Seasons of Faith

by Greg Wiens

Is light a wave or a particle? The answer according to quantum physics is yes!  It is both, which is an apparent paradox. So much of life in Christ is a yes to apparent paradoxes. It is what JI Packard* called an antinomy. It isn’t just a paradox which is a juxtaposition of words that present opposing views, it is actually opposites reconciled from God’s perspective. 

Is faith developed organically or in stages?  I would posit, yes!  Let me explain. 

The concept behind the seasons of faith development goes back to the scriptures and is woven throughout the history of the church and her thinkers. In Romans 14, Paul makes the case that there are those who are stronger in their faith, and these need to bear with those who are weaker. Here he clearly distinguishes between degrees of faith development in the body of Christ in Rome. In 2 Corinthians, Paul alludes to the immature believers as babes, surely implying that there were some attributes that put them in one category of faith development rather than another. Clearly, Paul’s letters to the churches don’t divide faith development into clearly distinguishable categories and I believe we do an injustice to the scriptures when we do so.  

Faith does grow and mature, but not in stair step or locked categories. I think it is important to realize most westerners have been educated in Euclidean geometry which assumes ‘bounded set’ theory and therefore we think in delineated sets. This simply means that if you have a collection of oranges and apples, you can divide them into one of two sets, and either you are in one set or another. The same can be said of odd and even numbers, here we clearly have separate sets for these numbers and a number is either in one or the other set. We can have two sets that share the same number, however, that number is identified initially as in both sets.   

The church has adopted this philosophy completely. Either you are a member or not. You are an Elder or not. You are saved or not. You are on staff or not. You are a pastor or not. You have a quiet time or not. You are memorizing scripture or not. You are filled with the Spirit or not. You are using your gifts or not. You are discipling or not. We have many bounded sets within the church because it has expedited our measuring a person’s (or church’s) commitment, engagement, or spiritual walk. 

However fuzzy logic, which is the logic that underlies much of learning software and variable speed devices is built upon ‘centered set’ thinking. Meaning that what is important is not whether something is in one set or another, what really is important to measure is what direction or toward what center are you headed. We seek to understand and measure not whether something is inside a set or not, but is it becoming more of something or less of something. In other words, we are more concerned about where it is headed and to what degree and speed it is heading there.

So, back to considering an apple, the bounded set thinker says it is either an apple or not.  Whereas the center set thinker asks whether it is becoming more or less of an apple. This is very helpful when I begin to eat the apple a bite at a time. Or when it is growing from a blossom to an apple ready to be picked. The challenge to a bounded set thinker is at what point does the blossom become an apple? Or, at what point does it cease to be an apple as I eat it? This is no problem to a center set thinker as we can talk about how the apple is becoming less of an apple as I eat it. We can talk about degrees or ‘appleness’ and live comfortably with these nuances of states.

For me, center set theory is the mathematical model spiritual growth should be built upon.  The question is not whether you are a member or not, but in what direction are you headed. Not whether you are an Elder or not, but are you becoming more or less of one.  The same can be said of using your gifts, reading the scripture, discipling another, walking in the Spirit, etc. I even think we can talk about this regarding salvation. I leave that totally up to our Lord because I do believe there is a point in the faith awareness and embodiment, where faith is real. Too often it is defined by when one prays a prayer rather than what only our Lord knows. We should be concerned with the direction one is headed, toward Christ or away from Christ…regardless of what labels we may place on them.

Understanding this mathematical mindset, it is helpful to look at the history of the church in understanding faith development. St. John of the Cross wrote 600 years ago about 6 or 7 stages of faith development. Since that time countless writers and thinkers have put faith into various categories and most with a bounded set mindset.   

I am currently working on an instrument to assess one’s spiritual maturity with North Point Community Church. In preparation to work on this instrument, I read many authors who have thought deeply on this subject like Dallas Willard, AW Tozer, C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, and NT Wright to name a few. I find that most agree with the organic concept of spiritual growth and relational concept of discipleship. But most also see various seasons of growth in a Christian’s life which are different.  

Most don’t see these seasons as only linear and one-way directional. Most would have resisted putting individuals in bounded sets. However, I am uncomfortable with some of the authors during the last four decades who have landed on a firm bounded set theory concerning discipling or spiritual growth. These authors place people in clearly bounded sets that are behaviorally identified. I see this as contrary to scripture and my study of Christians these past six decades.

In developing the six stages for our instrument**, we don’t see these stages as linear or one-way directional. Rather for us, these stages of faith development are stages of heart and mind direction. We have attempted to address the directional aspects of faith development. One may find a home in one stage but visit other stages in one direction or another continually. One may also be in entirely different stages depending on which of the 19 subscales are being evaluated. 

The instrument is intended to only be a snapshot now and would be helpful to take annually to assess in what direction am I headed? It would be inappropriate for the results of the instrument to be used to classify an individual or to label them by one season. It is intended to help an individual understand where they can head in developing their faith.  And this is best done in the loving relationship of another who can serve as a healthy mirror and guide in going there.  

*How Both Biblical Truths Coexist in God’s Grace, by J. I. Packer, 1961

**Click here for a complete description of these six stages.

Keeping the Faith

by Greg Wiens

One of the aspects of growing older is that things that confused or frustrated me in my earlier life often become clear. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it usually does. One of the most frustrating times in my life, without exception, was the 14 years I spent starting a church in Orlando. I was 32 and had:

  • an engineering degree and experience with General Motors,
  • I had worked on my MBA and understood leadership,
  • I had a seminary degree and experience on a good church staff in a large church, and lastly
  • I had taken a medium sized church and grown it dramatically as well as daughtered a successful new church from it.

With these kinds of credentials, I felt I was the best spiritual gift God could give the Northeast suburbs of Orlando. Little did I know that God had so much more in mind than simply planting another mega-church there. Hundreds of lives were changed for eternity during the next fourteen years, and God did some amazing things. However, the church never grew beyond 200, and I felt like a failure. No matter how much prayer, Bible study, spiritual discipline, strategic planning, disciple-making, emotional processing, goal setting, leadership development, or systems analysis I practiced, people came, and people went.

I have never tried so hard to accomplish anything in my life. We struggled financially, emotionally, and finally, I had no energy left. It seemed like no matter how much of myself or pleading with God I put into the church, we never gained momentum.

So I resorted to going back to school because I had learned the more effort you put in, the better grades you get. And I earned my Ph.D. in Psychometrics. I ended up on faculty at the University of Central Florida and loved it. My students and fellow faculty loved me as well. I thought I had found my niche. But then, new leadership came into the college, and all the non-tenured faculty were let go. So again, I found myself a failure. 

Looking backward, I can now see what I couldn’t see at the time. I was going through a well-worn path of spiritual growth. God’s caring hand, which had built me up carefully in the disciplines of my earlier faith was tearing down all that I valued. I had read about spiritual stages of growth and leadership1 before this, but until you experience them, it is only head knowledge. 

God wanted to do something much deeper in my life. Early on, he wanted to teach me disciplines, boundaries, and principles to live by; he was building the container of my life2. But as I entered the second half of my life, God wanted to build an inner life with which to fill the container. I never “lost” my faith in God; throughout the entire time, I was trying to turn toward my Heavenly Father. But to be very honest, at times, he didn’t seem to be responding in a manner I appreciated. I remember telling a friend that I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall which really hurt, and the brick wall was God. I couldn’t get over it or go around it. I had to sit and be faithful in the little things.

So, I learned to slowly trust in him when things didn’t go the way I wanted. I noticed several attitudes and behaviors inside of me that surprised me. I read God’s word and prayed differently. I learned to be faithful in the little things and not worry about the big things. I finally became content in my life of obscurity. Eventually, I experienced what Willard identifies as the four stages of brokenness4:

  1. Surrender (the situation to God)
  2. Abandonment (my whole life to God)
  3. Contentment (experiencing the peace of God)
  4. Participation (involved in the work of God, often much different than before)

This was over 20 years ago, and today I am amazed at God’s grace through this whole process. What I now know is that there are several stages of spiritual growth which have been identified throughout the ages, but every generation or individual must learn and experience them to understand them.

In fact, the earlier stages have little appreciation for individuals in the latter stages and judge them as naïve, simple, or “checked out.” However, the later stages can look back at those in the earlier stages with grace and understanding. Ironically, the latter stages can graciously look at those in the earlier stages with compassion, but not the other way around. I judged those in later stages when I was young in my faith, and I now experience it from those still caged in earlier stages.

Simply stated, we spend a lot of effort working on our security in the first half of our lives, spiritually and otherwise. We work hard to make ourselves spiritually sound and people of significance. Then through being broken, we discover that this isn’t enough. Only through being totally exasperated and resigning our expectations and control do we enter the second half, where we get to experience God’s grace in our depths for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, far too many people get caged in the first half, where performance and production reign. As a result, they don’t experience the true grace and freedom found through being broken and restored.

Some describe spiritual development as simply two halves of life, while others identify 4, 5, 6, or 7 stages of spiritual development. Next week I will share how my six stages of spiritual growth fit into these two halves of our faith life.   See you then.

References:

1 The Critical Journey of Faith by Guelich & Hagberg

2 The Making of a Leader by Bobby Clinton

3 Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

4 Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard (my paraphrase of his writings in Chapter 8)

Avoiding Average

by Greg Wiens

I am finishing a book that has really engaged me from a variety of perspectives; the name is The End of Average, by Todd Rose. This book is a must for every parent, educator, assessor, leader, and friend. So don’t pass go without reading this book. It is a must.

This book describes the strategy I have had to learn and develop in my life the hard way. Todd is a statistician, like me. Ironically, he dropped out of high school and struggled with learning until he learned a lot about his uniquenesses. The book’s premise is that we are conditioned to compare ourselves with the average in every area of life (including the church). We have glorified this concept of average to such an extent that we think something is wrong if we are below average in anything!

NO ONE IS AVERAGE

Averages are meaningless as far as describing reality is concerned. In the graduate statistic classes, I taught at the University of Central Florida, I would illustrate this with my students by stating the average American has one testicle and one breast. But it is very difficult to find someone that matches that description. And that is true of averages. Most often, they don’t describe reality. NO ONE IS AVERAGE. To combat “averagarianism,” one has to establish a concept of individuality. In other words, we are all unique individuals. And I believe created by God that way!

There are three conditions for individuality: Jagged, Context, and Pathways. These three clearly describe why I do assessments the way I do. First, I believe everyone is “Fearfully and Wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.14). I have done thousands of assessments, and every one of those individuals was exceptional in some unique ways.

Basically, Jagged means that one cannot adequately describe a variable such as intelligence, talent, character, or most things of significance in life by a single number. I understand we do this in all of life. But when we do, we violate the individual’s uniqueness and actually lose accuracy. Just because you finish a test quicker than another, does that really mean you are intelligent? No. Jagged means we are fast at some things and slow at other things. Most things in life are jagged in their nature.

Context means we are all different in different contexts. In some contexts, I act one way, and in others, I act differently. This is true for most of us. So not only are most concepts jagged, but most contexts cause us to respond according to what is happening around us. For instance, I usually am not a detailed person, but I can become compulsively fixated on details when I am in the midst of elaborate statistical problems. Context is important.

Pathways means we all learn through ways that will be unique to our jaggedness and consistent with our context. Of course, this doesn’t imply that there are as many pathways as people. Instead, there are multiple ways people learn, process information, grow and/or change.

Even babies now are known to learn to crawl much differently from each other. Even 15 years ago, babies were compared to averages or standard milestones of developmental crawling. If a baby didn’t meet a specific milestone by a certain age or did it in a completely different method, the parents were often told something may be wrong with the child. Today we are much smarter. There are at least 25 different ways children learn to crawl, and some never crawl at all, with no related problems.

So how do followers of Christ grow? I think we must keep the Jagged, Context, and Pathways criteria in mind as “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect* in Christ.” (Colossians 1.28)

Instruments Developed (or currently developing):

by Greg Wiens

  • TrueWiring suite of instruments (DISC, Motivators, EQ & Conflict Profile)
  • Spiritual Gifts Inventory
  • Church LifeCycle–Five Stages of development and decline
  • 360 Discipleship Assessment for ECO-Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians
  • Flourishing Church Assessment for ECO-Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians
  • Mission Gap Assessment Lite for World Vision & Healthy Growing Leaders
  • Mission Gap Assessment (MGA) for World Vision & Healthy Growing Leaders
  • Becoming a Level 5 Multiplying Church (B5) for Exponential
  • Becoming a DiscipleMaker (DM5) for Exponential & Discipleship.org
  • HeroMaker (HM5) for Exponential and Dave Ferguson/Warren Byrd
  • Multiplier (M5) for Exponential
  • Financial Health Assessment Lite for Indiana Ministries & Healthy Growing Leaders
  • Financial Health Assessment Full for Indiana Ministries, Servant Solutions & Healthy Growing Leaders
  • Unhindered (Book Version) Blessing Ranch
  • Unhindered (Clinical Version)
  • Christian Character Index (CCI) Syversen Foundation
  • Christian Character Index 360 (CCI) Syversen Foundation
  • Spiritual Formation Assessment (SFA) Northpoint Church
  • Parrish Health Indicator (PHI) Divine Renovation
  • Spiritual Pathway Indicator (SPI) RockRMS

Seeing and believing by Seth Godin

by Greg Wiens

This post by Seth Godin expresses my view of life and learning.  Mary Kay and I simply don’t watch TV and limit our time “Surfing” the internet.  There isn’t enough time to do all we want to do and to read all we want to read and to learn all we want to learn.  We have no time for TV and limited time for internet surfing. We have no cable we do have broadband; but understand its value and use.  Seth explains it better:

Seeing and believing

It turns out that the more you watch TV, the more you believe that the world is dangerous. It turns out TV watchers believe that anastonishing 5% (!) of the population works in law enforcement. And it turns out that the more you watch TV the less optimistic you become. Cultivation theory helps us understand the enormous power that TV immersion has.

Given the overwhelming power of interaction, I’m confident that we’ll discover that internet exposure, particularly to linkbait headlines, comments and invective, will also change what people believe about the world around them.

It’s hopeful to imagine that we can change these outcomes by changing the inputs. Of course, the hard part is choosing to do so.

Every time I see a toddler in a stroller with an internet device in hand, I shudder.

If we want a better future, it helps to be able to see the world as it is.

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