I’ve been on a spiritual journey for almost sixty years. A friend recommended I read, The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith, by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich. The book has helped me answer some questions I’ve had for some time. Here are my questions.
1. Why The Last 14 Years, I Could Take or Leave The Church.
2. What One Thought Stunts My Spiritual Progress.
3. What It Looks Like To Become A Mature Christ Follower.
A quick overview of the book is in order here. The authors highlight six stages of spiritual development. They are not clearly delineated or once and for all. There can be movement back and forth between stages and times of stagnation. The part of the book I found most interesting is the discussion of the wall.
The six stages adapted to my own language are as follows:
- Stage One, The awareness/awakening to God (Could have begun in childhood or any other era.)
- Stage Two, The beginning of discipleship, early commitment and desire to learn. Early learning usually comes from listening to others and is seldom self-study. Often have more zeal than knowledge.
- Stage Three, The beginning of serving. Often in stage three service is done because there is a sense of duty, a desire to be accepted into the fold or some other motive less than God’s love compelling one to serve.
- The answer to my first question came when the authors claim most church ministers and ministries operate in the first three stages. Fourteen years ago I was forced into stage four and ever since, the church seemed like it wasn’t ever getting beneath surface issues to me. My experience has been the church is stuck in the first three stages largely because most ministers have never gone beyond the first three stages. Many ministers who find level four are removed from ministry by churches. Paul was driven to brokeness, Peter’s denial pushed him to level four and our public failures often are what causes one to move beyond the first three levels. An ignorant church disposes of those people right when they are about to become useful at a much greater level!
- Stage Four, The journey inward, usually comes after practicing the first three stages for some time. It is often precipitated by some crisis, either personal or a faith crisis. This phase begins a journey inward to discover who I am and what I really believe. It could be referred to as a time of being broken or brokenness. Everything you’ve known to this point is challenged and questioned. The purpose of this stage is for a person to come to complete surrender of everything to God.
The Wall, is our stuckness in stage four until we come to complete surrender. Stage four can take a long time! Anytime, in stage five or six, I take my will back, I get to return to the wall.
2. The answer to my second question was answered here. Whenever the thought comes to my mind, I’m a grown man and if I want to . . . I will. Even if the action is not called sin in the Bible, that statement is me taking back the right to choose for myself what I will or won’t do and is the beginning of insubordination. That ultimately will move me back to being stuck at the wall.
- Stage Five, after resolving everything internally in stage four and going through the wall, the movement is now back out. Humbled, surrendered and broken to ask, what do you want me to do Lord? Whom can I serve? This service is now fueled by God’s love and at His command. It is similar to stage two but really quite different as well.
- Stage Six, a life fueled by the love of God. Position, prestige, recognition, no longer matter. All that matters is my heart is filled with God’s love and it spills over from a humble servant wherever we are. Contentment is a benefit, acceptance and gratitude are qualities seen at this level.
3. The answer to question three, a mature Christ follower lives in stages five and six. They feed their own souls, they have intimacy with God and their lives are very in tune with His promptings. Their service is more about listening for the promptings and serving out of love and obedience than about holding a position or title. Their lives touch others. They may occasionally revisit the wall but it only reminds them how to move through it again and it goes much more quickly. They can never settle for less than level five and six living.