Or maybe you’re just ‘Stage 3’

 | December 4, 2008 3:17 PM

While living in a Cambridge I witnessed the fantastic growth of a church from a few people meeting in someone’s living room and almost flaming out to its rapid growth as one of the largest churches in metro Boston.  Cambridge Vineyard bought a large Catholic church just a few blocks down the street from us, renovated it and had a grand opening which our family and others attended.  Soon afterwards they opened another service in downtown Boston and renamed themselves Greater Boston Vineyard.

We always remained loyal to our church, Highrock Church, but for a few weeks we had to attend Boston Vineyard because at the time, Highrock’s services were at 5 PM and Dylan’s sleep time had moved to very early in the evening.  I have always been fascinated with charismatics but what I remember the most about the Vineyard services were Pastor Dave Schmelzer’s sermons (funny how almost all the lead pastors of churches I have attended have the first name Dave).  Pastor Dave had a very engaging style, conversational and humorous yet intellectual.  He also captured his unique style in his columns which I used to read in the Alewife, a now defunct community newspaper and which you can now find here.

One of my favorite columns is Or maybe you’re just ‘Stage 3’.  I first heard about this from Pastor Dave at Highrock and Pastor Dave of Vineyard does a great job of explaining it.

His Stage 1 you might call criminal. This corresponds to the toddler years. The average toddler doesn’t do so well in caring for you. As they tantrum over a toy denied, not many will stop and say, “But this isn’t the most important thing on earth. And I haven’t asked once how you’re doing, Daddy? Has it been a good day?”
Peck says there are two primary settings for people stuck in Stage 1: jail (for obvious reasons) and the boardroom, where high-functioning Stage 1 folks can often be quite ruthless and successful.

His Stage 2 you might call rules-based. This shows up at about age six or seven. Now the child comes to care what Mommy and Daddy want them to do and they start to judge their criminal younger siblings. The best settings, said Peck, for those of us stuck in Stage 2 are the military (often a key transitional institution for those moving out of Stage 1) and, gulp, churches.

Peck argues that perhaps 90 percent or more of churches function this way. They help people sort out the rules of life. He’s at pains not to judge this, saying that this is the very heart of our country, that Stage 2 churches customarily develop good citizens and good parents, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But there’s a Stage 3, which you might call rebellious and which, as you’d imagine, corresponds to the teenage years. The healthy teen will invariably begin to ask what’s behind all these rules they’re being fed.

Often the best answer they get will be quit being such a smart aleck, and thus begins their war with all things Stage 2.
Universities are the best settings for Stage 3, filled, as they are, with 18 to 21-year-olds. Complaints from conservative quarters that universities are monolithically liberal, on this theory, just recognize what will always be true. They’re Stage 3.

You might guess that, along these lines, the Republican Party would fall pretty neatly into Stage 2. The Democratic Party, perhaps not as obviously, would be a hybrid of Stage 3 and Stage 1…

But what Stage 3 (again, rebellious) doesn’t realize is that there actually are answers to their questions, that there’s more out there than skepticism. Peck calls this stage mystical. The Stage 4 person realizes that many of the things they were taught in Stage 2 are actually true, but true in a richer and far-less certain sense than they once thought. The Stage 4 person has walked into a world where everything around them suddenly seems to be “Truth”—and truth that will take much more than a lifetime to explore.

The point of all this is that I think I have been “stalled” in Stage 3 for several years and I am hoping to break into the “mystical” Stage 4.  I want to connect to God in a real, concrete way and to love others without constraint.

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