“At TFCA, there is the lack of a systematic, easily understood and approachable means of discipleship in a large-church setting . . .”
-Summary statement of REVEAL survey done at TFCA in December, 2008
This sentence, written by a great committee at TFCA that was summarizing a parish-survey we took in the winter of 2008- 09, has been a catalyst for what we have been doing in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship for over a year. By first and foremost seeking to understand how God sanctifies, we have endeavored to create an easily understood and approachable means of discipleship here for our parish. We have drafted two particular filters to understand how God works, and this fall will begin to integrate those filters in the ministries we offer.
In July we introduced one of the filters, the Spiritual Life- Cycle or Stages of Faith, through our Thursday evening Hungry For God program. We looked at our four stages of faith through the lives of specific saints; you can listen to those presentations at www.thefallschurch.org/hungryforgod. The stages are represented as follows.
Child: By child we mean someone exploring Jesus and their relationship to Him, working through questions, uncertainties, and issues of who He is and what that means to them. Someone is a child into the early days of giving their life to Him. They could be a child for a long time, i.e., the process from conception to delivery can take a long time.
Youth: By youth we mean someone who has given their life to Jesus and is learning how to know and walk with Him every day. They are taking on new habits, relationships, and understanding. Their lives are marked by newness, energy, and change.
Adult: By adult we mean someone who has known Jesus for a time and has learned to depend on Him every day. Jesus is not just their Savior, but he is also Lord over their time, finances, schedule, relationships, etc. They have weathered some difficulties in their lives through dependence on Him, and have a good and growing sense of how to honor Him with their vocation (not that those vocations don’t change as we age).
Elder: By elder we mean someone who has walked with God for a long season and Jesus is simply their everything. They are wholly surrendered to the Lord and live a life marked by humility and love. Elders are concerned and utterly committed to the next generation; they are radically other-centered.
The goal of these stages, and this understanding, is to partner with God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in producing the life of Jesus in us for the sake of us, others, and to His glory.
I’d like to address a few of the questions I’ve received about the stages. These are caveats significant and necessary for understanding just what we mean.
Do these stages just happen as I age, i.e., am I an elder just because I’m over 60?
Absolutely not; these stages are a result of the Spirit’s work and your response and obedience. You will age physically; it remains to be seen if you will grow and deepen with Jesus (though He is dramatically committed to that happening). This physical metaphor is a useful and Biblical one to give us a picture of what our Spiritual development should look like. All four stages are referenced in 1John 2:12-14. The metaphor breaks down if we assume we will grow closer to Jesus just by getting out of bed. In that sense, you can be a very mature teenager—and we have some teens like this at TFC.
What is the most important thing I can do to grow?
Clearly, simply, and most profoundly the most significant thing you can do to grow and become more like Jesus is to spend time with God by praying and studying the Bible. This is the most significant thing you can do whatever your stage of faith, and therefore it is a fundamental skill to develop early.
Here at TFC we have believed that for years, but wrestling with these stages has sharpened our focus for the coming year. We are going to offer a class on meeting with God two different times this year so people can learn, relearn, or try new ways to meet with God. We hope lots of you will join us for those times, the first of which I will teach for four weeks in November.
Why the capital ‘S’?
The term Spiritual Formation has arisen in the church, and in the world at large, over the past several years and can mean different things to different people. The idea of formation and transformation is Biblical (see Romans 12), and the classic term used in church history would have been Sanctification. This work of Sanctification is the Holy Spirit’s work. Whenever we use the term Spiritual Formation, we are talking about the work of the Holy Spirit. We want to be very clear about just who is making this happen.
Is this process formulaic?
Absolutely not; I’ve referred to some of our work this year as our systematic attempt to describe an organic process. God is working uniquely with each of us because we are complex, wondrous creations. Our individualities are striking. That said, we are all created in His image, and there are some definite themes of how God is at work in each of us. The ways He matures and deepens us are personalized, but the fruit we see in these stages is similar.