July 14, 2008

Does God Do Standardized Testing?
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Those of you who are parents of public school children know how prominent standardized testing is in a student’s school year. In the spring, every child in the second through eleventh grade is tested to measure progress toward State standards in reading, writing and mathematics. In upper grades, science, history and specific math subjects are added. This testing takes up two weeks of the student’s learning time. Ironically, this time investment doesn’t benefit the student at all. It is used to determine how well the school is doing in comparison to other schools in the State. From the perspective of a child’s individual educational progress, these tests are a waste of time.

How sad that many Christians spend a lot of time and energy on evaluating their spiritual status. In a desire to learn whether they are measuring up to God’s standards for Christian living, they waste time and effort that could actually be invested in learning and living the life of faith.

When populist politician Ed Koch became mayor of New York in 1977, he loved to walk the streets of his city, stopping average New Yorkers randomly and asking, “How am I doing?â€? People loved this folksy approach, and he was very popular. But the city’s problems were difficult and complex, and it became harder and harder for average citizens to see positive results from Mayor Koch’s leadership. He stopped his spontaneous “How am I dong?â€? interviews, because the answers became more and more negative over time. Even though he served three terms as mayor, he failed in a 1985 attempt to become Governor of New York. Evidently, the ultimate answer to his question “How am I doing?â€? was “Not good enough.â€? What would he have been able to accomplish if he had spent all his time on fixing the problems of the city, without needing constant reassurance that he was doing OK?

Every sincere Christian wants to do her or his best for the Lord. It seems natural to ask “How am I doing?â€? But some people are obsessed with testing themselves. To make matters worse, they usually evaluate themselves by comparison to others. This is why the focus on self-testing can lead to some serious spiritual and emotional problems, such as hypocrisy, pride, depression and fault-finding. While a person is involved in self-analysis, he or she is not actually living, being what God wants the person to be. As with the public school analogy, time spent on testing is taken away from learning.

Years ago, members of the Deacon Board of ABC were involved in a study/workshop on how well the church was doing in worship, fellowship and evangelism. Everyone had a pet idea, and each was determined to express it. We felt we were doing a great thing for the church’s future. After a long, boring discussion, one deacon made this simple statement: “If you are trying to grow a plant, you want to know how it’s doing, but if you pull it out of the ground to look at its roots, you’ll probably kill the plant.â€? As I remember it, we went home soon after.

The Lord is the only judge of how we’re doing, and it’s his strategy to give us very little feedback. This seems to be so that we will depend more fully on him as we live each day step by step, choice by choice. We feel a need to keep asking, “How am I doing?â€? His answer seems to be, “Never mind that; just trust me as you take the next step.â€?

If you’d like to think some more about this, carefully read the Apostle Paul’s personal testimony in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, as well as the Apostle John’s parallel experience expressed in 1 John 3:18-22.