Can the church learn anything about its mission from a dead German born Freudian psychoanalyst?
Yes I say! Otherwise the whole point of writing this is moot.
I’d encourage you to go here for brief primer on Erikson’s big idea, “The Eight Stages of Man” as it expands on the limited information in this graph:
The big take away from the graph (and my primer): humans are dealing with different stuff at different ages. Plenty of people with general people sense or common sense or whatever we want to call it understand that this is true.
People in church want to get a young pastor to bring in young people, because they grasp the idea younger people feel more comfortable, as if they belong, around someone nearer their age. People also know that the reinforcement of good habits in children is good for their esteem and later life practices.
Also many know that come a certain age, people in the church take a step back from active leadership and activity to let the younger people take over. Not that they let go. It’s also common sense that this age group struggles with change much more than others and we (should) know it’s rooted in some sense of loss.
As beneficial as these general senses are, there is more to them.
That is why we need to move beyond a common sense understanding. There is a reason younger people feel as if they belong when around people their own age. There is a reason good habit reinforcement establishes esteem. There is a reason that our elders want to take up a different, if unofficial, leadership position in the church. And there’s a reason anybody not their age doesn’t truly get that.
Erikson’s stages offers us a better general grasp of what population age groups are going through and what they are generally concerned with at that age. With a solid grasp of Erikson’s concept the church can more effectively hone its mission to these various groups, because we’ll be more aware of their general needs of individuals.
And if we can more effectively hone our mission to the various age/life groups then we can more effectively assist them in their spiritual growth. If we’re better able to help persons more successfully navigate the issues of their specific life stage, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that that healthy development will help their spiritual development. A healthy person, who doesn’t have to revisit all their younger issues, has more clarity to see how everything is a God thing. Not to say that they otherwise couldn’t be faithful lovers of God and people, they are just freer to releases themselves and move into that reality without having constantly revisit and reassess past issues.
If we can see the people in the world and in our churches for the people they are in the places they are in – not just culturally or demographically, but also developmentally – then we can better help them to be disciples of Christ and better help them to bear the hope and efforts the new creation in the world.