As soon as you mention these irreversibly tranquilising words you can pretty much kiss your listenership goodbye as everybody sails off into the shiny land of the iPhone.
Luckily, I went to the effort of making my own testimony colourful, with sprinkles of sinful activity here and there; a few drunken vomits, a couple of nudey stories and general attempts at being rock 'n' roll in the full knowledge that one day, for the glory of God, I would be telling people about my spiritual journey, and Heaven help me if it was boring. Anything but that.
But I did, in fact, grow up in church. We haven't had the easiest relationship. At times we've not understood each other at all. At other times it's seemed like we've tolerated each other's existence but couldn't for the life of us stand being in the same room. Sometimes it seems we've given each other the silent treatment until we see the other change.
But for all our dysfunction, we've somehow stayed together.
And to me that is something to celebrate, because I get sick of almost everything – people, books, clothes, music and even, unbelievably, Pokemon Blue. One time I even got sick of myself but then I read one of my previous articles and remembered just how
desperate for attention funny and clever and unbelievably profound I was.
But church, in a very real sense, has saved my faith. And that is something even more worthy of celebration, because faith seems so surprisingly fragile at times for something that is so powerful and life ordering.
Stages of Faith
In 1981, James Fowler dropped his monumental work "Stages of Faith" and provided the world with a way of understanding the dynamics of faith development over a human lifetime. The stage change that seems to describe the change that most young adults experience is a move from Stage 3 to Stage 4 faith.
Stage 3 faith could be explained in terms of viewing the world as a closed system. Like a fish in a tank of water, people at Stage 3 faith have formed a view of the world that is assumed as true to reality. They know what's right, what's wrong, who's in, who's out, what's sinful, and what is righteous and operate from this very black and white lens.
At Stage 3, anything that disrupts the system is seen as a threat to meaning, often resulting in the drawing of battle lines and giving labels to those outside of the circle of agreement. This stage typically has its glory days in adolescence, but can be where people stay for the duration of their lives.
Most of the time, though, as young adulthood hits, people will begin to move to Stage 4. This is when faith begins to individuate and the system adhered to for so long comes under strong critique. It can be a frightening and disorienting time, but importantly, a time when one's own mind becomes the executive for a time, rather than external voices.
It is a relocating of authority within the self, usually with an excessive confidence in the conscious mind. But it is a crucial phase as people struggle forward in taking responsibility for their own beliefs and move towards a more dialectical and multileveled approach to truth in later stages.
This change, unsurprisingly, often results in a departure from a faith community. But as I made this faith stage transition, I didn't leave. A good decision for me.
What the church did for me in the chaos
At first I stuck around because it felt like the right thing to do. But in sticking around I was presented with a reality in the people around me. The people in church seemed to sincerely believe that God was active in their lives and consistently talked about it like this.
I either had to dismiss it to the realm of fiction and wishful thinking, or give it some credit. The church embodied a different hope to anywhere else, and while at first glance this hope sounds like a set of arbitrary claims, seeing it worked out in the lives of others kept on showing me how this hope could lead to a way of being human I was still drawn to, even amongst all my questioning. And I even had some of these experiences myself.
I found that (shock horror!) I was by no means the first one to ever question the authority, the authorship and the interpretation of the bible and I wasn't the first one to read Richard Dawkins and other reputable theological scholars like Dan Brown. This meant that many had gone before me with the same questions and were there to help me put things together now that these questions were important to me. It showed me that just because it didn't make sense to me, it didn't mean that it didn't make sense.
Most importantly, the church showed me that what felt like the disintegration of my faith was actually just the beginning of a new stage of faith, a bridge to a more robust, rich and deep faith, a faith that welcomed mystery and critical thought and embraced complexity. The church showed me there was more to faith than a Sunday meeting, more to Jesus than raising my hands in the hope of a spiritual high, and more to the Bible than a storehouse of inspirational quotes to attach to pretty pictures on Pinterest.
So I love the church. I didn't grow out of it, I grew into it. And I'm looking forward to helping church to be a home for those who walk the same paths.
Kinda ended up a bit of a testimony didn't it? Should I quote Jeremiah 29 verse 11 now?
Sam Burrows is an ex-Middle School teacher (he made it out alive) who is currently working in Young Adult ministry while completing a Graduate Diploma in Theology at Laidlaw College. In his spare time he likes to pretend to be a rock star and writes for enjoyment and in order to impress a potential wife.
Sam Burrows previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-burrows.html