Stage three is the success stage, the doing stage. This is the stage of faith where people become pastors, Sabbath school teachers, and church elders. They become leaders, not just disciples. They help other people learn what they have learned. At this stage people usually develop a high-level reputation in the community, they win awards and other forms of recognition. At this stage people praise you and you get lots of nice letters, and similar acknowledgements. Most people would think it great if the stages of faith reached the top right there. “I made it now. I’m teaching Sabbath school, I’m good. I’m the pastor, so I’m good. I’m the conference president, so that’s good, nothing to worry about now.” However, that’s not what the New Testament teaches.
With every success comes spiritual challenges. As we have seen already, every stage of faith has its challenges and its points of surrender. Those who stand up front are often motivated by applause, by what other people think of them, and by how others respond to their ministry. They can be stuck in perfectionism. That’s the idea where you don’t just want to be better, but instead you have to be the best. People in Stage Three are often motivated by perfectionism. Like with Stage Two, this is a stage that likes to be right. Being right is one of the motivations that makes people at this stage go. I think you can already see a number of points of surrender related to this stage.
The first point of surrender is the need for applause. Ellen White said of Jesus, “He was never elated by applause nor dejected by censure.” (DA 330) Does that apply to you? Not me. This is a surrender point that I recognize in myself, to surrender the need for applause, the need for perfection. Because when you focus on perfection, the miracle of perfection (whatever that means) can’t happen. You’re trying to grow the blade of grass. You cannot be perfect without a miracle from God in your life. It’s that simple. You can’t make a blade of grass. That is something only God can do. The more you focus on the perfection the less likely that it will happen. When it happens, it is a miracle.
But what about the need for certainty? Isn’t that an important piece of the Christian experience? It is important to be certain of some things. You want to be certain of the cross and that Jesus loves you and the kinds of things where obedience is very important. The problem is that conservative Christians are often certain about everything. If you’re certain about your politics, dietary habits, exercise routine, religion, and how to do your job right; that kind of certainty tells more about you than about God. It’s all about you. And that kind of certainty can get in the way of letting God work. But here is where the issue comes to a head. People in stage three, successful spiritual leaders, don’t take mentoring very well. They have arrived, they’ve made it, and everything is all good. But it isn’t. The reality is that there are still issues there. There is still pride and selfishness. So much of what we do for God in the success stage is subtly driven by our own ambitions and goals, by our desire to please. And because surrender is especially difficult at this stage, God often does the last thing we expected and probably the last thing that we wanted. I call it the dark night of the soul. More on that next time.