Stages Of Faith

The Critical Journey outlines six general stages in a person’s faith journey: Stage 1: The Recognition of God (an awareness and awe of God) Stage 2: The Life of Discipleship (personal growth through allegiance to a leader or cause) Stage 3: The Productive Life (successfully living and working in God’s service) Stage 4: The Journey Inward (a deep inward journey often initiated by excruciating crisis and questioning) Stage 5: The Journey Outward (a new desire birthed from the new wholeness experienced in Stage 4 to love honestly and live according to God’s purposes) Stage 6: The Life of Love (the consistent embodiment and reflection of God’s love to the world) The authors are quick to mention that the stages are very fluid, that a person can move back and forth between them regularly and that one can experience more than one stage simultaneously (7)…. The Critical Journey outlines six general stages in a person’s faith journey: Stage 1: The Recognition of God (an awareness and awe of God) Stage 2: The Life of Discipleship (personal growth through allegiance to a leader or cause) Stage 3: The Productive Life (successfully living and working in God’s service) Stage 4: The Journey Inward (a deep inward journey often initiated by excruciating crisis and questioning) Stage 5: The Journey Outward (a new desire birthed from the new wholeness experienced in Stage 4 to love honestly and live according to God’s purposes) Stage 6: The Life of Love (the consistent embodiment and reflection of God’s love to the world) The authors are quick to mention that the stages are very fluid, that a person can move back and forth between them regularly and that one can experience more than one stage simultaneously (7)….

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A conversation about seeking answers to difficult questions that began at Kerri’s blog here and here sparked the desire to write a survey of Janet Hagberg’s and Robert Guelich’s book, The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith. During my own journey of renewed faith, this book provided a necessary understanding of the transition I was experiencing.

The paper is taking more time than I currently have. So I wanted to strike while the iron of my motivation was still hot and blog some summary ideas.

The Critical Journey outlines six general stages in a person’s faith journey:

Stage 1: The Recognition of God (an awareness and awe of God)

Stage 2: The Life of Discipleship (personal growth through allegiance to a leader or cause)

Stage 3: The Productive Life (successfully living and working in God’s service)

Stage 4: The Journey Inward (a deep inward journey often initiated by excruciating crisis and questioning)

Stage 5: The Journey Outward (a new desire birthed from the new wholeness experienced in Stage 4 to love honestly and live according to God’s purposes)

Stage 6: The Life of Love (the consistent embodiment and reflection of God’s love to the world)



The authors are quick to mention that the stages are very fluid, that a person can move back and forth between them regularly and that one can experience more than one stage simultaneously (7).

As a professional evangelical pastor for 16 years, I have observed that western evangelical Christianity, married to the values of modern business and organizational theory, has produced local churches that view Stage 3 as the ultimate goal of a person’s faith journey. In this light, the external expressions of the Apostle Paul’s ministry is often held up as the example of successful Christian life, witness and ministry. Stages 4 through 6 are flattened and appended to Stage 3 – successful Christian life is measured by health, success at work, community service, good family and children, pleasant personal appearance, active participation in church programs, experiencing the gifts of the Spirit, doing good deeds for others, or leading others in the right cause or to a personal faith in Christ (73-74).

The local congregation invariably becomes an organization with the inherent goal of training and equipping people to grow to Stage 3. With the best intentions, the local church leadership has embraced the dream of being a successful ministry for God. They desire to be a productive witness in their community by training their congregational members to exemplify Stage 3 by living productive and successful lives in service to Christ. And for the most part, there is nothing wrong with this goal.

The inherent problem with this system is that Stage 3 is only half-way in the faith journey, not the ultimate destination. People must press on beyond successful lives of Christian witness and ministry to the further stages of response to God and its accompanying transformation.

Stage 4 is characterized by a deep and personal inward journey, often initiated by crisis and deep questioning:

“Until now, our journey has had an external dimension to it. Our life of faith was more visible, more outwardly oriented, even though things certainly were happening inside us. But the focus fell more on the outside, the community of faith, nature, leadership, the display and use of the Spirit’s gifts, belonging and productivity. At this stage, we face an abrupt change (at least many do) to almost the opposite mode. It’s a mode of questioning, exploring, falling apart, doubting, dancing around the real issues, sinking in uncertainty, and indulging in a self-centeredness. We often look hopeless to those around us” (93).



Because Stage 4 involves challenging and threatening questioning and looks almost antithetical to Stages 1 through 3, which the local congregation specializes in, the person involved in Stage 4 seems to have lost his or her faith. To the others involved in the system that embodies Stage 3, the person journeying in Stage 4 seems to have stepped off the cliff of orthodoxy. He or she is encouraged to return to the security of Stage 3.

In a nutshell, the typical local church is inadequate to assist people who are moving beyond Stage 3 into the deeper Stages of personal formation. All the local congregation can do is encourage and tolerate this person. Feeling marginalized, a person journeying through Stage 4 and beyond either remains in the congregation while never truly fitting into its system or leaves the congregation in order to explore his or her burgeoning new faith.

I think the increase of truly faith-filled people leaving local congregations may be more symptomatic of the genuine exploration into the further Stages of faith and not merely born out of anger, hurt and resentment that many accuse them of harboring.

I believe the achievement of the “emerging church” (I use this term very generically) will lie in its ability to become a safe haven for those who are engaged in all of the Stages of their faith journey. This first means not being reactionary to those engaged in Stages 1 through 3 because the modern church has systematized those Stages. Rather, the new congregations, whatever form they may embrace, must be as equally nurturing to those who are moving through the first Stages of faith as the typical local congregation.

But these new communities of faith must also be prepared to appropriately nudge people to press beyond Stage 3 and then assist them in their journey. The authors of The Critical Journey comment about the typical church leader:

“The sad truth is that many of these leaders have not been led through this stage [Stage 4] themselves and have not allowed themselves to question deeply or to become whole. So many of those to whom we often look most naturally for help are inadequate guides for this part of the journey. Those who have been through this stage themselves and may be specially trained in spiritual direction, spiritual formation or pastoral counseling are unique people and are to be sought out” (94).

The community of faith must be a place where its leaders are journeying into the painful territory of Stage 4, where challenging questions are encouraged, where crisis is welcomed, where easy answers are not given, and where people are challenged to wrestle with God so they may emerge like Jacob with the necessary limp for the rest of the journey. It must be a loving community where the vision of the entire journey to Stage 6 – the Life of Love – is upheld as the ultimate goal of every apprentice of Christ.

In other words, the genuine community of faith must become an environment (not a system) that nurtures everyone in whatever Stage they find themselves.

The Critical Journey outlines six general stages in a person’s faith journey: Stage 1: The Recognition of God (an awareness and awe of God) Stage 2: The Life of Discipleship (personal growth through allegiance to a leader or cause) Stage 3: The Productive Life (successfully living and working in God’s service) Stage 4: The Journey Inward (a deep inward journey often initiated by excruciating crisis and questioning) Stage 5: The Journey Outward (a new desire birthed from the new wholeness experienced in Stage 4 to love honestly and live according to God’s purposes) Stage 6: The Life of Love (the consistent embodiment and reflection of God’s love to the world) The authors are quick to mention that the stages are very fluid, that a person can move back and forth between them regularly and that one can experience more than one stage simultaneously (7)…. The Critical Journey outlines six general stages in a person’s faith journey: Stage 1: The Recognition of God (an awareness and awe of God) Stage 2: The Life of Discipleship (personal growth through allegiance to a leader or cause) Stage 3: The Productive Life (successfully living and working in God’s service) Stage 4: The Journey Inward (a deep inward journey often initiated by excruciating crisis and questioning) Stage 5: The Journey Outward (a new desire birthed from the new wholeness experienced in Stage 4 to love honestly and live according to God’s purposes) Stage 6: The Life of Love (the consistent embodiment and reflection of God’s love to the world) The authors are quick to mention that the stages are very fluid, that a person can move back and forth between them regularly and that one can experience more than one stage simultaneously (7)….

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