“But I’m their minister, I can’t be their spiritual director!” That’s the response we often get when we talk with clergy about the need for congregations to have a minister who’s a soul friend, an anam cara, a spiritual director. Not too surprising of a response when you think about it. After all, seminarians are taught that those who pursue ministry are asked to be many things: preacher, counselor, teacher, administrator, fundraiser. They’re told that a good minister might do two or three of these things well, that a great minister might do three or four with a reasonable degree of competence, and that no minister will ever be able to do a five. Why on earth would a sane clergy person want to add another item to their ministerial to do list?
This response is totally understandable. Parish ministry is already a time and energy intensive vocation. If adding “spiritual director” to one’s ministerial identity is going to take more time and energy, they we agree: No you can’t be a congregation’s spiritual director. But you can be their spiritual leader. And there are a number of ways a spiritual leader can invite spiritual direction into our communities and congregations.
In these times progressive congregations and communities are called to nurture the soul of the community. Contemplation, silence, listening with God’s ears, silence and more silence, are ways we can nurture the spirit in a world that is soul crushing.
We can be intentional about what we offer. When people in a spiritual crisis come to see us, we give direction and guidance. What is the difference between the pastoral care we offer and spiritual direction? As religious leaders we can offer short term spiritual direction the same way we offer short term pastoral counseling. How will we prepare ourselves to offer short term spiritual direction? We create peer groups for professionals to support their spiritual journey and spiritual leadership by being a listening presence. A small group composed of other professionals provides both direction, guidance and accountability for the leaders.
We can train laity to lead small group spiritual direction in our community or congregation. Many faith communities offer affinity groups, fellowship groups, educational groups, and covenant or small group ministry. Offering Small Group Spiritual Direction provides a place for people who want to discern the stirring of the spirit in their lives, who want to practice listening for the presence of God. Small group leaders facilitate this process for their community in groups of 4 or 5. As a peer group, the leaders listen to the stirrings of the spirit in their lives. The religious leaders in turn meet with the small group leaders as their supervisors. It is not unlike pastoral care associates. The religious leaders discern who they feel is called to this particular ministry and invite them to consider this call. Religious leadership provides the training and accountability. As religious professionals they step into the role of spiritual leader.
If we imagine our ministry as a spiritual leader, we can offer spiritual practices in all parts of our communities.