As a 13-year-old, my extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins journeyed across the United States from Pennsylvania to California. The month-long trip was carefully planned so that we would arrive at my grandparent’s home on a pre-appointed day. Three cars and 14 people traveled from state to state, stopping at strategic points like the Grand Canyon along the way.  After an all-night trip across the desert of Southern California (back then our cars didn’t have air conditioning), we arrived at our destination. There were good times and some not so good times on that journey as one of the cars kept having mechanical problems that created delays as we stopped for repairs. There were also some not so great moments between the cousins as spending that much time in a car together can bring out the worst in people.

All in all, though, it was an amazing time and created wonderful memories that I’ve never forgotten.  Decades later, I am still grateful for that trip, which gave me an up close and personal look at the beauty and diversity of our country.

I’m certain that you can all think of a journey you’ve taken that introduced you to amazing and interesting locations and people.  However, journeys often include struggles and disappointment. In that way, journeys are a lot like life and the most important journey that we take is the journey of faith.

In much of my reading on spiritual formation, I have encountered journey language. Authors like M. Robert Mulholland (Invitation to a Journey), Bill and Kristi Gaultiere (Journey of the Soul), R. Thomas Ashbrook (Mansions of the Heart), and Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich (The Critical Journey), all reference that faith is a journey and that it is normal and expected that people will go through different stages, or seasons, on that journey.

Scripture refers to the stages concept as well. In 1 John 2:12-14, John writes to children, young men, and fathers, and corresponds different aspects of faith to the different life stages. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 that he moved from thinking and acting like to a child to putting childish things away when he became a man.

I believe that it is helpful to provide language for the people in our churches about stage theory and faith development.  Helping people understand the different stages of faith can provide peace and hope as they experience the good and hard circumstances in life. Creating a flexible framework for  growth can also provide a vision for each person as they mature in Christ.

As ministry leaders, understanding the stages of growth can also provide a more strategic framework for change and transformation as we recognize that discipleship requires different resources and ministries for different faith stages.

Below are the stages that Bill and Kristi Gaultiere use in their book, The Journey of the Soul. The stages spell out the name CHRIST.

C: Confidence in Christ

  • discovering the need for Christ
  • awe in who God is
  • faith is hope and trust

H: Help in Discipleship

  • Meaning from being part of community
  • learning from ministry leaders
  • faith is belonging and learning

R: Responsible Ministry

  • meaning from serving and participating in the community
  • faith is serving and using gifts

The Wall (catalyst to the inner journey and depth of intimacy with God)

The place where faith hits the unknown. Questions about God have no answers and faith is hard because God seems distant or silent. Life is unnerving and disconcerting. The temptation for believers is to stop here and return to an earlier stage that seems safer.

I: Inner Journey

  • meaning from reflection and deeper self-understanding
  • the Spirit does a deep work creating greater empathy and emotional health
  • faith is acceptance and authenticity

S: Spirit-led Ministry

  • meaning from deep heart change resulting in a renewed call and purpose
  • faith is venturing forward with God’s vision

T: Transformed Union

  • meaning from a life of love in all areas
  • faith is integrity of life

The above framework is only a brief outline of the richness and depth of the stages, or seasons, of faith that people traverse on their spiritual journey. However, they provide insights about the realities that people face on that journey.  In our western world, where we try to move as quickly as we can and often focus on achievement and accomplishing the next thing, it’s important to remind ourselves and the people in our churches that faith development is often slow and gradual.

We need to provide space for people to process where they are on their journey of faith and offer encouragement and hope along the way.

Listening to people who are at The Wall, and not providing spiritual platitudes or diminishing their experience, will help them wrestle with their circumstances as we patiently walk with them, and give them space to process. It’s also critical that we, as leaders, recognize that we want to help people move past stage 3 (Responsible Ministry) into the deeper and richer stages of faith development where they experience greater intimacy with God.

Perhaps Paul said it best when he said, “I am in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19)

The journey of faith is a journey toward Christlikeness and his character of love. As ministry leaders, may we grasp the richness of faith development in our own lives and shepherd our people toward greater understanding of how stages of faith development result in a transformed life and intimacy with God.

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Deb Hinkel

Director of Spiritual Formation at Hershey Free
Deb Hinkel is the Director of Spiritual Formation and Family Ministry at Hershey Free Church. She joined the church’s staff in 2015 after spending fourteen years as an assistant professor in the Church and Ministry Leadership department at Lancaster Bible College. Deb holds a Master of Arts degree in Ministry from Lancaster Bible College; and prior to her work there, she spent fifteen years in church ministry, developing programs in Christian education, children’s ministry, and women’s ministry.

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