you. Once you’ve listed ten or so defining moments, you’ll plot these on a grid for a visual mapping, so you can see the significant ups and downs your story. You can do a LifeLine with a crayon on paper or within a sophisticated computer rendering. Some people like to practice on scratch paper, because you’ll want to put some thought into this process and where you plot these on the grid.
Growth Indicator (page 3)
Credible, spiritual growth measurements are important. Without them, you wind up doing target practice like Charlie Brown, the Peanuts cartoon character. Charlie shoots arrows into his backyard fence. He then walks over to them and draws a circle around each arrow. Lucy says, “Charlie, that’s not how to do target practice.” Charlie responds, “I know, but this way, I never miss.”
Throughout time, certain character qualities reflected in actions and attitudes have consistently emerged as indicators of spiritual development in the lives of learners. These reflect things that Jesus taught and modeled. The Journey includes these in the “Growth Indicator,” assessing twenty enduring qualities, for the purpose of providing a tool for benchmarking and feedback. The Growth Indicator is similar to the Dow stock market index, looking at a sampling of characteristics that reflect observable, measurable outcomes.
This instrument becomes far more effective if filled out by those who know you, since self-perceptions can be deceiving. Because spiritual fruit is revealed primarily in our relationships, those who interact with us see things that we may not. The feedback forms are modified with a less religious or overtly spiritual tone, so that you will be more comfortable asking non-faith friends to respond. Try to get responders in a variety of settings, such as church, work, family, the community and social circles. Ask responders not to put their name on their assessment, and assure them that their answers will remain anonymous. This is very important; otherwise responders may modify their answers so they won’t benefit you. Strive to get five to ten responders, more if you’re not sure how many will follow through on the survey. An alternative is to provide a longer list of potential responders and let a third-party receiver randomly select people to respond, thus reducing the chance that you’ll know who provided feedback.
Progress Plotter (page 4a)
Psychologists have determined that people have multiple intelligence quotients. Typical IQ tests only measure two of approximately six recognized aptitude areas. The same is true spiritually. You cannot lump SI into a single category. We’ve all met people who seem extremely developed in a certain area, such as knowledge, only to be surprised by how immature they seem in another area, such as relationships. If we want to grow, we must be willing to investigate our own inconsistencies.
This section of The Journey looks at four spiritual quotient categories, each representing a potential growth area. Each of the four categories is in a certain developmental phase at any given moment. While appearing to be linear in the chart, each has fluid connections that will move up or down based on personal dynamics, free-will responses to information and growth circumstances. When we assess the phase of each of the four quotients, we begin to grasp a greater understanding of what the Bible refers to of knowing Jesus as “Lord.” The goal is to submit to Jesus’ leadership in all arenas of our life, resulting in SI.
5 Developmental Phases
Level 1. Recognition phase: We become aware of our own soul and/or fundamental basics of what following Jesus is about (engaged in growth).
Level 2. Re-orientation phase: We begin to see the differences between life with Jesus and without and start to develop this relationship more actively (fragile/up and down).
Level 3. Re-organization phase: We make intentional, obvious decisions in terms of values and lifestyle that reflect biblical guidelines (stable).
Level 4. Re-centering phase: We have transcended the primary struggle of who is first in our lives and begin to live out Spirit-led attitudes and behaviors (strong).
Level 5. Re-investing phase: We exude the attitude of Jesus a majority of the time and display spiritual maturity, actively mentoring others directly and indirectly (deep).
Assess which phase you are in for each of the four quotients. You now have a chart that provides a visual overview of how you see your areas of strength and weakness. As an alternative to the phase levels, you could use a 1-5 scale, where 1 is low development and 5 is high development. Growth emphases can be determined by the areas where you need to see improvement. Once you have determined the categories you want to target for growth, you can combine this with the information gained from the Growth Indicator. For example, in the attitude category, you may want to focus on attitudes of humility and optimism, using knowledge tools for studying about these in Scripture and other writings and teachings. The Progress Plotter is also a helpful communication tool to present your spiritual growth goals to others for feedback and to brainstorm exercise ideas.
Next Steps (page 4b)
Aim for a simple one- to two-page response to The Journey information and be as detailed as possible. The fact that you’ve thought through a planning process will put you far ahead of most. As we noted earlier, research shows that the process of writing and articulating your plans heightens the likelihood that you’ll implement them.
The Journey is a simple diagnostic instrument for communication and to help you develop a personal soul growth plan. If you find one that works better, use it, but be sure to do it in the context of the methods Jesus used if you want to acquire true spiritual intelligence.