Hillsong’s Marty Sampson has shaken up the Pentecostal and Evangelical worlds by declaring on social media his faith is on shaky ground.

This is familiar territory for many of us, especially if we are LGBTI from that background. Some years back, I came across an incredibly insightful article ‘Stages of Faith – A Map for the Christian Journey’ which gave me a deeper understanding and reflected my own journey in many ways. Over the years I’ve shared it many others, both LGBTI and straight, who had a similar reaction.

When we hit ‘the wall’, have a faith crisis or experience ‘the dark night of the soul’ (stage four), people usually do one of three things. Some retreat back to a simplistic, neatly packaged, black and white faith, some reject their previous faith or turn on it, whilst others manage to push through and their faith evolves. If one evolves they are happy to live with ambiguity, doubts and live in the mystery. As Nobel Prize winner, Richard Feynman, once said ‘I’d rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned’

The First Three Stages: The External Journey

Stage 1 “is the discovery and recognition of God. Accepting the reality of God can begin while one is young, or it can occur later through a religious experience or conversion. This conversion can be instantaneous or can occur over a long period of time

Stage 2 is “a time of learning and belonging” labeled “the life of discipleship”. It primarily involves learning in a community setting from spiritual leaders or religious writings. “Now, we stumble upon a set of ideas, a belief system or a group of people who show us the light and answer our questions. It is such a big relief and feels so safe and secure – like a haven in a storm. And for now, that is what we need.”

Stage 3 is “the productive life” and involves consciously serving God through one’s spiritual gifts. The truths learned at stage 2 find an outlet in service at stage 3. 

Stage Four: The Journey Inward

Stage 4 is “the journey inward” – “a deep and very personal inward journey” that “almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it”. In this stage, our former views of God are radically challenged. The disruption can be so great that we feel like we are losing our faith or betraying loyalties.

The Journey Outward Again: Stage Five and Stage Six

Stage 5 is “the journey outward” where our “focus is outward, but from a new, grounded center of ourselves”. At this stage, “we surrender to God’s will to fully direct our lives, but with our eyes wide open, aware but unafraid of the consequences” . We possess a new-found confidence that God loves us fully, just as we are. “There is a human tendency to think that if God really knew us God would not love us… At stage 5 we grow into the full awareness that God truly loves us even though we are never fully whole. God loves us in our humanness”

Stage 6 is “the life of love” where God’s love is demonstrated through us “to others in the world more clearly and consistently than we ever thought possible”. By losing ourselves, we find ourselves. God’s presence is experienced in all relationships.

Most, if not all, contemporary evangelical models of growth climax at stage 3. For example, the “Purpose Drive Church” model assumes that a person is spiritually mature when they are part of the “committed core” – serving in and through the church according to their gifts.

But it is entirely possible (and indeed, quite probable) that many people minister for selfish reasons. Church activity is not an indicator of maturity. Busyness in church activities does not automatically lead to spiritual growth.

The church primarily focuses on stages 1 through 3 because the contemporary church is best equipped for these stages.

If you’d like to know more you can read the entire article, ‘Stages of Faith – A Map for the Christian Journey’ PDF HERE.