As a spiritual formation coach and spiritual director, I’m always on the lookout for spiritual development models that help me better understand those God has called me to serve. Recently, I came across a book that I’ve found to be an exceptional resource for those called to spiritual formation coaching — The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich.
It is a must-read for spiritual formation coaches, spiritual directors, and others involved in faith-based helping ministries.
Further, it is powerful tool for transformation if we allow it to inform the conversations we have and the work that we do as spiritual formation coaches. In this seminal work, the authors unpack six stages of faith, which I’ve summarized below:
Spiritual Formation Six Stages of Faith
Stage 1: The Recognition of God, Powerlessness
In this stage, we begin the journey of faith. Hallmarks of this stage include a sense of awe, an awareness of God, and a quest for meaning. According to the authors, we can get stuck in this stage, when instead of feeling love and awe, we think we can never measure up and feel spiritual bankrupt and unworthy. Becoming part of a strong support group is key to helping people move from the first to the second stage.
Stage 2: The Life of Discipleship, The Power of Association
Stage two is characterized as a time of learning and belonging, and a sense of rightness and security in our faith. It is a season of filling and receiving. However, some people become stuck in this stage, developing a “we against them” mentality, and rigidity in righteousness. As we transition from stage two to stage three, we begin to acknowledge our gifts and contributions and seek to steward them well.
Stage 3: The Productive Life, The Power of Achievement
Faith at this stage is about working for God. A characteristic of this stage is a growing awareness of our uniqueness in community and using our gifts for the common good. Stuckness at this stage is overachievement and weariness in well doing. The catalyst for movement is letting go of success and accepting vulnerability. Moving from stage three to stage four is often marked by a personal crisis or a loss of certainty.
Stage 4: The Journey Inward, The Power of Reflection
Stage four is marked by a life or faith crisis. God is released from a box as our faith undergoes deconstruction. We experience a loss of certainty with life and faith and learn to live with mystery. Some people stuck at stage four are on a constant quest for answers, ever learning but never coming to the truth. Being open to the cost of obedience is critical as we transition from stage four to five.
But first, we must encounter and successfully scale the wall.
The wall is the place of inner choices. The authors summarize it as “the mystery of our will meeting God’s will face to face. Going through the wall spiritual and psychological healing. You cannot go through the wall working 60 hours a week. It requires solitude.
The authors put it this way: It is “the realization that fixing others, overhelping others, codependency, or excessive enabling of others is not selfless service…They betray a sense of low self-esteem, a desire to control.” The wall is a difficult but necessary prerequisite to entering stage five.
Stage 5: The Journey Outward, The Power of Purpose
In this stage, we work out our calling, moved by the freedom of healing and forgiveness. It is characterized by a deep calm or stillness of soul and a concern and focus on the best interests of others, without trying to “fix” them. Those who live out of their center in Christ are natural healers; they have relinquished their grief and anger over past wounds and live in a state of forgiveness.
Stage 6: The Life of Love, The Power of Wisdom
This stage is about the transcendent life in God. People in this stage are characterized by wisdom gained from life’s struggles, a life abandoned to God, and compassionate living for others. Rarely are they motivated by what motivates others in the other stages. The Critical Journey is an excellent guide for spiritual formation coaches and spiritual directors.
To learn more about stages of faith and to access a spiritual life inventory that you can use with clients, visit Janet’s website.
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