Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Stuck in the Affiliative Stage: A Recipe for Disaster

There are certain questions conservative Christians don't like to be asked -- especially by our kids.

"How do we know God created the earth?"

"The Bible says so."

"How do we know we can trust the Bible?"

"God wrote it."

"How do we know God wrote it?"

"Uh...stop asking those kinds of questions."

Welcome to the third stage of faith development: the inquisitive stage. This is the part that makes Christian parents really nervous. In fact, as I mentioned in my post yesterday, there are families and churches who discourage children from entering into this stage. They'll use manipulation, coercion and shaming tactics to get kids to simply accept what has always been taught without thinking.

One reason why it's so dangerous to discourage your children from fully entering into the inquisitive stage of faith development is that it may lead them to abort their faith altogether. After all, a faith that cannot be questioned is not a faith worth having.

Another reason (and probably far more prevalent) is that their faith development may be stunted, and they may remain in the affiliative stage forever. I get to travel around and see churches of all different shapes and sizes, different denominations, different strategies. And one common theme is a reluctance to try something new and different. Certainly, you could chalk that up to this weird aversion humans have to change in any forum.

But I wonder if that's just something we hide behind. After all, people my generation and younger are actually somewhat fond of change. We expect it. If things don't change periodically, something must be wrong. Maybe we're not as afraid of change as we like to tell people. Maybe we're stuck in the affiliative stage of faith development.

See, people who are in that second stage believe what they believe, value what they value and do what they do because they belong to a group of people who believe, value and do those things. Anything different brings about a certain level of anxiety. Can I call myself a Baptist/Methodist/Church of Christ/etc. if I don't do the same things everyone else in that group does?

Q: "How do you know you're a Christian?"

A: "I believe, value and do the same things as all the other Christians."

Welcome to the affiliative stage. Welcome to a problem in churches -- a problem of epidemic proportions. Welcome to a recipe for disaster.