In case you missed it, read part one of A Place for Spiritual Direction
As we discovered in the first article in this series, if we are in the business of pastoring we are in the business of spiritual direction. Like Paul we are to (1) model a life of faithfulness, (2) offer the gift of presence, (3) maintain ongoing relationships of care, (4) guide from a posture of listening and (5) point to Christ. But if you are anything like me, practicing spiritual direction can be a challenge.
The life of a pastor is a multifaceted endeavor. For most of us a job description simply could not be written. We prepare sermons, set up chairs, develop programs, facilitate meetings, create curriculum, edit the bulletin, coordinate mission trips… You get the point.
From the moment we were called into ministry we held distinct visions of our pastoral vocation that were attached to particular passions and gifts. Quickly surveying the list above, our visions probably didn’t involve things like setting up chairs or editing bulletins, but they probably did involve things like preaching and evangelism. Regardless of our unique poles of passion or interest, from the beginning we all had the sense that our vocation entailed one fundamental thing – being with people. This call to be with people is played out in the ministry of spiritual direction as we serve as companions and guides to those on the journey of faith. Unfortunately, amidst the demands of ministry, this call to spiritual direction can slowly fade into the background.
I have found, in my own time as a pastor, that the eyes with which I see the congregation can shift without me even noticing. Rather than being complex and beautiful creatures made in the image of God, people can become receptacles for my great ideas, resources used to accomplish my goals and problems to fix. Consequently, it can be easy to become more and more removed from the real lives of real people. I have found that I can lose sight of what was central to my calling – being with people. Amidst this struggle I have found the ministry of spiritual direction to be helpful in recollecting me in this calling.
In my years as a pastor there have been many times I have failed to provide spiritual direction, but one example readily comes to mind. A few years ago Tuesday was my day to camp out in the office and study. I recall several Tuesday’s in a row when a woman would come by my office. She was a faithful and active member of the church. She also liked to talk. I felt inconvenienced by her presence. She was a teacher and so she would want to talk about something going on with a student, or she would want to talk about her own children. I would briefly listen and then quickly move to encouragement or advice so that she would leave. She didn’t notice anything was off, but despite what seemed like caring feedback, I had failed to be a true companion and a guide. I didn’t want to alter my carefully-coordinated schedule by taking the time to listen. As I reflect on it now, I missed an incredible opportunity to minister. Because this woman simply wanted to share with me the everyday corridors of her life, I deemed it unimportant, but it was an incredible opportunity to be with her in the normalcy of her life and discover what God was doing there. On a very basic level she was in need of someone who would listen. She needed someone who would treat her unique story with the dignity it deserved. It was an opportunity to offer her the gift of presence, to be truly attentive to what God was doing in her life, and I missed it because I was too busy with the “important work.” I failed to realize that what seemed like an interruption in ministry was the very essence of ministry itself.
As pastors, most of our opportunities to provide spiritual direction are like this one. They come at inconvenient times, and they often involve engaging people in the most basic and everyday corridors of life. In this sense, spiritual direction isn’t glamorous, and perhaps that is the reason why it remains on the fringe of our ministry. It has been lost amidst the call for us to “make things happen” and “get things done.” We find ourselves so overwhelmed with the tasks at hand that we don’t have space (internal space or physical space) for the people in our church. So, our listening grows weak and our guidance becomes shallow.
- Let us reclaim spiritual direction as part of our calling by…
- Seeing interruptions as opportunities
- Listening and attending to each person’s unique journey
Putting the same prayerful consideration into our “casual interactions” as we do our preaching or vision casting
We have the opportunity to provide people with something they do not often receive: someone who will listen and attend to their unique spiritual journey. If we embrace the call to spiritual direction we will discover that in a society of frenetic work and shallow relationships people need a companion on the journey. People need a pastor. This does not mean we will not have a diverse job description, but simply that we will make sure spiritual direction is a part of it.
If we embrace spiritual direction we will serve as a model for our entire church, just as Paul served as a model to the churches in his care. Through our example people will begin to embrace this call to spiritual direction along with us. In our final article we will explore how spiritual direction can become a value within the DNA of your church.
Jamin Goggin serves as 501 Pastor at Saddleback Church, and is a teacher and practitioner of spiritual formation. His main areas of focus are spiritual theology, historical spirituality and Christian community. He has done Masters work in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care as well as New Testament at Talbot School of Theology. Jamin lives in southern California with his wife Kristin and their two children. He has pastored in churches in southern California for the past four years. He is also a trained spiritual director. Jamin passionately seeks to implement spiritual formation in the life of the church. You can read more from Jamin at Metamorpha and you can also catch him on Twitter.