Millions of stories could fill an entire library about people’s spiritual growth. Each story is as unique as a snowflake. The Bible is a collection of stories of people who have gone before us and had encounters with God. We see patterns and similarities in the stories and create formulas. How can I have the same experiences they did? We define a formula and hope the same things happen to us, but they don’t. It’s different. That’s not a bad thing. If each story in the Bible is unique, shouldn’t we expect our experiences to be unique as well? How does spiritual growth work then?
It’s easier for a minister if people can describe their spiritual experiences in clearly defined concrete steps, preferably in line with their own theological traditions. But spiritual experiences won’t fit into nicely defined categories. Spiritual growth is not a linear process. I used to think it was, but now I’m moving away from this thinking about spiritual growth as a model of fixed stages.
Fixed or Flexible?
In a fixed model, people pass through each growth stage in the same order. In my evangelical background, stages included salvation experience, baptism, Lordship surrender, obedience to God and the church. There are many models for fixed stages and many definitions, depending on your spiritual heritage.
But what if spiritual growth happens in a flexible model. You’re in a phase for a while, then you may circle back at a later time. What if the spiritual journey is more cyclical, like a spiral?
In a fixed model, you have a list of tasks to complete. This creates an expectation that once you complete a stage, you are done with that process. But spiritual growth continues for a lifetime; you never stop the process. However, a flexible model lets you circle back and go deeper as the Lord guides you. There is no set time frame for being in a phase. There is no correct order. This solves the problem that many people experience when they don’t fit predefined stages.
Spiritual growth is a flexible, life-long process. In other words, not everyone goes through the same stages in the same order or in the same time frame.
What if spiritual growth is supposed to be unique? Like when you ask a couple, how did you meet, you get a unique story each time.
Then I wonder, what would the flexible phases be? At the risk of sounding like I’m offering a formula, I offer four possible phases for spiritual growth. They can overlap and be repeated and have depth to each one. One can go through them for a lifetime. I offer this up as a suggestion almost in the form of a question. I am thinking in the most general terms, like if you pulled back to take a picture from a panoramic point of view.
Four Phases of Spiritual Growth
- Discovery of truth
- Connection to spirit
- Experience of Love
- Intimacy in Relationships
Growth happens in seasons. For a time, you are searching for and discovering truth, then that season fades and it seems like you are in another phase perhaps developing relationships. You can develop one phase and neglect the others. The human spirit is radiant and can be nurtured and developed or ignored and neglected. Some people are good at seeking truth but are weak at love, especially self love. All of the phases are important. It doesn’t happen all at the same time but each phase transforms you.
The idea is not to develop just one area. Some have well developed doctrine, which is the truth category, but are weak in relationships. A Christian community can be healthy or toxic in relationships despite excellent theology. And is best when it is a learning community designed to help people on a spiritual journey in all four areas.
I’m exploring fresh ideas. What do you think?
Join me next week, I will explore the idea of resilience.