It remains a fundamental document in my spiritual formation library: pastor and blogger David Terpstra’s article at Christianity Today, entitled “Exit Stage Left: Why the Spiritually Mature are Leaving the Church.”
It was my introduction to Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich’s The Critical Journey – to which Terpstra gave some review:
Hagberg and Guelich propose that most spiritual journeys tend to move in six distinct stages. The first three are easy to see and hard to argue with: (1) Recognition of God, (2) The Life of Discipleship, and (3) The Productive Life. Certainly, after most people become followers of Christ (stage 1) they begin to absorb as much content (stage 2) as possible. Then sometime later they begin to serve (stage 3). And since the authors propose that the stages are cumulative, people of faith continue to be good at these stages over the long haul. I believe these are the three stages of faith where our churches excel and where most church leadership energy is expended.
But Hagberg and Guelich suggest there are still three stages to go, and it is the fourth I want to focus on. The fourth stage is called “The Journey Inward.” The authors suggest that at some point our faith shifts focus from the externals of discipleship and service and begins to become internalized. We begin to redefine our impressions of the faith and to some degree even our theology as we mature.
Invaluable as that introduction was, there’s Terpstra’s further connection of Hagberg and Guelich’s work with the rise of the rise of those demographic groupings which some call the religious “Nones” and “Dones.” In the early stages, he notes, the frustrated and disappointed can make all sorts of adjustments which the current system of ministry can accommodate: going to another church, becoming involved in mission projects (overseas and domestic), etc. However (and, here, he admits he’s speaking in generalities), “[most] churches do not specialize in people who have been following Christ for years and who are deeply questioning and reexamining their beliefs.” For these (in the latter, more interior stages of faith), “attempts to continue to grow in [traditional] discipleship and service eventually wear out… Many become so disillusioned they leave the church (physically or at least metaphorically by ‘checking out’).”
I’ll admit, his closing questions still captivate me:
But how do we walk alongside those on the Journey Inward?
What do we do when someone hits the spiritual “Wall”?
What happens when we as leaders reach that place?
I believe it is this moment in our journey when we need the church most; so what’s a local church to do?
I’ve acknowledged elsewhere the ways that Terpstra’s article has fueled me in my work. It provided a basis for my practicum work in spiritual formation studies at Garrett Evangelical Seminary. It is, as well, a foundation of that Zoe-Life “Exploration” which is the “THE ART OF PILGRIMAGE: AFFIRMATIONS & PROVISIONS FOR THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY”—and the basis of a one-day retreat/”time apart” we will be offering twice in February:
As you are interested in getting more information or in registering, you can click on either of the links above. (Of course, as you are unable to come our way, we’re ever ready to discuss the ways we can bring this [or other explorations/offerings] your way! [Feel free to drop us a line by clicking here.])