Spiritual direction was a fairly new concept to me when I began my Master of Arts coursework in Transformational Leadership at Barclay College Graduate School. However, having taken a training class in this form of ministry, I have found it to be integral in engaging others to experience God’s presence in every aspect of life.
The art of spiritual direction, states Fil Anderson, is “to be sensitive, present and supportive to the spiritual journey of another.” Each of us has a unique journey, but none journeys alone. By getting back to the basics of ministering to one another, which is what I think Anderson is suggesting, the doors once again are opened to anyone who desires to know God in a deeper way, to sense His presence in all areas of life and to have the opportunity to respond to Him rather than to the countless distractions bidding for one’s attention.
I have learned that spiritual direction is not for the few, but for everyone. As Gary Moon and David Benner write, “Wearing the label ‘Christian’ is not synonymous with experiencing the intimate…relationship with God that souls were designed to enjoy…” (Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls: A Guide to Christian Approaches and Practices, 13). Ultimately, all of humanity thirsts for intimacy with God. The ministry of spiritual direction does not offer relief from this thirst, but rather points the thirsty to the Well, as Jesus modeled in his ministry to the Samaritan woman seen in John 4:1-26.
I have come to realize that the process of spiritual direction is not about finding answers; instead, it is about asking the right questions. It is a process requiring no one to fix anything, but it is a call for the spiritual director to be sensitive and present while helping others return to their first love(Revelation 2:4). A spiritual director needs only to remember that the most important thing is to “help the other person be in contact with the gracious presence of Christ” (Benner, 56). If anything, through this process, a spiritual director has mediated Divine Grace.
Yet, in our modern world there seems to be a barrier blocking many well-intentioned people from experiencing the depth of God’s presence in their lives. Quaker author and theologian Thomas Kelly named that barrier in his writing:
Busyness is a plague eating away our day and, eventually, our lives. Hurriedness removes any and all fervor that existed when the day began. Humanity is in a hurry to do more, to fill in empty spaces on calendars and to be constantly busy. This plague of busyness places people farther and farther away from the One who quenches our thirst.
Much like the church in Ephesus, today’s modern church has found a way to streamline faith. Yes, the church seems to be persevering and enduring, but the sickness of the rushed life has caused many to push aside opportunities for intimacy with God in exchange for a few more minutes of productivity.
It is time for ministers to intentionally “cultivate a climate of attention to and reflection on the experience” of Christ (Benner, 96). It is painstakingly obvious that the process of Divine mediation cannot take place without the devotion of time.
Spiritual direction must be viewed as a vital part of every Friends congregation, for none of us walks alone. While we may be pilgrims on our own journeys, if we look to the right or to the left we see that there are others who need a helping hand. Each of us, if we are listening and paying attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, can point another to a clearer picture of God’s calling. It is in the local congregation that this climate of submission and insight can be modeled and encouraged.
A trusted friend once pointed out that the spiritual level of a church is only as deep as its leadership is willing to go. In my estimation, the whole process of spiritual direction begins with the leadership within each local meeting. This insight became a challenge to explore spiritual direction with our Ministry and Counsel team. The process of going deeper with God and with one another is the only way I see a ministry team able to break through the hard dirt that we, as Friends, have packed and pressed down around our hearts for years.
In January we launched “40 Days of Prayer for Bangor Liberty Friends Church” to discern God’s direction. While 40 days is only the tip of the iceberg, I fully believe that if our Ministry and Counsel team is supportive and participative in seeking to “do church” differently, we will see our mindset change from that of “doing church” to that of “worshipful work.” Our spiritual thirst will begin to be quenched as we come to the Well during these 40 days.
In order to facilitate this kind of transition and transformation among the leadership within the meeting, I began to utilize a “Leadership Liturgy” based upon the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 as a means to direct the team.
Starting with, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” (Matthew 6:9b, NIV) a time of quiet reflection on God’s holiness is offered, recognizing that God, not us, is the leader of this meeting and of his church. From there the words, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” (Matthew 6:10) opens a time for all of us to seek God’s will, allowing participants to hold up any leadings or decisions against the backdrop of God’s glory. Simply put, if it does not fit into God’s good, pleasing and perfect will, then we do not do it.
As the meeting continues, we address our needs, not our wants, following the premise of, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Next, we seek forgiveness for the areas in which we have fallen short, both personally and corporately. By following Jesus’ words, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” (Matthew 6:12) we seek to reconcile with anyone with whom we have conflict.
As we near the end, we reflect upon, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). Again we test every decision made against the truth of the Gospel. If a decision was made for any reason other than bringing God’s kingdom to the earth, we will again silently discern if we are being tempted to be about our business or the Father’s business. The meeting then closes with the doxology found in many Greek manuscripts, “For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever,” (Matthew 6:13b, NKJV) ending the same way we began, recognizing our smallness and God’s hugeness.
I believe now is the time for the whole church to engage in coming to the Well, to walk together in the presence of Christ and to respond to His call. Now is the time for the practice of spiritual direction to be the tool that brings all of us to unity. Together we journey, together we model and intuit signs of God’s work. Together we empower each other to experience and discern those signs. Together we endeavor to be spiritually directed.
Manny lives in Union, Iowa, where he serves as the pastor of Bangor Liberty Friends Church. He is a 2009 graduate of Barclay College and currently attends Barclay College’s School of Graduate Studies in pursuit of an MA in Transformational Leadership with an emphasis in Spiritual Formation.