What is Spiritual Direction?

Answer: Spiritual direction is a series of conversations in which one believer–a friend of Jesus–assists another in discerning the presence of God and living out God’s call within the context of biblical truth and Christian community. Spiritual direction has a rich and long-standing tradition in Christian history as a God-given means to help people mature into the likeness of Christ.

What is Christian Formation?

Answer: Christian formation, simply put, is “formation by the Holy Spirit” of the individual Christian “into the likeness of Christ.” This involves a process of deepening trust, intimacy, and friendship with God; understanding oneself and dealing with inner-growth issues; developing a servant heart of love and compassion toward others; and growing in discernment and Christ-like character through one’s journey of faith.We can cooperate with the Spirit’s work through participation in spiritual disciplines, Sabbath keeping, regular worship and prayer, and engaging in works of compassion, but no one grows alone; everyone needs help in this maturing process. We need the help of a spiritual mentor, friend, or guide-a spiritual director-who “listens in with us” on our journey and helps us discern what God is saying and doing and how God is leading.

Is it Biblical?

Answer: Scripture provides wonderful models and examples of spiritual direction.

1 Samuel 3:3-10 tells the story of young Samuel who goes to Eli for “direction.” Eli’s instructions to Samuel are a good model of spiritual direction as he encouraged Samuel to identify himself as God’s servant, invite God to speak, and then to listen.

John the Baptist identifies himself as “The Friend of the Bridegroom” who waits, listens, discerns the presence of God, opens the door to the bridal chamber, and gets out of the way so God can have center stage. [John 3:29-30] Here again is a model of direction–waiting on God, listening for his voice, helping to discern how God is at work in someone’s life, walking with another into the presence of Christ, and stepping out of the way so God can do the work of transformation that only God can do.

Jesus is our best example of a spiritual director because of his intimacy with his Father and his absolute commitment to do nothing apart from what the Father shows or tells him [John 5:19, 30]. For example, in John 4:23-24, Jesus has a conversation with a woman by a well where he asks her questions, tells her that God is looking for people who are simply and honestly themselves before God in their worship, and frees her to be honest about her own life-all in response to his Father’s leading.

Jesus’s relationship with Peter gives us example after example of spiritual direction-where Jesus asks Peter questions (Matt 16:13-16), redirects his thinking (Matt 16:21-26], teaches him about forgiveness (Matt 18-21-35), and points out trouble spots (Matt 26:33-35). On one occasion, during a storm, Jesus calls Peter to walk out to him. After a few steps, Peter becomes afraid and begins to sink. Jesus says, “Keep your eyes on me, not the storms.” Our advice always in spiritual direction is “keep your eyes on Jesus.” (Matt 14:22-33)

Jesus told stories and parables to invite people to listen and respond to God. He was always saying, “See, this is what God is like!” A good spiritual director helps people look more closely at what they believe and to listen to and follow after God.

Waiting on God, listening for his voice, helping to discern how God is at work in someone’s life, walking with another into the presence of Christ, and stepping out of the way so God can do the work of transformation that only God can do-this is our model for spiritual direction.

Why is There a Need For This Ministry?

Answer: There is a tremendous hunger among Christians for deeper experience of the real and intimate presence of Christ; there is a crying need in individual lives and in our churches for spiritual formation and transformation that shows evidence of the abundant life promised by Christ; there are hundreds of thousands of mature Christian believers eager for the kind of training that would equip them to be effective spiritual guides and directors of others.
Hundreds of thousands of mature Christian lay-people are ready to be called into the ministry of spiritual direction and are eager to receive training that will help them become spiritual guides and directors of others. These are people who want training in ministry but who are either not able or are not interested in attending theological seminary for 3-5 years to earn degrees that would qualify them for professional ministry. They are interested in the kind of practical hands-on training that can be provided by Certificate Programs in Christian Formation and Spiritual Direction–an introduction to the best of seminary education that includes courses in practical theology, spiritual traditions and spiritual formation along with practicum, case studies, and supervision in giving and receiving spiritual direction.

What Do Others Say About Spiritual Direction?

Answer:  Richard Foster writes that we live in a busy, works oriented culture dominated by surface spiritualities and that…Christians are increasingly aware that what’s needed is development of the interior life and journey. His book, Celebration of Discipline, which has sold over one million copies in hard-cover, is now considered a Christian classic and a primary instigator of the current movement within churches to give more attention to spiritual formation of their members.

Keith Anderson and Randy D. Reese, in Spiritual Mentoring-A Guide for Seeking and Giving Direction, say “There is not just a hunger but a near starvation for a lot of people. We’re not getting enough feeding. People know that they need to go deeper, and spiritual mentoring is one of the really solid ways that we can go deeper.” Christians need the kind of focused and intentional conversation that one can have with “a spiritual director who listens for the already active presence of God in someone’s life.”

Thomas Merton wrote that “The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a person’s life, to get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which are presented to the world and to bring out the person’s inner spiritual freedom, his/her innermost truth, which is what we call the likeness of Christ in his/her soul.”

Henri Nouwen wrote that “Our intimate conversation with God needs formation and training. Precisely the fact that we are dealing here with the most intimate and precious relationship is the reason for direction. It is therefore not so strange that people who search for a deep and persistent prayer life always ask for some help. During the past decade more and more people have been looking for some kind of guidance in their relationship with God and are appealing to their ministers to offer such guidance.”

Richard Rohr has said that “We all–by necessity–see everything thorough the lens of our own temperament, early conditioning, brain function, role and place in society, education, our personal needs, and our unique cultural biases and assumptions…To help us escape from this trap, the formerly rare ministry of spiritual direction is being rediscovered and revalued in our time, especially among the laity.  It is a proven way to hold personal experience accountable to Scripture, common sense, reason, good psychology, and tradition.”