3 Essential Practices for Pastors as Spiritual Guides

In a previous post I suggested that the source of pastoral authority is simply “a willingness to share one’s own spiritual journey with others.” If that’s the case, what aspects of the journey are most likely to contribute both to the spiritual wellbeing of the minister as well as the minister’s ability to serve the community?

Or as Jean Stairs puts it in her book Listening for the Soul: Pastoral Care and Spiritual Direction“How do pastoral caregivers sustain spiritual practices that nourish their own souls? What spiritual practices foster credibility and increased openness to listen for the stirring of God in others?”

According to Stairs, ministerial integrity and pastoral credibility are enhanced when clergy “view spiritual practices as public activities.” Stairs offers three spiritual practices that, while not exhaustive, “have the greatest potential to animate pastoral care in a contemporary context.”

They can move us toward soulful pastoral care because they aim to resist fragmentation in society, the breakdown of human relatedness, and relentless competitiveness and drivenness.

The three practices are:

  1. Hospitality.
  2. Sabbath-Keeping.
  3. Simplicity.

three-is-the-magic-numberI appreciate the approach Stairs is taking here because I’ve found it helpful to think of my spiritual practices in terms of the values they express. I call it a values-based, practice-oriented spirituality. I also like to get the most value (as in worth) from my spiritual practice. So if practicing parts of my spiritual aspirations publicly can increase my effectiveness as a spiritual leader and guide, then I’m in.

Let’s look a little closer at the three practices Stairs suggests.

Practicing Hospitality. Stairs says that “practicing hospitality is a way to become more whole and at home in God” (or “at home in the universe” to use Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s phrase). She goes on to say that “the spiritual practice of hospitality reminds us that at the core of every human soul lies some basic longing.” One of the primary tasks of both pastoral care and spiritual direction is to help others notice and attend to that longing.

Practicing Sabbath-Keeping. This is almost a no-brainer: “Pastoral caregivers will be enlivened in spirit and more able to offer care from a strong, healthy foundation if they are regular keepers of the sabbath.” Remember, “the sabbath can be kept through the regular practice of setting aside one day a week or making some special quality of time available.”

Practicing Simplicity. This means, according to Stairs, “living in such a way to foster a sense of right proportion and right relation within the various circles of our lives.” She frames it this way: “A commitment to simplicity reflects a desire not to be harmful, ostentatious, or competitive, but instead to elevate the human spirit through choices that honor the interdependence of all life.”

There are tons of excellent resources on all of these practices. My favorites are Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love, by Father Daniel Homan, O.S.B. and Lonni Collins Pratt; Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, by Wayne Mueller; and Everyday Simplicity: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Growth, by Robert J. Wicks.

If you’ve got a favorite book or resource on one or more of these practices, or if you’d think there are more spiritual practices that are particularly helpful for clergy, I’d love to hear about them! Please share in the comments.


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