JourneyThis year as a church community we have sensed a need to go deeper and to focus more on our relationship with Jesus and our life as disciples. Our FOCUS for 2011 has been simply: Following Jesus. So far, we have looked at four aspects of following Jesus: SURRENDER, GO, LOVE and DISCOVER. This weekend we began our final teaching series and it is entitled GROW.

Kingdom Growth. God’s kingdom is often described in an organic way and is seen as growing larger and stronger (Mark 4:26-29. Lk.13:18-19). The church is also seen as growing and maturing (Eph.4:15-16). Individual followers of Christ are also called to grow in their relationship to God (Col.1:9-10; 2:6-7). Personal and spiritual growth occurs over a period of time and always involves a process that is very much like a journey. Many people find it helpful to have a roadmap or at least a loose guide for their journey of faith. In their insightful book, The Critical Journey, authors Robert Guelich and Janet Hagberg, propose the following six stages:

Stages in the Life of Faith

1. Recognition of God. This is where we all begin our journey of faith. The experience of faith at this stage is the discovery and recognition of God. It is accepting the fact of the reality of God in our lives. Someone bigger than us really exists and He truly loves us. This may occur in childhood or later in life as adults. For some people this is a very identifiable experience, like a moment in time where everything changes. For others, there is a gradual realisation, with no certainty as to just where or when the experience began. Either way, we simply ‘know’ that God is there. Factors contributing to this experience can be either a sense of awe or a sense of need in our lives.

2. Life of Discipleship. This stage is about learning and belonging. We begin to learn, explore, absorb and put into place our set of beliefs or faith principles. In this stage we learn the most about God by association with others we respect and trust. We are apprentices. We need others because we are relatively unsure and insecure at first in our growth and what we believe. The group also provides a sense of belonging, which helps to alleviate some of our feelings of fear and even inadequacy that accompany the excitement of new learning. The group begins to give us a sense of identity and security. We start to feel at home, with family. We are loved and accepted, despite our struggles. It’s not always easy but we are with our kind of people. We have a sense of security and comfort in our faith.

3. The Productive Life. This stage is best described as the ‘doing’ stage as it is the period of time where we find ourselves most consciously working in service for God. It’s now time to give in return for all we have received. This is usually a very active stage of our journey. It is positive and dynamic, centred on being productive in the area of our faith. This stage nourishes us because it is so personally rewarding. It operates on goals and achievement, building and creating, which can be exciting, fulfilling, inspiring and fruitful. We start to feel unique within our community. We are taking on extra responsibility. We feel a degree of confidence because of our experience. Leadership may be part of this stage.

4. The Journey Inward. This stage is a deep and very personal inward journey. It almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it. Until now, our journey has had a very external dimension to it – the community of faith, serving with our gifts, leading others, and productivity. Upon entering this stage, many people experience a period of questioning, exploring, doubting, and even uncertainty. This can be caused by a life or faith crisis. For the first time our faith does not seem to work the same as it has before and our answers seem inadequate, leaving us feeling quite vulnerable. Some people refuse to engage fully with this stage. Therefore they become inadequate guides for others who enter this stage.

The Wall. Somewhere near the end of Stage 4, we experience the Wall – a face to face experience with God and with our own will. This is a critical experience. It represents another layer of transformation and a potentially renewed layer of faith – for those who have the courage to move into it. We decide anew whether we are willing to surrender and let God direct our lives. This is a time of mystery and not something we can do through our own strength or wisdom. This is a pivotal moment. We are afraid, yet drawn to surrender, knowing it will not be easy, but that it will be worthwhile. We are dying to self and letting God be God. [Click here for some thoughts on "Growing in the Dark"]

5. The Journey Outward. This is the next step after rediscovering God and accepting his love. We surrender afresh to God’s will to fully direct our lives. This outward journey may seem similar to earlier stages, but our focus is different. We have changed. We endure suffering gracefully, because of our confidence in God. Our primary motivation in life becomes the desire to love honestly and live according to God’s purposes. There is a fresh sense of calling, vocation or ministry. We start to focus more on other people’s best interests. We start to experience a deep calm and stillness. We allow for a new certainty in God while being comfortable with ambiguity.

6. The Life of Love. At this stage we reflect God to others in the world more clearly and consistently than we ever thought possible. We let our light shine in such a way that God is given the credit and the thanks. We have lost ourselves yet truly found ourselves. We are selfless. We are at peace with ourselves, fully conscious of being the person God created us to be. Obedience comes naturally. We give our all without feeling that it means surrender or sacrifice. We are at one with the Spirit of God. God becomes everything to us.

There is a mystery to our journey of faith. Everyone is unique and will experience variations in their individual journey but we are all headed in the same direction – closer to God. It is helpful to view this journey as a circle rather than as a linear progression. God is at the centre. He is at work in each stage and our goal is not to try to control our growth experience but to draw closer to Him in each season. There are no set formulas for spiritual growth nor can we always know exactly where we are in our spiritual journey. Stages may overlap and we may re-visit stages at times.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where do you think you are now in your own journey of faith and why?
  2. Where have you been in the past? What stages do you recognise or identify with?
  3. Select two Bible characters and see if you can see this pattern in their faith journey.
  4. What are some insights for relating well to others who may be at a different stage than you?
  5. What sort of activities or experiences might be most helpful at each stage – and especially the stage you are at right now?
  6. Click here for a list of additional reflection questions for each stage of faith.

7 thoughts on “GROW – Understanding Stages of Faith

  1. Mark, do you see a movement from a fundamentalist worldview towards a more liberal worldview as a normal part of maturity?
    Can someone still be mature and be a fundamentalist – especailly when faced with things like Bible contradictions and acceptance that people may hold different perspectives on the same thing?

  2. Good question, Richard.
    I think ‘liberal’ and ‘fundamentalist’ are a bit too black and white as labels.
    I believe maturity involves a ‘certainty’ on the core aspects of our faith while a willingness to live with ‘ambiguity’ on many of the non-essentials. Unfortunately, many Christians get worked up and militant on the latter while failing to celebrate the areas we do have in common with other followers of Christ. There are over 38,000 (!) Christian demoninations around the world today, ALL claiming to have THE truth 🙂

  3. Here are my (probably biased) observations from anecdotal evidence:

    • The tendency of (some?/most?) seminary students to become more liberal as they acquire more knowledge of the history and spread of Pentecostalism, aided by free flow of information from the internet, and in social media in particular.
    • Antipode of the above: Pentecostals with strong convictions, whom are otherwise intelligent and well read, try to justify their beliefs when cognitive dissonance is encountered.
    • Pentecostal tradition’s watering down of glossolalia, pressure-tithing, slaying of the spirit, and faith healing. There’s a movement to becoming more involved in social justice, as they transform themselves into seeker sensitive churches, aided by pop culture influence.
  4. Hi Mark,
    Personally speaking, I think this is one of the most helpful articles I have seen you publish- all your stuff is thoughtful and useful but I think this article is particularly insighful- thank-you.
    My suspicion is that many people get lost/stuck in stage 4 – possibly for many years.

  5. Wow, Mark. I missed the intro last weekend and decided to read this instead. I’m drawn to relate an experience, call it Holy Spirit prompting. Perhaps it will benefit some of your readers, don’t know.
    Over 20 years ago, I was attending a different Church. I am not belittling them in any way, just relating what occurred. A visiting speaker who was supposedly reknown for his ‘faith healing’ abilities was invited to a special meeting. I had sustained a back injury and had been bed ridden for a long time but was getting better and able to drive but still in a lot of pain. I was invited to come along to this meeting which I really had no desire to attend at first but went along anyway. The speaker did his ‘thing’ and when it was appropriate after he’d finished delivering his ‘sermon’, I raised my hand & asked for him to pray for my healing. This is a private setting in a house with roughly 40 people. In front of everyone, this preacher tore me apart. I won’t go into details but not only did he rip my faith apart, no one in attendance stood up to him to defend me. I was in my 20s, in pain & still rather young in my faith, Stage 2 – Life of Discipleship. I felt humiliated and if the floor had opened up, I would gladly have jumped into it. So, how does a new Christian get through this? I thank God for seeing me through it all. I learnt from that experience never to trust man because they can fail you big time. Instead, I turned to God and even now, I can say with honesty that the lesson learnt from that hurtful experience, although really awful at the time, has made me a much stronger Christ follower.
    Perhaps someone reading this has gone through or perhaps even going through similar experiences. I had to trust God and not man. I look to man for guidance, sure, but I never put any person on a pedestal because they are human and can fail. God on the other hand can always be trusted. The journey we sometimes have to go through to get to Stage 6 – The Life of Love or even to the next Stage of wherever you are at, may not come easy. In fact, it is safe to say that our journey in this life is not meant to be easy but it can be fulfilling if we allow Jesus into our lives and especially work through Stage 4 and The Wall! 🙂 Funnily enough, I recently went through Stage 4 and The Wall. I think I have scrapped the surface of Stage 5 but it’s still in progress!!
    I hope I don’t get stuck like Helen mentioned. 🙂
    Thanks for your post, Mark.
    God bless.

  6. Mark – Thanks for your your response. I concur with your comment.
    Sometimes there is a danger that we mix tolerating ambiguity with tolerating sin.
    Many of us have lost the fire and the zeal we had when we first came to Christ. Perhaps it a stage of life thing (kids, money, work etc). Others are still committed ‘in their maturity’ but have compromised their value set. Either way it is dangerous to become ‘luke warm’.

Leave a Reply