Missional Monday

In the book The Critical Journey, (Sheffield, 2004) Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich propose a stage theory for the Christian journey. It’s a fascinating read and, I believe, is very useful as we think about our Christian life as a journey of faith. Here’s a quick summary of the stages:

  1. Recognition of God: God is big, I am little. God is wonderful, I’m a dope.
  2. The Life of Discipleship: I find help and identity through a significant leader or mentor.
  3. The Productive Life: I can do things for God and there is fulfillment in that.
  4. The Journey Inward: I am wrestling with doubts and my own inner life.
  5. THE WALL – A time of significant crisis that can only be resolved as I face it directly.

  6. The Journey Outward: I am humbled and have a sense of being loved deeply by God. I can now reach out to others in a new way.
  7. The Life of Love: All that I do–inwardly and outwardly–is nested in God’s love.

These stages might be sequential, but people will move back and forth through the stages.

There isn’t a lot of room in the American church for people in stages 4-6. Strugglers, doubters and lovers don’t necessarily make good workers. Churches need people to do things. There are programs to run and volunteer positions to fill. If you want a lot of good attenders and workers, stages 1-3 are good targets.
(Mike McNichols)

We talked about exile last week.

Perhaps the purpose of exile is to transform us into people who have been delivered of our own sufficiency to the point of realizing our weakness. Maybe we are being prepared to function in a way that ministry among the body is mutual so that we can also learn from and receive from the least among us.

The 4th stage and the wall describe the experience of exile. This is the missional threshold – the point in our journey that determines whether we will remain consumers of religious goods and services or allow ourselves to be transformed into missional agents of God’s love and redemption to the world.

9 thoughts on “Missional Monday

  1. I think to some extent it is what the Sandford’s would call “lack of basic trust” and also “performance orientation” that keeps many stuck as religious consumers and religious “do”ers. We often are not taught or do not accept that God loves us exactly the same when we struggle and doubt and even when we sin, just as much as when we love him back for all the right reasons. This is the stumbling block that Jesus is for those who perform in order to receive God’s love. Also, we often (until we hit the wall) do not believe there is anything in us that needs to be transformed. And equally as often, we think we can transform ourselves rather than needing the transformation to come from God.

  2. Looking at my own journey, I would have said I hit that wall and got to the later stages at a couple of different points in my life (late 20’s, mid 30’s), but now I find myself there again in a more radical way that definitely feels like exile. In the earlier episodes, there was some resource connected to part of the church as I knew it (the language of co-dependence, charismatic renewal) that helped bridge the way over the wall. I remember finding such relief in finding people who spoke those languages and had been a ways further down those roads.

    In this season, I have yet to share my struggles with someone in the church who “gets” it (though I’ll admit I don’t do it very often). The resources I have found are scattered exiles (like yourself), who are pointing to something I have yet to experience in a face-to-face context. From what I’ve observed of the conversation, most of us are doing a lot more seeking than finding right now.

    This time the wall feels a lot more threatening, the experience of exile much more real. I can only hope that I come out of this prepared to walk alongside people struggling through this kind of exile. The only kind of church I want to be part of is one where there is room for “strugglers, doubters and lovers.”

  3. Stage 6 looks to me to be the bull’s eye.

    When I can truly live in/out of the love of the Son who is the Beloved of the Father (Jn. 15:9ff), then my life and being will have more than adequate room for those in stages 1-5.

    That is my desire and prayer.


  4. Grace, you wrote;

    Perhaps the purpose of exile is to transform us into people who have been delivered of our own sufficiency to the point of realizing our weakness. Maybe we are being prepared to function in a way that ministry among the body is mutual so that we can also learn from and receive from the least among us.

    I feel in my bones that that is exactly right.


  5. hey grace, this was one of my favorite, most helpful grids that helped describe mine and so many other’s spiritual journies. so many dance around the wall, doing everything they can to not go through it, but those who have gone through, entered into the lonely and scary places of stage 4 know the power & healing that comes out of it & wouldn’t trade it for anything. what we need for stage 4 & 5 are really good guides, faithful friends who “get it.” i always tell people that all of the money i spent on seminary was worth it for this little book and this helpful model that described the spiritual journey so well. i am sure it never made it to the mainstream because churches need people stuck in stages 2 & 3 to keep them running….

  6. Wow, you are on streak. No matter what reasons cause you to leave level 3, you are inevitably going to leave many relationships behind. As I was just reminded by a psychologist and trauma specialist most people can function in this world because they focus on what is right in front of them. Most people need the tangible, concrete things of this world, if you present too many possibilities beyond their control their psyche can not survive. So when you are at the point of experiencing the next levels and you experience the dark night you are letting go of yourself/ your ego to find a different plain of existence, one where you are not the center of the universe. Yikes! That would explain why I now feel strong enough to stand for a truly unpopular viewpoint that all people are valued despite their actions. Can’t wait to read what’s up next.

  7. inheritor,
    So true. Perhaps the wall is where we reach the limit of our self-transformation.

    Great thoughts. Previous experiences of the wall were more like hurdles in comparison to this kind of exile. Your comment reminds me of Barb’s (former leader) post from today describing the scattering of believers.

    Can we fully attain stage 6? Perhaps not, but it is certainly a worthy goal.

    I have questioned trading in the certainty and confidence of of stages 1-3 for the insecurity and doubt of stage 4. It seems a necessary part of the journey.

    Not the center of the universe?! Yikes for sure.

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