Stages of Faith / Stages of Church?

Duncan has written a very useful summary of Fowler’s stages of faith and has made some comments on how they relate to churches, based on Alan Jamieson’s work on ‘Churchless Faith. I have italicised Duncan’s stuff and the made a few comments below.

To explain what he means by growth in faith Alan draws on the work of James Fowler, especially as it’s found in “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning”.

1. Innocent (Intuitive-Projective).

Little awareness of belief patterns – typically found in very young children.

2. Literalist (Mythical – Literal)

Security is found in literal beliefs, rules, and authoritative teaching. Usually found in the faith patterns of children.

3. Loyalist (Synthetic-Conventional)

Belief is conformist, acutely tuned to expectations and judgments of others. There is a strong sense of the peer group, expressed in belonging in the church community. Belief is often expressed in dualisms – us and them, right and wrong. Usually found in teenage patterns of faith.

4. Critic (Individuative-Reflective)

There is an emergence of new sense of self taking responsibility for actions, beliefs and values. Often this is a painful experience. There is a new objectification – the examination of beliefs, values and expectations that have been received up to now. Often young/early adults develop their own sense of faith or drop it altogether in this stage.

5. Seer (Conjunctive)

Belief develops again, with the capacity to hold together polar tensions. There is a growing awareness and acceptance of ambiguity, complexity and paradox. Once again the believer is able to engage in symbol and myth. There is an openness to other traditions and communities. This is a point usually reached in mid life and can be the result of ‘mid life crisis’.

6. Saint (Universalising)

Preservation of self is removed from the centre or focus of an individual’s life. There is a shift in motivation to complete acceptance of the ultimate authority of God in all aspects of life.

It seems to me that most Evangelical churches, particularly program-oriented congregations, when considering their Christian education needs, are working on the stage three level. Participation in the congregation’s programs is valued highly. Lone rangers are considered with suspicion or concern. Approved curriculum is preferred over open questioning and exploration.

I liked Alan’s thesis where he argues that many of those who would be considered of ‘churchless faith’ ilk are actually there not because they no longer want to follow Christ, but because they have chosen to ask questions that do not fit the system and the system has vomited them out.

Many people actually engage with the questions of discipleship in a much more rigourous way than in allowed in Stage 3 churches. For that reason they get labelled as agitators, stirrers or just difficult people.

May our churches be places where stages 4-6 are welcomed and valued.

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