How do seekers happen (developmental theory)?


Seekers start their journey when they cease taking their culture for granted, when they start asking questions. In a sense, seekers are a natural outcome of cognitive, moral, or spiritual development. While there are drawbacks to developmental theory, in that there is the hidden assumption that “higher” stages are “better,” more sophisticated, etc. there remains some considerable truth to the fact that there seems to be a direction to development in our thinking, and that development seems to go through readily identifiable stages. The direction is usually one from uncritical acceptance to critical thinking; from focussing on “me” to focussing on “us” (my group) to focussing on “all of us” (global); from black-and-white dualistic thinking, to relativistic, contextual thinking, to principled, “non-dual,” “both-and” thinking which holds paradox and contradiction in tension. Check the plentiful literature on developmental theories.


What’s more important than the stages themselves, though, is the dynamic that occurs between stages. Seekers are usually people who are between stages. The “between” dynamic is complex, often painful, and almost always fruitful.


In developmental theory, there are “stages” – plateaus, if you will, of relative calm and stability – at which people arrive and at which they remain until experience challenges the assumptions of the stage too seriously for them to remain comfortably there. A stage starts to come undone when experience begins to challenge the conclusions and assumptions one lives with at that stage. As experience challenges the tight logic of the stage, there is a time of considerable discomfort as we attempt to defend the coherence of the stage we are at. We spend a lot of energy resisting new experience, and defending the integrity, logic and coherence of our current world-view and assumptions.


As more experience accumulates, we are forced to relinquish the sense of correctness of our thinking at that stage, and we begin to challenge, question, jettison, let go. This is a painful time of grieving, confusion, sometimes anger, as our cherished understandings are demolished one by one. We enter a bewildered phase where we can’t make sense of things any more.


As more experience accumulates, and as we read, talk, discuss, compare, analyse, we begin to formulate, albeit tentatively, a new set of understandings. These are tentative at this point, but we are now actively building a new “stage,” i.e., a new coherent, comprehensive understanding of life. The more comfortable we are with this new construct, the more we experiment with it, pushing it to its limits, testing it out, revelling in our new insights and understanding. We have reached a new “stage.”


However we wish to look at it, typically seekers are people who have started the process of “deconstructing” the stage usually known as “conventional,” i.e., the “accepted wisdom,” the stage of conformity, the stage of the comfort zone of most people in our churches. And once the process of deconstruction is under way, as long as the individual feels moderately comfortable despite the challenges, he or she will continue to question, deconstruct, then build a new stage of understanding, which may or may not withstand further experience.