I have been learning about Spiritual Direction for the past several years. Recently I have completed training to be a Spiritual Director. What is Spiritual Direction, and why do I feel called to make this a part of my ministry?
A Focused Relationship
We were not meant to live the Christian life alone. Some of us have been fortunate enough to have a close Christian friend or prayer partner with whom we can share the deepest parts of our lives. Celtic Christians called this kind of person a “soul friend.” Spiritual Direction is a more focused, intentional version of that kind of relationship. A spiritual director is a person who is gifted, called, and trained to be walk with another person on their journey into a more intimate relationship with God.
An Ancient Practice
Spiritual Direction has been practiced since ancient times. In the 3rd and 4th centuries, thousands of men and women went into the Egyptian desert to live as hermits and seek a closer relationship with God. Others heard of the devotion of these "Desert Fathers" and went out to them to learn how to develop their spiritual lives. This movement led to the formation of desert monastic communities. Much later, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) developed guidelines for Spiritual Direction that many people have found to be helpful.
Spiritual Direction and Other Disciplines
When I learned about the concept of Spiritual Direction, I realized that it described something to which I have felt called for a long time. I have a passion for mentoring and discipleship, especially for those serving as spiritual leaders. Like mentoring and discipleship, Spiritual Direction includes walking with others as they grow in their relationship with God. But there are also some important distinctions.
At the risk of over-simplification, here is a comparison of related disciplines:
- Counseling seeks to develop wholeness and emotional wellbeing, including the healing of past hurts. Focus: emotional health
- Mentoring is a relationship with a more experienced practitioner who can teach us skills and share wisdom in career or other life tasks. Focus: life tasks
- Coaching helps us to clarify our thinking and make progress toward our goals Focus: the client’s goals
- Discipleship is a relationship in which someone walks with us as we learn to faithfully follow Jesus Focus: Christian life and ministry
- Spiritual direction seeks to help us to become more aware of God’s presence in our lives and discern how we should respond to what he is saying to us. Focus: the client’s relationship with God
In a Christian context, there is considerable overlap between these various disciplines. They are all helpful, but each has its own central focus. In Spiritual Direction the focus is specifically on the relationship between the directee and God.
As I mentioned above, I have been informally using Spiritual Direction practices in my ministry for a long time. If you have been in one of my discipleship groups, the description above probably sounds familiar to you. Now that I have received additional training, I will continue to use these skills informally in my church ministry as well as establish a more formal Spiritual Direction relationship with a few people. My page on Spiritual Direction includes more information about formal Spiritual Direction relationships as well as an explanation of what happens in a spiritual direction session.