One of the core assumptions of the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction is that a minister’s own spiritual journey is the source of their authority.
We’ve seen this expressed a couple of different ways in previous posts. Take John Ackerman’s Three Contemporary Religious Styles for example.
According to Ackerman, leaders are credentialed in different ways. In the Old Style, leaders are credentialed by “academic preparation.” That’s the way things are done in most oldline Protestant denominations. A combination of seminary training with some sort to judicatory body to okay candidates for ordination and settlement.
In the New Age style, leaders are “experts in the field.” Who might those experts be? Just check out the Living Spiritual Teachers Project at Spirituality & Practice. You’ll find people like Karen Armstrong, Frederick Buechner, Ram Dass, and Diane Eck.
But in the Emerging Style of contemporary religion, Ackerman lists “spiritual experience” as the way leaders are credentialed.
Younger people just aren’t taking an institution’s word that a particular person deserves to be trusted just because that person has jumped through the proper set of hoops in the correct order.
They will only trust leaders who demonstrate that they deserve to be trusted. That’s true in politics, business, and religion.
So as I’ve asked elsewhere, what does this mean in terms of pastoral authority? Howard Rice, author of The Pastor as Spiritual Guide, says that its source is “not a particular skill or technique; it is our very being. The principal tool for the work of pastoral ministry is one’s own faith.”
Daniel O. Aleshire, executive director of the Associated Theological Schools, might agree. Just replace the word “spiritual” for the word “religious” in following quote and you’ll see what I mean.
Ministers need to have an authentic religious vision. They may be religiously different from the congregation they serve, they need not be more religious than others in the congregation, and they can never be religious on behalf of the congregation. But in the end ministers are qualified for ministry because they have an authentic religious center in their own lives.
Henri Nouwen may have said it best way back in 1991 in his book Creative Ministry.
Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join the search but do not know how.
Pair that with another quote from the same book, “There is today a great hunger for a new spirituality,” and you pretty much have an accurate description of the state of spirituality and religion today.
There’s a great hunger out there, a great need. The religious authorities who are best able to address that hunger aren’t necessarily those with the Masters of Divinity degrees.
They’re the spiritual leaders who have an authentic spirituality at the center of their being.