As the last great generalists in our increasingly niche economy, pastors do a lot and they do it well. They preach the good news; advocate for a more just society; cast a vision for their congregation; and encourage Christians to live and work in community.
Pastors cover the “who, what and why” of the Christian faith. But where it breaks down for so many in the pews is the “how.” People want to know what it means in this 21st century world to be a Jesus follower. People want to know how to pray in their daily lives and how to apply their faith to complicated and important situations they face.
How do I do what the pastor is talking about?
The question of “how do I live out this faith I’m hearing about at church?” is the terrain of the trained and experienced spiritual director. Which is why I am encouraging church leaders—pastors, Christian educators, council moderators, church musicians and worship planners—to warm up to a local spiritual director for support, encouragement and help with discernment. Church leaders and spiritual directors can work together to fill in gaps between theology and practice.
Sermons only go so far
I remember once hearing a beautiful sermon in a progressive church about the importance of being in close, personal relationship with Jesus. (Yes the preacher defied the convention of the day by actually talking about getting to know Jesus personally). It was inspiring but she failed to address how this relationship is built. But she’s not the only one guilty. I recall as a child in a conservative Christian church that the only “how” we were given was one prayer we needed to pray to be close to Jesus.
How does a thinking person in the 21st century get to know a spiritual figure from the first century? Spiritual directors will tell you it’s by finding inner stillness within yourself (meditation), spending time in a prayer practice that fits for your personality, dialoguing with Jesus (or another spiritual figure) in your journal, putting yourself imaginatively in a scripture setting, walking a labyrinth, spending time in nature, paying attention to your dreams, figuring out who Jesus is for you, and …..well the list goes on and on. It’s different for every person because we are all made so differently.
Bridging the Gap
Some churches understand this gap between what is taught and what is practiced. They are the ones who have incorporated spiritual formation training for adult members so that this bridge can be built in community. If this is something your church would like to explore, a spiritual director would be the perfect consultant, educator or assistant to get a program going.
There are times, also, that individuals need private and confidential assistance. Pastors know who these people are because they come to their offices frequently for counseling. When the questions are of a spiritual nature or hover around practical theology, a referral to spiritual direction can be helpful. While most spiritual directors are fee-based, churches can usually work out arrangements where people who cannot pay may still receive at least a few sessions of spiritual direction.
Getting down to business
So find a spiritual director in your area and start the conversation! How can we help our people find the spiritual practice that will sustain them beyond Sunday worship? How can we assist our members in discerning where God is leading them in their everyday lives? How can we become more in touch with the movement of the Spirit within this congregation?
Let’s make sure we give the “how” of faithful living as much energy as the who, what and why.
To find a spiritual director in the Southwest Conference of the UCC, check out this webpage. There are listings of spiritual directors at the website for Spiritual Directors International. For more about spiritual direction as I practice it, please check out my website and the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.
Teresa Blythe is the founder of the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction at First UCC in Phoenix. She is a longtime spiritual director for individuals, groups and organizations and is Director of the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson. Teresa is author of the book 50 Ways to Pray and the Patheos blog Spiritual Direction 101.