Roughly 5 years ago I began a process that took me into a deep internal struggle. The worldview which was handed down to me no longer worked and as I was pursuing ministry, involved in leadership at my church, and finishing up my undergrad degree in Biblical Studies. It became more and more apparent that the ground beneath me that once seemed so solid was quickly falling.
This experience lasted for more then several years, and if I’m honest I am probably still journeying through bits of it. It was a faith crises of sorts, and through this struggle I have discovered a deeper, but very different way of being a person of faith and spiritual conviction. Along the way, I learned about the stages of faith. Both James Fowler and Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck have written about this spiritual developmental theory. My only regret is that I did not discover it sooner. M. Scott Peck gives four simple and important stages to spiritual development. These stages are as follows:
Stage I: Chaotic – antisocial.
As an infant we enter into this life thinking the world revolves around us. We all begin in stage I. It is a time of chaos or lawlessness in that we are not sure what is true, good, or right. At stage I we are selfish and seek our own self interests. Some have suggested that prison is a stage I institution in that it places limits on those who don’t or can’t control themselves as part of a larger society.
Stage II: Formal – institutional.
As we grow, we begin to seek stability and a sense of security. This stability is most often given in the form of large institutions and/or a person(s) of authority. We seek to know what should be, what is true, right, and good. We often learn this from religious organizations (or other places such as the military). This stage is helpful and necessary in spiritual development, but unfortunately most religious people and institutions remain at stage II.
Stage III: Skeptical – individual.
While many remain at stage II, some begin to question the institutions, structures, and those in authority. This is often reflected during the teenage years as this person begins to question their parents authority and their rules. Religiously, many who enter into stage III begin to question the doctrines, dogma, and beliefs that have been handed down to them. Many who enter into stage III believe this to be the last and final stage. The college or university are often associated with this stage.
Stage IV: Mystical – communal.
Few people enter into stage IV. One enters into stage IV when they continue to seek out the sacred and walk through the skepticism, questions, and doubts of stage III. People in stage IV may be religious or may not, but they all share some form of deep knowing and appreciation for the divine or sacred as Great Mystery. Instead of clear answers and black and white thinking as seen in stage II, people in stage IV value questions, experience, mystery, and the journey toward discovering more. While often in stage II we are very closed off and dogmatic, in stage IV people are open to experiencing new and different things and working with those who do not see things the same way. They realize that no creed, doctrine, dogma, book, or religion can fully capture the Sacred. Often they are deeply committed to their own particular wisdom tradition, but they are open to learning from others. While stage III people are more individualistic, people in stage IV see the great value of community.
Looking back, I can see that five years ago I was pushing back against a stage II environment. I was questioning, wrestling, and struggling – the “institution” (i.e., church) was not giving me answers that worked or made sense to my experience, thoughts, and beliefs. The journey from stage II to stage III often brings a crisis of faith, and many never recover or move past stage III for one of two reasons: either they are sick and tired of the whole “religious” thing and are over it entirely (they chuck it all out or see it as only a crutch), or they have no idea that there is a stage IV and have never encountered anyone who lived at this stage. Often many people at stage III associate religion or spirituality with stage II because often there experiences reflect this.
Some people are at stage I and the traditional forms of religion at stage II are exactly what they need. I believe this is why churches are growing in certain parts of the world – it is a necessary and important step in spiritual growth. But, many in the western world are at stage III and they see much of religion at stage II. In other words, it feels like a step backwards.
What I hope to be growing into (I don’t claim to be there yet) is stage IV. I have struggled with being a pastor because much of what I have known has been stage II religion. I realize that being at stage IV means that you may speak some of the same language as people at stage II, but mean different things. Thus, there is a tension because people at stage II will see you as a threat and people at stage III will often think you are at stage II because of your language.
I believe we are in desperate need of stage IV leaders, pastors, CEOs, business people, parents, counselors, teachers, etc. Our world will grow when those at stage IV have the courage to step out, speak, and lead. These people may be misunderstood, seen as a threat, or even seen by some as naive, but many of the great movements of history have been lead by people who took this risk. Stage IV people are sometimes called the mystics – they see beyond what most can see.
We need people who can see what most cannot. We need people who can help teach others to see beyond stage II or III and into another, more deeper way of being human and brings the heart and the mind together and works toward a more just and generous world.