The Three Ways
By Bethany Allen, Gavin Bennett, & Collin Mayjack
Begin with prayer (5 minutes)
Gather together as a Community in a comfortable setting (around a table, on the couch, the floor of a living room, etc.). Have somebody lead a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to lead and guide your time together.
Read this overview
For millennia, church mothers and fathers have sought to map out phases of apprenticeship to Jesus, in order to help navigate and inform their own spiritual journey and that of those around them. As we look back at the maps these teachers of Jesus have provided, we find significant parallels between them that help us draw conclusions about various stages of discipleship. And as we study these overlaps and see how they fit in our own lives, they help direct and inform who we are becoming in Jesus.
In the first teaching in this series, we explore an ancient paradigm called “The Three Ways,” which charts a course from Purgation through Illumination to Union. While the language might sound intimidating at first, as we unpack what is meant by each of these ways or stages, we find integral tools for identifying where we are in our journey with Jesus, as well as what our next step might be. Remember, it’s not about getting to the next stage, but about taking the next step and accepting the invitations of Jesus that accompany each stage.
Tonight, the goal is to begin the conversation around the concept of naming your stage of apprenticeship to Jesus, and to discuss how that might impact your journey with him and those around you.
Work through these discussion questions (10 minutes)
1. What was helpful for you from the teaching?
2. Is the concept of identifying your stage of apprenticeship new to you?
3. How does naming your stage of apprenticeship strike you? Perhaps helpful, intimidating, exciting? Why might that be?
Here’s a Practice to do together as a Community right now (30–40 minutes)
We will spend the bulk of tonight’s time in conversation around The Three Ways (Purgation, Illumination, and Union), so take a few minutes to look over this chart as a Community. After you’ve talked through it, reflect on some of the questions below. (Note: If some of the language is confusing or foreign, that’s okay—not all of it was discussed or unpacked in this teaching.)
Talk through some or all the following questions together as a Community:
When did you first have the experience of Awakening, in which you began to sense God in your reality? What was it like for you?
Which of the three stages (four, if you include Awakening) seems to best describe where you’re at right now?
How is it helpful to see your experience described here?
Which of the following categories best describes your current struggle with sin?
Gross Sins (e.g. sexual immorality, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, envy, drunkenness, etc.)
Conscious Sins (i.e. sins that are socially acceptable in culture at large)
Unconscious Sins (e.g. patterns of thinking and feeling, more internal than external, root motivations, sins of omission, etc.)
Trust Structures (i.e. “Deep seated attitudes and inner orientations of our being out of which our behavior patterns flow… those deep inner postures of our being that do not rely on God but on self for our well-being.” – M. Robert Mulholland Jr.)
Are there any surprises or new insights from The Three Ways that help you better understand how you might give yourself more fully to this phase of your journey?
What do you sense or think is Jesus’ invitation to you in this stage of your apprenticeship? What would it look like to say yes?
How is God inviting you to turn more fully toward him at this stage of your apprenticeship? How might that help his presence, purpose, or power be released more fully in your life?
Discuss the coming week’s Practice (5 minutes)
If we’re going to come to grips with where we are, we have to consider where we’ve been. One practical way to do this is to reflect on the story of your life with Jesus and then to share that story with another person. This week, the Practice is to do just that: sit down with a friend and tell them about your journey in apprenticeship to Jesus. Here are a few helpful steps to make that happen:
Step One: Set aside some time to be alone with God and reflect on your journey with him. Begin by finding a quiet, comfortable place. Then, invite the Holy Spirit to be with you in your reflection. As you sit, spend some time allowing your life to play like a movie in your mind, beginning with childhood up into the present. To aid you in your time, consider journaling your responses to the following questions:
What was my family like growing up? How did my family interact with each other and with Jesus?
What were some of my earliest experiences with God?
How have I grown since I first began following Jesus? What changes have taken place in my character, practices, and belief over the years?
What are 3–5 key moments in my life (positive or negative) and how have they impacted who I am as a person and as a disciple of Jesus?
How do I hear God’s voice today, and how has that changed throughout my life?
Who have been the most influential people on my spiritual journey? What did I learn from them?
What does Jesus want to say to me about my story?
Step Two: Schedule a time with a friend and share your stories with one another. If it is helpful, utilize the questions above to give shape to what you share.
Work through these discussion questions before you call it a night (5–10 minutes)
1. How do you feel about sharing your spiritual journey with someone? Will this be a new experience for you?
2. As you work through The Three Ways, what excites you about the prospect of naming your stage of apprenticeship?
3. As we sense the Spirit inviting us to take the next steps in our journey, how can we support each other as a Community?