We tend to cut ourselves a lot of slack and make allowances for ourselves when we fall short. Most people give themselves the benefit of the doubt on a regular basis. Researchers call it "the self-serving bias."
For example, in one survey, 90% of drivers rated themselves as "above average" in their driving skills compared to other drivers, and nearly 50% placed themselves among the top 10%. Of course, this is mathematically impossible, but it's one example of the self-serving bias.
I came across an interesting article this week that provided an example of the self-serving bias among pastors, when it comes to their assessment of the spiritual condition of their congregations, compared to what their congregants actually report about themselves. Most pastors have a rosy outlook when it comes to their members' spiritual condition, but the members themselves reveal a rather different picture. The results are rather striking, and it's definitely worth taking a look at the full article. But here are some of the things that were particularly noteworthy to me:
- Only 23% of all Protestant churchgoers, and only half of evangelicals (which are known for making a stronger emphasis on things like this) indicated that their faith in God was their highest priority in their lives. So that means most Christians--and half of evangelicals--ADMIT that God is not #1 in their lives.
- According to the survey, in forming their opinions, "few pastors rely upon criteria that reflect genuine devotion to God." Most pastors utilize external indicators such as worship attendance, serving in a ministry, and comments made immediately after the worship service. While these can be important factors in a person's journey of growth, it is also true that positive outward behavior can mask inner ambivalence, or even outright disobedience or unbelief.
- In the section labeled "Activity That Does Not Concern Churches," among the list of important criteria that pastors downplay or ignore altogether are
- personal evangelism/outreach,
- life change subsequent to the conversion experience
- how visitors to the church are received
- whether people experience the presence of God in the worship service
We don't want to have a self-serving bias when we evaluate the health of our church, and we don't want individuals in our church to have a self-serving bias when they look at their own health. We want to see accurately so that we can know what our true condition is, and so that we can work on the areas that need attention the most.
It is right for us to think this way, according to God's word: "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." (Romans 12:3 NIV)
So where are you on your journey? Are you where you need to be? Or do you have some growing to do? Do you truly make God your first priority in life? What will it take to get him there?