As more and more people—especially younger people—identify as “Spiritual, But Not Religious” or “None,” parish ministers might want to take a moment to reflect on what they have to offer this growing demographic.
Certainly there are the essentials of our particular religious traditions. The liturgies and sacred texts, the history and theology, the ins and outs of governance and polity. Pretty much the topics we always cover in our new member classes.
Then there are the skills we learn in seminary. Those relational skills that give us the confidence to work with other people, to care for them and encourage them in their religious journeys.
These elements have been the foundation of our vocation for decades, and they continue to make up the bulk of our theological training.
Yet these may be the very things some people perceive as the “religious” in the phrase “spiritual, but not religious.” What do we have to offer when it comes to the “spiritual” part?
Hopefully we know how to tend to our own spiritual lives. But how sharp is our focus on the spiritual formation of the seekers and dwellers who come to our congregations?
How prepared are we to meet the spiritual needs of those who could care more about characteristic peculiarities and technicalities of our traditions?
How to bring a spiritual formation focus to congregational life wasn’t necessarily something seminaries taught.
After all those classes in Theology and Homiletics, in the Old and New Testaments, in Comparative Religions and Pastoral Counseling, there wasn’t a whole lot of time left over to attending to our own spiritual lives, let alone learning how to attend to the spiritual lives of the members of the congregations we may be called to serve.
In fact, theological schools and denominational bodies have only recently acknowledged the need for seminarians to have more training in spiritual guidance.
So what are experienced ministers to do if they want to get themselves up to speed in spiritual direction?
- One way would be to enroll in one of the many spiritual direction programs available. Spiritual Directors International has an Enrichment, Formation, and Training Program Locator on their website. These programs generally take at least two years to complete, and most require some level of residency, either on weekends or periodic week-long retreats.
- Another possibility would be to enroll in a Doctor of Ministry program in Spiritual Direction. Many theological schools—ranging from conservative to progressive—now offer them. Most programs are low residency, and some can be taken completely online.
- A third option would be self study. There are a lot of books out there on spiritual direction, with more published every day. Highly motivated ministers could fill in the gaps of their professional training by working their way through the reading list of a spiritual direction program. It would also help if they were in spiritual direction themselves in addition to meeting regularly with peers for support.
- And then there’s the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction, which is designed specifically for clergy and other qualified religious professionals who would like to bring a spiritual formation focus to their ministry. This certificate program can be completed in roughly nine months by attending three Monday-through-Wednesday sessions in a number of locations throughout the country.
Obviously not every minister wants or needs to get up to speed in spiritual direction. But if you feel there may be something more for you to learn in this area, consider exploring one or more of the options above.