Q & A

Why spiritual direction for pastors?
How do I find a spiritual director?
What does a spiritual direction session look like?
How long does a spiritual direction relationship last?
What is the difference between spiritual direction and pastoral counseling?
Is there any kind of credential or certification for spiritual direction?
Can a spiritual director help me with my ministry?
How much does it cost?
Are there any resources if I want to find out more?
Is spiritual direction only for pastors?

Why spiritual direction for pastors?

These days pastors deal with conflict, crises, distractions, and work pressures in the context of an increasingly stressful and isolating secular culture. The Church itself is in a place of crucial change, and pastors, who are on the front lines, need to care for themselves, so that they can serve God joyfully, wisely, and with integrity over the long haul.

Spiritual direction is a safe and confidential place where YOU will be heard, and accepted just as you are. It is a place where you do not have to be the pastor, where you can attend to what is on your heart and mind before God, and begin to get clarity and perspective. Says one pastor, “I leave my session with a renewed sense of God’s presence, and I feel calmer and stronger.”

Spiritual direction offers the busy pastor a time and place to be cared for, to grasp the larger picture of life and ministry, and to reconnect with God’s love and wisdom for him or her as a child of God and follower of Jesus Christ.

How do I find a spiritual director?

Ask friends and colleagues if they know of spiritual directors they would recommend. Retreat centers, denominational offices, and seminaries often can give you names of spiritual directors, too. (Since spiritual direction is not about teaching a set of doctrines, you may very well find a helpful spiritual director outside your own denomination or tradition.)

Spiritual Directors International, an organization committed “to advancing spiritual direction around the world” has a listing of spiritual directors.  Most spiritual directors work in person, but a growing number, including myself, also work with people by Skype or phone.

Look for someone who is experienced and has had training that involved supervised work, but most of all find someone with whom you feel comfortable talking, who embodies a spirituality that feels authentic, caring, and helpful to you where you are now.

Many spiritual directors offer an initial consultation so you can get a sense of who they are, and how they might work with you. Any seasoned spiritual director will understand if you feel that it is not the right “match” for you at this time.  Talk with him or her and see.

Spiritual direction is holy conversation. It is usually done one-on-one, although it can also be done with groups. The traditional form for individuals is for a meeting that lasts about an hour, on a once-a-month basis. The directee does most of the talking, while the director may reflect back, ask questions, or offer an insight, image, or intuition. A skilled spiritual director will help you pay attention to the promptings and leading of the Spirit in your own heart and life. With a good match, the session is often infused with a sense of the sacred.

How long does a spiritual direction relationship last?

The spiritual direction relationship lasts as long as you want it to last. For some people spiritual direction is for a season, during a time of discernment or transition, for example. But for many people, it is part of their on-going self-care, a support for their own relationship with God – and it lasts a lifetime, though rarely with the same director. It is not a “quick fix” for the soul, but rather subtle and deep work in which transformation happens, gradually, over the long haul. What someone wants out of spiritual direction often determines how long the relationship lasts.

What is the difference between spiritual direction and pastoral counseling?

Although both of these are faith-based, the work and focus differ. Spiritual direction is focused on the movement of the Spirit of God in one’s life. The work involves paying attention to what God is doing, where God is leading, and noticing when God feels present or absent – all with the aim of knowing God better. It is about one’s desire for wholeness and purposefulness of life in God, and is focused on spiritual growth. Pastoral counseling, by contrast, is often problem-based. There is a presenting concern that needs to be “fixed,” unhealthy patterns that need to be changed, or psychological dynamics that need to be addressed, so that the person in question may lead a happier life. Sometimes both are needed or desired in a person’s life – in which case, a spiritual director may also recommend seeing a counselor or therapist, or taking a break from spiritual direction in order to address more pressing concerns.

Is there any kind of credential or certification for spiritual direction?

There is no official, universal certification for spiritual directors, and training programs vary in length, intensity, and focus. It is expected, but not required, that all practicing spiritual directors have had formal training, are in spiritual direction themselves, have a spiritual direction supervisor whom they see regularly, and have a genuine calling and charism for doing spiritual direction.

Can a spiritual director help me with my ministry?

Yes and no. Some spiritual directors are also clergy. Those of us who are may offer concrete help or suggestions from time to time, but the focus is on the health and wholeness of your soul before God. In other words, a spiritual director helps care for your soul that YOU may lead and care for others, ministering out of a place of groundedness, integrity, wisdom, and joy.

How much does it cost?

It varies from director to director, and depends upon a variety of circumstances: whether or not it is the director’s primary vocation; the geographical area in which he or she is centered; and whether that person is otherwise supported by a religious order. Many spiritual directors, myself included, offer a pay scale, and are willing to be flexible if financial concerns are a factor.  [See Rates and Policies]

Are there any resources if I want to find out more?

The official website for Spiritual Directors International, which has information about the field, is www.sdiworld.org. For other reading material, there are several books on spiritual direction. Two older classics on spiritual direction are Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther, and The Practice of Spiritual Direction by William Barry and Patrick Connelly. A newer book is Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction by Susan Phillips.

Is spiritual direction only for pastors?

No, not at all. Those of us who see people for spiritual direction are glad to meet with anyone who is seriously seeking God in his or her life.