Spiritual Directors: The Church Needs You
The State of the Christian Church and a Giant Rummage Sale
By Pat Hendricks
Various research organizations (Pew Research Center is the most well known.) and countless books have been written about the future of the Christian church in the US. According to many of these resources, the future of mainline churches is fairly bleak. My blog/article is not going to add to that body of work. In fact, I have a more positive vision of the future of the Christian church. I share the opinion of Anglican Bishop, Mark Dwyer who says,…”the Christian church goes through a giant rummage sale every 500 years.” The last one was in 1517, the Protestant Reformation. Then and now, it was/is a time to, with honesty, look at what needs to be kept and what needs to be tossed out. We are in such a time today, a New Reformation era. For the church to continue to be a vital source for today’s Christian people, it must look at what people are seeking in today’s culture. This re-imagining leads to change, and that involves listening—something spiritual directors are trained to do.
One Christian theologian, writer, and pastor, Leonard Sweet has listened to what people are seeking, and he summarized his findings using the acronym, EPIC.
- E—experience. People desire something in addition to intellectual and social engagement. They want to know that God is real and cares.
- P—participation. People desire interactive types of faith expression.
- I—imagery. Because of today’s emphasis on the visual, people want more from church than just a “talking head.”
- C—Connection. People desire relationship with God and with others.
How can Spiritual Directors Implement EPIC?
Spiritual directors can contribute much to this giant rummage sale by listening to what people are looking for in their journey of faith. There is a skill set people receive who go through Christos’ Tending the Holy program that is needed in the church (and other faith based organizations). Those skills include: listening, putting together streams of thought, discernment, group leadership, and teaching.
Two People and a Candle: EPIC for Individual or Group Spiritual Direction
Those who are trained at Christos or other spiritual direction preparation programs, can conduct individual or group spiritual direction in a church setting (or other faith based organizations). In classical spiritual direction, where two people sit across from each other with a candle in between, spiritual directors are well equipped to invite people to share their experience and relationship with God. By being a listening presence, the director can affirm, notice, and enable people to look at what is no longer working in their faith journey. In my experience as a spiritual director, I’ve noticed that people, who have a church background, often have an intellectual idea of God. Sometimes they come to spiritual direction with a feeling of emptiness or a desire for something more. A spiritual director can lead people into ways to be more experiential in their faith walk.
A director can help a directee, or a group, explore ways to be more of a participant in their life of faith. Techniques that work include: journaling, walking a labyrinth, and actively seeing God in nature or service, A director can invite a directee to notice images of God in everyday life: the face of an older woman, the smile of a baby, the exuberance of a puppy. And, a director can invite directees to explore connection with God and others through prayer and meditation, service, communal worship, music, and conversation. Through serving as a spiritual director, a person can be a change agent in this vast re-imaging of church.
Spiritual Directors and the Life of the Church
In my many decades of life, I have been a part of several types of denominational or non-denominational faith based organizations, and I have used my Christos training both as a volunteer and as a paid staff person. I have conducted one-on-one spiritual direction both through Christos and at the church where I currently serve. But, that role has been small compared to ways I have used my Christos training to enhance the life of the faith based organizations of my experience.
E, P and I
This has been particularly true in the arenas of experience, participation and imagery. The contemplative teachings of Christos have inspired me to lead workshops, prayer services, and staff meeting meditations. I’ve taught sessions on discernment and prayer—lots of teaching on prayer—especially prayer that leads to an experience of God and involves images. I’ve invited those who lead the Sunday services to pause for a few moments of silence during every service. (It took many tries before I could convince the leaders to incorporate silence.) I often use material I received through my many years at Christos as resources. Most importantly, however, my Christos experience has defined who I am as a person who is growing in faith. I embody the essence of a spiritual director. I ask open ended questions. I listen. I affirm other people’s journeys of faith. And, I see all of life as an opportunity to grow deeper in my understanding of God.
Now, I need to present a “reality check” and state something many of you know: Some church leaders do not understand spiritual direction or spiritual formation or they are resistant to these modalities—or even resistant to change. This, of course, makes your role as a spiritual director a challenge. I have encountered this, and I have used my spiritual direction training in ways that are more covert. For example, as a member of a church staff (and in earlier years, as a volunteer), I have attended numerous meetings. I admit that I’m attentive for only about an hour. After that, my mind is elsewhere. This is because meetings often lose focus. I have learned to return the meeting to its original intent. I ask agenda free, open ended questions which prompt people to really think about what they are saying. At the end of the meeting, I pull together the threads of the conversation so people can more easily reach decisions. People don’t know that I’m using spiritual direction skills, which causes me to smile.
Working with Groups
The Tending the Holy program has a valuable practical component. That component involves being leaders and members of small groups. In the first year of the program, people learn how to lead group spiritual direction, by leading actual groups. The same is true in the second year of the program, where people learn to lead their peer group. Through that training, Christos graduates know how to effectively facilitate small groups.
Group work is core to church and other faith based organizations. However, two problems emerge when working with groups: one, someone who dominates the conversation; two, people who use the lecture approach—by sharing their opinion as though everyone should have that same opinion.
Spiritual directors know how to set ground rules at the beginning of each small group session by encouraging people to keep their comments short and allow for others to speak. Also, spiritual directors know how to teach people to use “I” statements: “I believe” or “In my opinion,” thus making it clear that the expectation is that others do not need to be in agreement. In addition, spiritual directors know how to ask open ended questions that invite reflection—so people think before they speak. These components can provide a valuable group experience for members.
While I obviously agree with Leonard Sweet’s EPIC, I have observed people, including myself, seeking something in addition to experience, participation, image, and connection. They’ve been there; done that. I like to name this phenomenon, “seeking profound spiritual depth.” A friend of mine has coined the phrase, “the dones.” Like Pew Research Center, which includes a classification, “nones” (people who have no religious affiliation)—my friend says there are many people who are done with organized religion. They have done it all: attended hundreds of Sunday services, taught Sunday school, served in church leadership, volunteered for service projects, and participated in Bible and book studies. They are looking for the next stage of faith life. Spiritual directors can be extremely valuable in that search. They can serve as a listening presence for these mature people of faith.
Back to the Huge Rummage Sale
I’m excited about what is happening in the Christian church today; however, like the 1517 Reformation, this one will take years, and I’m often frustrated by the slowness of change. However, unlike 500 years ago, today we have a vast network of spiritual directors who can listen and discern—and be a part of this grand re-imaging of church.
Pat Hendricks is a presenter in the Tending the Holy program at Christos Center for Spiritual Formation. She has served as coordinator of the Tending program as well as Christos executive director. Pat has been a spiritual director for 25 years, and is the author of Hungry Souls; Holy Companions: Mentoring a New Generation of Christians—a book about what younger generations are seeking. The book is available on Amazon and through Church Publishing Incorporated. She currently serves as Coordinator of Adult Faith Formation and Vital Aging at a church near Minneapolis, MN.
NOTE: The Christos Center for Spiritual Formation offers a 2 year in-person Spiritual Direction Training Program in 3 locations and online. The 2021 Fall Cohort begins in September 2021. Learn more about the program here. We invite you to contact us with any questions about becoming a Spiritual Director and about our training program at 651.653.8207 or [email protected]