As we saw in our first article spiritual direction has long roots going back to the ministry of the Apostle Paul. In our second article we explored how this ministry of companionship and guidance needs to play a central role in the pastoral vocation. In this article we look at four ways spiritual direction can become a value in our church.
First, it always begins with us pastors. How we view people and consequently relate to them speaks volumes to our congregation. If we have space for people, and are intentional about listening and attending to the unique journey of each person in our church it will not go unnoticed. Our posture towards people is infectious. By modeling spiritual direction we will organically create a culture of individuals who care deeply about each other’s spiritual lives. Thus, we as pastors must lead the charge in embracing the values of spiritual direction.
Second, pastors and church leaders need to receive spiritual direction as well. Pastors and ministry leaders not only need to serve as models in the giving of spiritual direction, but also in the receiving of spiritual direction. For us to provide care for others we need to be cared for ourselves. Pastors and ministry leaders are often the most isolated individuals within the church and they don’t have places they can receive companionship and guidance. This is one of the great values of professional spiritual direction. Pastors and ministry leaders can find a safe place of spiritual care outside the walls of the church. There are several outstanding spiritual direction ministries around the country (ex. Evangelical Center for Spiritual Wisdom-ecswisdom.org).
Third, it is imperative that we find individuals within the church that can provide spiritual direction in an intentional manner. In every church there are those who are seasoned in the faith and spiritually mature. We need to take seriously the role that these individuals can play in the life of our church. Often these are the people we rely upon to lead programs and coordinate events, but we also need to rely upon them to care for those in our church we may never interact with. We need an army of mature saints who are attentive to the needs of those around them and who maintain a posture of openness and availability. Caution: Don’t assume that those who have been around a long time or serve are the sages in your midst. Identifying the spiritually mature in our churches is a process of prayerful discernment. As we identify these people it will be helpful to establish a method of training them in some of the basic skills of spiritual direction. This is where the recent professionalizing of spiritual direction can actually serve us quite well. There are numerous current books and resources available that provide a theoretical framework for spiritual direction and help people develop practical skills in this area of ministry (ex. Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction by David Benner, Soul Talk: The Language God Longs For Us to Speak by Larry Crabb). This may sound overly basic, but we need training in listening and attending to other people, because in our culture this is not a common posture we have in relationships. This process will also allow you to discern whether these are truly people who can embrace this ministry in a more intentional way in the life of your church.
Third, we need to have eyes to see the individuals within our church that are in need of care. While everyone in our church can benefit from spiritual direction, there are individuals who are in need of spiritual direction more urgently. Perhaps their prayer life feels dry or they have just experienced a loss and are frustrated with God. Whatever the case may be, we have people in our churches that are struggling in their relationship with the Lord and need someone to walk with them through potentially dark and difficult places. The other group we need to pay attention to are those who are young in their faith. These people need a seasoned traveler to come alongside of them as they begin their journey. Just as Paul served as a spiritual director for Timothy, we need to connect our mature believers with our young believers. In conclusion, we need to be intentional about seeking people out and connecting them with someone who can begin to intentionally journey with them.
My hope is that through this short series you have captured a vision for the value of spiritual direction in the life of the church. I encourage you to spend time prayerfully considering how spiritual direction can become part of what is means to pastor, and as a result how it can become a part of the DNA of your church.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25, NASB)