I Don’t Have Time to Offer Spiritual Direction!

I get a variety of responses from ministers when I talk with them about congregation-based spiritual direction. Most are curious about what it might look like. Some get very excited about the prospect because the see it as a way of returning to the source of their call.

And some freak out.

Okay, not quite freak out. But their immediate response is that this would be one more thing to cram onto their already crowded plate.

“I don’t have time to offer spiritual direction!” is a totally appropriate response.

© Fottoo | Dreamstime.com - Old Alarm Clock PhotoWhy? Because, as Duane Bidwell points out in Short-Term Spiritual Guidance, “most spiritual direction texts assume a long-term relationship in which weekly or monthly appointments, spread over the course of a year or longer, are the norm.”

What sane minister would willingly open the door of their study to that kind of commitment?

But as the title of Bidwell’s book suggests, there’s an alternative: short-term spiritual direction. The approach we offer in the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction.

Indeed, Short-Term Spiritual Guidance is one of the primary texts for the Clergy Seminar Series.

Bidwell makes some starting assumptions about the audience for his book (and, I would say, the training we offer).

  • First, the primary audience is “parish pastors, chaplains, seminarians, and others who provide spiritual guidance ‘on the run.'”
  • Second, much (if not most) contemporary spiritual direction takes place in fewer than five meetings.
  • Third, Bidwell’s book (and the Clergy Seminar Series) offer concrete interventions that directors may use to enhance the spiritual growth and maturity of directees.
  • Fourth, the book (and the training) encourage directors to take an active stance with directees by questioning, coaching, and shaping the conversation in deliberate ways.
  • Fifth, the book is grounded in the theory and practice of brief psychotherapy and brief pastoral counseling.

And at the center of it all, this:

A dual focus on identifying God’s action and discerning an appropriate response is central to all spiritual direction, whether long-term or short-term.

I love that. Whether it’s long-term spiritual direction or short-term, the focus is the same. Noticing the movement of the spirit in an individual’s life and helping them discern how to respond.

And while more and more people are seeking out spiritual directors to accompany them through this process, it could (should?) be standard operating procedure for ministers, too.

That’s good news for ministers interested in bringing a spiritual formation focus to their congregations. As Bidwell says,

There is no reason to think that people seeking spiritual direction in a parish setting (or in another typical ministry setting, such as hospital or nursing home chaplaincy) will necessarily want or expect long-term care when they seek spiritual direction.

So even though it may seem like offering spiritual direction in a congregation is just one more thing on an overwhelming list of pastoral duties, “Learning to provide brief spiritual direction makes sense in today’s parish.”

As I’ve posted before, there are a variety of ways to do this.

And just as ministers may not feel they have time to offer long-term spiritual direction, we understand they may not have time for a tradition spiritual direction program. Which is why we offer the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction.

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