A Different Way To Talk About The Journey of Faith

I  am not a fan of “seeker / believer” or “churched / unchurched” language. I believe the faith journey cannot be split into a simplistic dichotomy; this reduces and minimizes its beauty and complexity. I’d rather talk about the ocean.

Dan Glover and Claudia Lavy of Deepening Your Effectiveness, Inc., present a compelling ocean metaphor to talk about the discipleship journey. Their six stage diagram is very helpful in understanding the complex set of relationships in the discipleship journey. Here are their six stages. (Note that there are parallels to any company or organization, as well. Businesses have curious, new, and committed customers, too.)

 

The first stage person has no faith experience.

This is what we in the church have called the “seeker” or the “unchurched.” The person stands on the shoreline and can see others ahead in an ocean of faith but has never been in the water.

The second stage person is at the edge of the waters of faith.

This person is curious. She puts her toe in the water. She might attend a worship service or go to a program event with a friend. She has an interest but knows very little about the life of following Jesus.

The third stage person enters the water.

We might call him a new believer. He experiences the cool rush of faith for the first time, and is most of the time eager to go deeper.

The fourth stage person is as deep as they can go while standing.

Our churches in America are full of people in the fourth stage. Some have gone to church for thirty years, studying the BIble and participating in programs, and never left the comfort and security of the furthest sand bar out that allows them to stand in the ocean. They have gone as deep as they can go without leaving their feet.

The fifth stage person can no longer touch bottom.

The fifth stage is the critical decision of surrender. When a believer lets go of the ocean floor to start swimming, it’s exhilarating and exhausting. After a while, often, it’s no longer much fun. But it is necessary.

The sixth person dives below the surface.

In many ways, this is the most dangerous and difficult stage. We no longer have full control over ourselves. Yet it is here where we witness the wonders of the deep.

 

Wide and Deep Work Together To Draw People Deeper.

Visualizing the discipleship journey from its beginnings on land to swimming in the deep helps to understand the purpose of Jesus’ marketing strategy. Art encourages those on land to move toward the water; those who’ve tiptoed in to wade in further; those who are wet to go all in and believe in Jesus; and, perhaps most importantly, those who are as deep as they can go while touching bottom to surrender themselves to God’s power and bring their feet off the floor. It is only by floating in God’s will and purpose can we encounter the wonders of the deep.

I’d leave it all behind to reach for more.
I’m sailing on to your golden shore.
– Phil Wickham

At each level of this journey we engage truth at some level. When we progress forward into and through the water, we discern increasingly more; we realize more secrets. We can’t yet handle the full truth, but we see a little more. Story creates different responses at each level because our souls are in a different place at each level, and the work of the Holy Spirit is unique at each level. This is why story is open, not closed, and creates varied responses.

By creating resonance, the purpose of Wide teaching isn’t just to reach those on the edge of the water, outside the community of faith. Effective communication targets people at each step of the diagram with unique messages for the purpose of encouraging them to become immersed.

Come on in, boys, the water’s fine!
– Delmar O’Donnell

 

Jesus used two distinct methods because he understood the complexity of the faith journey. 

We can define the crowds roughly as stages one and two, and disciples as stages three through six. For those at each stage he had the same goal: to move people deeper. Jesus’ goal in all of his teaching, including his use of parables and his clear directives, is to move people toward greater discipleship. He wants us to deliver the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 13:11) This is a lifelong journey.

But this doesn’t mean that as we go deeper, the stories of Wide teaching cease to be important. Instead, as we begin to understand Jesus’ secrets, the depths of the metaphors in Jesus’ parables yield even more.

As Jesus tells the disciples, “for those who have will receive more…”

Consider Matthew 13 some more. Shortly after his stated desire to deliver God’s secrets to us, Jesus teaches the legal experts – those versed in the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Again, he teaches in parables. Some may have become disciples, for he asks them if they understand his teaching, and they say yes, and he replies, “Every legal expert who has been trained as a disciple for the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings old and new things out of their treasure chest.” The legal experts had a special advantage in that they could discern the wisdom of Jesus’ images using their knowledge of the Law; yet, Jesus’ words were different. They were new treasures that sat with old treasures.

Discipleship is not a one-time experience where we move from complete mystery to complete understanding, where stories cease to capture us and we only need clear teaching. Discipleship is a lifetime journey of gradual Holy Spirit revelation and greater discernment of wisdom.

Amazingly, at the end of an intense, three-year journey with Jesus, the disciples were still not ready for the whole truth (John 16:12).

 

We Never Stop Needing Wide Teaching.

For crowds and disciples alike, stories offer a means to experience the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Crowds hear the secrets with intrigue and mystery; they are called to follow Christ and learn their meaning. Disciples hear the secrets with a combination of intrigue and understanding; likewise, they are called to continue following and continue learning.

Have you gone to the sea’s sources,
walked in the chamber of the deep?
– Job 38:16

JM Logo 250As I noted at the beginning of the series, the Scriptures say that the reason for their amazement was that he taught them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts. In other words, their legal experts had no authority in their teaching style. It was rooted in the Law but without life. Jesus spoke in parable, putting wisdom in the evocative form of a story, and garnered their attention. Everyone resonates with story. No matter how deep we are, we never cease needing art to reveal truth, because in this life, we never full arrive to the golden shore.

While Glover and Lavy’s ocean image is beautiful, the problem is that most people never experience the wonders of the deep.

 

This is part 10 of a 12-part series, Jesus Marketer.

Next, Part 11: Jesus’ Conversion Formula, Part 1

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).

2 Comments on “A Different Way To Talk About The Journey of Faith”

  1. Glover and Levy’s stages of faith development are basically a restatement of an old model used for making a decision. It’s been used by rehabs and life coaches for years. A person looks in a mirror and says I’m overweight. Then the person thinks about exercising. Eventually a person starts to look at gyms in their area. When they get used to looking at gym ads they may visit one. The stages continue until the person actually begins exercising regularly. It may take many starts and stops before one is ready and willing to commit. Glover and Levy have attached a metaphor to it and applied it to faith and got a book deal. Wish I had thought of it first.

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