Tag Archives: growth

Stages of Spiritual Growth

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:

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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.

Some thoughts:

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.

 

 

shift in paradigm

If you know much about me at all, it is clear that over the last 3-4 years I have changed my views on a few things. It would take many posts to go over the ins and outs of each of these changes, but, as I reflect, I think much of the change can be summarized as a shift in paradigm.

Growing up I used to see life as the picture below.

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Truth was clear, and all the correct beliefs were filed away neatly, and could be pulled out at any moment. As seen in the picture above, this belief system had clear boundaries which made is simple to tell who was “in” and who was “out”.

The goal was to first solidify your beliefs, then organize them, and then try to convince others that all your views are correct. In other words, you are trying to get everyone else outside of your way of thinking to come inside.

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Then something happened…

this whole system no longer worked for me.

I find it quiet interesting that some have (and continue to) suggested this happened because I fell of the wagon, turned my back on God, truth, Scripture, the Spirit or was offended or hurt by someone. (Usually this is because I see things differently then they do and they aren’t sure how to handle it).

The fact of the matter is, that this shift took place while I was seeking after God’s direction, attending church on a regular basis, and attending a conservative Bible College. What happened wasn’t that I walked away from truth, but that I wrestled with the answers that were given and being given to me and found them lacking.

While it began with a few small changes, it soon became clear that the whole system or way of operating didn’t work…it didn’t make sense…I didn’t just need to change a few beliefs, but I needed a completely different way of understanding life.

I needed a new paradigm.

Instead of a “truth box”  life is much more colorful, interesting, dynamic, and complex. Instead of the goal being to try to make my beliefs stronger and then convince others I am right, I see life much more like a journey towards growth, and growth always requires change.

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What this means is that I do not see things the way I did before and I think this is a good thing.

We all start somewhere, but hopefully we don’t remain there. Hopefully we will grow, discover, come to better understandings of God, the universe, creation, purpose, meaning, the sacred etc.

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Maturity is not about solidifying all of our beliefs exactly as they were five or ten years ago, but about learning to be open – we will not see things the same way and that’s actually a good thing.

We start somewhere, but then we move.

This also means that the place we are at, will not be the place we will be at in another 5 or 10 years.

Now, in honesty, this is usually not an easy transition and often it brings with it a sort of disequilibrium. The old system or way of seeing doesn’t work and it can throw us off or put us in a tail spin of sorts. It is during this time of disequilibrium, where we choose. We choose to either go back, chuck out everything because it’s just to complex, or we fight to move forward.

Going back is safe.

Giving up is simple.

Going forward is strenuous.

In my experience, going forward can often be a major struggle, but it is worth every ounce of effort!

I now see life as a serious of movements. Each step we change, grow, and see things in different ways.

Life is more complex, truth more inclusive, and love more expansive.

As part of this process, I also see God as the force that is drawing us forward into more love, inclusion, justice, and compassion.

I think it is quite a beautiful thing!

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