The Pastor As Spiritual Director

The term “spiritual director” may be quite unfamiliar to many in the evangelical community. Nevertheless, there is a growing interest in it. A May 2012 headline in the Boston Globe read: “Growing demand for spiritual directors: Here, as across the nation, spiritual directors find more seeking counsel, solace outside church walls.” The article states, “Spiritual direction is a tradition of religious mentor-ship with roots in ancient Christianity. For centuries, monasteries and seminaries offered direction to clergy and members of religious orders. But the practice is increasingly going mainstream, as more people, Christian and otherwise, seek help exploring their relationship with the divine . . . Driving the growth are millennials like Weaver, who are more apt than previous generations to identify as ‘spiritual but not religious.’ . . What attracts people to spiritual direction, those familiar with the practice say, is the chance to talk one on one with a sympathetic and usually learned listener, without the clamor of a communal worship service or the isolation of praying alone. There is no pressure to join a group, make a weekly offertory pledge, or endorse a specific creed. . . So many religious traditions end up feeling quite divorced from your everyday life and experience, so it’s essentially irrelevant,’’ she said. “I think people are tired of that, and I think they hunger for a God they can experience, that is relevant, and close, and that can actually transform them’’.[1]

This article reminds us just how important this role is in the life of a pastor. In fact it every Beliecer should embrace this role. The best definition of a spiritual director that I found was on George Fox Evangelical Seminary’s website where they defined it this way, “Spiritual Directors are discerning and gifted persons trained to provide spiritual guidance and discipleship in the Christian tradition. The focus of Spiritual Direction is to develop awareness of the presence of God in one’s life in the context of a trusted relationship.”[2] They went on to clarify by giving the following helpful definitions:

  • Spiritual direction is a relationship between a person seeking a more Christ-like life and another who serves as guide to the process. The guide is trained as a spiritual director. 
  • Spiritual formation focuses on the ordinary maturing of one's relationship with God.
  • Discipleship focuses on the maturing of one's faith in the context of the particular beliefs and values of a faith community. Disciplers are respected and spiritually mature mentors and leaders in a faith community.
  • Pastoral counseling focuses on relational and emotional maturity of an individual and/or family group. It is usually crisis-driven. Pastoral counselors are trained and certified.

We don’t talk much about the pastor’s role of “spiritual director” in my circles probably because of our emphasis on objective truth. Please understand that I am not criticizing that emphasis as I am convinced that the moment we no longer see the Word of God as objectively true, we lose everything! I both embrace and advocate the place of systematic theology for solid grounding in our faith. Nonetheless, God does move in “mysterious ways” and the Holy Spirit is in fact the believer’s guide and comfort. So helping people work through the subjective aspect of our faith is of utmost importance. In fact, I am convinced that a lot of heresy starts when someone pursues their subjective feelings and have no spiritual director to help them filter those feeling through the grid of the objective truth of Scripture.

The pastor’s role as spiritual director is essential for those in and outside the church. For those inside, he needs to help his parishioners to be more in tune with God’s leading and directing them in their daily routines and in larger family or career decisions. There are many decisions that must be made in life that Scripture does not speak directly too, but gives insight for. In a context where “God told me” is more common then I-phones, we must teach our people to be aware of God’s leading and directing in their lives.

I am also convinced that the pastor needs to be a spiritual director to those outside the church. As the Boston Globe pointed out there is new spiritual interest in the United States. The un-churched, de-churched and the non-Christian are all looking for a deeper meaning in life, or some more meaningful experience. This is a golden opportunity for winsome evangelism!

[1] Lisa Wangsness


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