Grades in Church?

Back in the olden days, I did fairly well at school (in spite of avoiding my homework as often as possible). I valued making good grades. I set high standards for myself and tried to keep them, though high school and beyond. In addition to grades on individual assignments, I received a report card at the end of every term. My understanding of grades is that teachers used them to tell me how well I was learning in any particular subject.

Church is like school in that it is a learning environment, but unlike school in that there are no grades. Most of us are happy that there are no tests, papers and grades at church. We read the Bible and see that Christianity is about grace, not grades, so we know it is an enterprise for all of us, not just those who are great at school stuff.

But does the learning we do in church matter?

Math was one of my favorite subjects in school. I did well in math. Beyond a general sense of numeracy today, I don’t use much more of my math learning than the basic operations (except when helping children study their Algebra & Geometry). If I were an engineer, my learning of math would have mattered in a way it doesn’t in my current context. As one who drives cars over bridges and occasionally flies in an airplane, I’m happy that the engineers who create these objects and systems did well at math. I’m glad that there was some sort of accountability process in place to assess their learning and give them feedback. I’m glad they have enough skill and confidence in their skill to make these things happen.

While having no tests or grades in church we may have lots of grace, but we lose out on the blessings of accountability and feedback on how we’re doing. I’m convinced that what we do here matters, not just for ourselves, but for others. Pretending for a moment that accountability for ordinary Christians might be a good thing, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Have you learned enough about prayer to pray in confidence, whether for your needs or the needs of others?
  • Have you developed a facility with the Bible that allows you to interact with it, learn from it, and hear God speak through it?
  • Have you grown secure enough in your own relationship with Christ that you can (a) share Jesus with those around you, and (b) bear graciously those around you who act less mature?

If we could learn to consider questions like these, I think it would make us stronger Christians and a stronger church. I pray that your love for Christ compels you to cooperate with Him as he completes the work he has begun in you.

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4 Responses to Grades in Church?

  1. Donna says:

    I’ve often thought that we should have some shared reflection or accountability focused on our membership vows.
    Prayer–How often do I pray? Can I pray with confidence? Do I pray for others? Do I pray with others?
    Presence–How often do I show up at my local congregation? When traveling, do I still participate in corporate worship?
    Gifts–Am I generous? Do I tithe? If not, am I making steps toward tithing?
    Service–How do I serve the people in the church (music ministries, teaching Sunday School, committee membership, etc.)? How do I serve people who are not yet part of the church (food pantries, school partnerships, etc.)?
    We need both individual and group accountability. I’d love for administrative board meetings to be places where questions like this are taken up.

  2. Kim Thompson says:

    Yes, Richard, to the best of my memory you did “fairly well” in school … :). It seems to me that the Christian life is a lot like mothering — it is a long-term project and you only know how well you did at the end! In fact, this is one of the reasons I found going back to school to be so helpful to me — I had an enterprise in which I got regular feedback. This is in contrast to my “real job” (being a wife and mother) where you are not sure how you are doing on a day-to-day basis. Of course, kids give you feedback but their feedback is based on what they want at the moment, which may or may not be a reliable indicator of your performance!

    I think the success of the early Methodist societies lay in their accountability. (“How is it with your soul, brother?”). However, also the one thing that continually draws me back to Wesleyan-heritage fellowships is the acceptance and love you tend to find there. So, I think we need both (accountability and acceptance). Without the love, accountability can deteriorate into following rules (wear this, don’t wear that; live here, don’t live there; spend your money this way, etc.). With both, we are challenged to dig deeper to figure out what is really important and then to help each other along in the vital areas of piety.

  3. rheyduck says:

    “Of course, kids give you feedback but their feedback is based on what they want at the moment, which may or may not be a reliable indicator of your performance!”

    I see that in student evaluations. According to the results of the last round, the main thing I needed to “work on” was that my students judged my class workload to be too heavy. IF I were only accountable to students, and that accountability meant only giving them a workload that would make the rest of life easy and manageable, then sure, I’d work hard on that. But I’m also accountable to the students in a broader way, and to the discipline as a whole.

    “the acceptance and love you tend to find there”

    Absolutely. Our downfall was when we came to believe that standards (and the clarity they offer) are antithetical to love. If I say, “How is it with your soul” with the intent of (a) making you fully aware of how miserable incompetent your performance has been, or (b) showing my own superiority, then I am missing the game. Instead, we recognize that DOING well is a good thing, for us, for others, for the kingdom. Since one aspect of love is seeking for the flourishing and well-being of the other, then love can be the root of accountability. And on the other side, a lack of accountability can be a sign of a lack of love.

    This is far from saying everything that can or ought to be said about the subject.

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