Six Core Premises About Congregational Spirituality

There’s something comforting in lists. You see them online all the time now: 5 ways to do this…3 things to help with that…7 ideas that will change your thinking about everything—and of course, number 4 will blow your mind!

First-Late-Night-Letterman-Top-Ten-List-8x6Lists are obviously nothing new. David Letterman’s been doing his Top Ten List since 1985. And then there’s the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Pillars of Islam, the Ten Commandments, and the Seven Principles.

When Sue Sinnamon and I began thinking about bringing clergy up to speed in the art of spiritual direction, we knew we’d need some sort of list to help people wrap their heads around what we hoped to achieve.

We looked over the material we’d been covering to see what we could lift up as “core premises” for the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction.

Our original list had five items:

  1. “Ministers are qualified for ministry because they have an authentic religious center in their own lives.” (Daniel O. Aleshire)
  2. Spiritual experiences “integrate different aspects of our human experience—our emotions with our intellect or our minds with our bodies,” and that integration is more thorough when it connects “us with others who share similar beliefs.” (Ellen Idler)
  3. The work of spiritual growth is more “interesting” when it is done in “community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you.” (Lillian Daniel)
  4. While individual spiritual direction has its place, “from our perspective, groups are…not a second-rate approach to helping people” grow spiritually. (Corey & Corey)
  5. “It is important for [pastors] to keep track of how spiritual direction—whether offered individually or in a group setting—is shaping the members of the church and others who may come for guidance on their spiritual journeys.” (Duane Bidwell)

Now that we’re in our second year of offering the Clergy Seminars, we’re reassessing these “core premises.” We’ve listened to the feedback from the ministers and other religious professionals who’ve attended the trainings. And we’ve learned a lot from the latest resources on individual and group spiritual direction.

We’re slowly arriving at a new list of “core premises.” The number is six for now. They are:

  1. Spiritual nurture is the heart of pastoral care.
  2. A minister’s own spiritual journey is the source of their pastoral authority.
  3. Religious traditions still have something to offer spiritual seekers.
  4. Group spiritual direction is preferable to individual spiritual direction.
  5. Congregations are particularly well-suited to offer group spiritual direction.
  6. Attending to one’s spiritual growth leads to action in the world.

Okay, so it’s not a perfect list. It is the direction we’re going, though. Of course, there could be room for more, and maybe some are just subsets of others.

For example, we’ll definitely want to talk about adult faith formation being the center of lifespan faith development, and spiritual growth being the heart of adult faith formation. Maybe that’s a core principle.

And maybe a minister’s spiritual journey being the source of pastoral authority is somehow tied up with spiritual nurture as the heart of pastoral care.

At any rate, I’ll be writing more about each of these in the coming days, so stay tuned.

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