I have found myself on a spiritual journey over the last 5 years that began with my prayer to know God in the way he wanted to be known. For along time I had a sense that maybe the things I was being taught (which were really the same old things over and over) may not really be what God wanted for me to understand. I was relying heavily on what pastors, teachers, friends, etc told me about God without much searching on my own. So I have been on a quest. And have learned a ton.
One of my spiritual mentors posted on his blog a few days back his view of our stages of spiritual growth that I think describes my journey very accurately. I have copied and pasted a section of that post here:
Stage 1: Pre-Faith Stage
Stage 2: Institutional Faith Stage
Stage 3: Throw Away Faith Stage
Stage 4: Personal Faith Stage
Pre-Faith:This is the period of time before we come to accept/believe that God invites us to accept His acceptance. Some of us lived in that stage for a long time. Others, like me, can’t even remember it. I was taken to church just a few days after my birth and was there several times a week for most of my life with my family.
Institutional Faith Stage:We we come to faith, it is usually connected with some religious system. That might be a church or para-church organization like Campus Crusade, etc. As newbies to faith we look to someone to explain what the content and practices of our faith looks like. It may through a Bible Study, Sunday School Class, or some discipleship process. It is not so much an education as indoctrination into our mentor’s faith. There may be a discussion of alternative points of view, but they are generally labeled as wrong, false, liberal, new age, heresy, etc. If we get the “correct” information and can repeat it, then we get a star on our chart. If not, we need to relearn the “truth” as they understand it.
Generally, it is a simplified version of their faith and can sound pretty black or white – as if there is an answer somewhere in the Bible for every question we have or decision we confront. The problem is that life presents all of us with issues and situations that are not so clear cut. Some faith systems very effective help people transition from the early stages of faith to learn discernment about living out faith in a complex world and others don’t. You may know people whose faith is stuck in the Institutional Stage – that is, they depend on the institution to define how to live life, answer questions, never question what it declares to be the “correct” answers. In fact, people can be so trapped it the Institutional Stage that they live in denial about the complexities of the world. We all have an amazing ability to not see what we can’t handle within our belief systems.
Throw Away Stage: If we grow beyond the Institutional Stage, it usually involves some degree of throwing away the faith we have been given. We really don’t have to grow and some people choose to stay in the Institutional Stage so long that changing would feel to them like they had wasted their entire life and change is just too hard. “Throw away” may be too strong to fit the experience of some who move quite naturally through this stage where they question what they have been given. For others, it does not look like they are throwing anything away because the still attend services and talk the talk but they have become closet non-believers. They really don’t buy what they once believed but choose to keep quiet for the sake of others in the family (like keeping quiet about the tooth fairy) or they enjoy the social networking so just go through the motions. Others are more open about throwing away their faith and may loudly express they feel betrayed by God, the church and friends.
Personal Faith Stage:Some feel so deeply betrayed and justified in their disillusionment that they never move beyond the Throw Away Stage. If we grow beyond it it would mean coming to a new view of faith but this time it is not about asking the institution to define what we “should” believe but a personal exploration of what we choose to believe. Hopefully that includes an honest search of the history of ways the faith has been viewed – few of our questions are so new that no one has never thought deeply about them. We might even come to accept things we had decided to throw away, but now it is because we choose them. (We have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath in the Throw Away Stage).
I would have to say that I feel I have one foot in the “Throw Away Stage” and on foot in the “Personal Faith” stage. My re-examination of the faith of my childhood continues. Sometimes I drop an idea or two. Sometimes I retain an idea or two. Sometimes I drop and idea and then pick it back up later on. One thing I am finding for sure is that I am closer to God than I think I have ever been, and it is mainly because I quit trying to meet the expectations that other people told me were God’s expectations and instead started searching for myself. And I am in a better place for it.
Where do you find yourself in theses stages? Do you agree with them? Do you have a different idea?