9 Ways Spiritual Direction Helps Youth Pastors

9 Ways Spiritual Direction Helps Youth Pastors

I am who I am, and I know what I know about God and faith and church because of faithful youth pastors. I started middle school in the early 1990s at a large evangelical Methodist church. Youth group was my life. I can’t overstate the influence youth ministry has had in my life. In addition to this, I spent seven years on staff as a college minister at a church where my closest colleagues were a team of youth ministers. I’ve had a front row seat to the challenges youth ministers face and the way spiritual direction speaks directly to those challenges.

Youth ministry is people, which means it’s messy and difficult and wonderful all at the same time. So much of what I know about Jesus and Jesus’ church I know because of the youth pastors and volunteer youth workers who paid attention to me, took me and my faith seriously, and shared their own life with God with me.

Over the years I’ve been able to either stay in touch with or reconnect with a number of these people. Some have continued in new ministry roles. For others, the church no longer has a place in their life. And this saddens me. I live in a city where you can’t sit in a coffee shop without encountering an ex-youth pastor, more often than not, no longer connected to church. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I’ve written before about how spiritual direction benefits pastors. All that applies to youth pastors. Here are some ways that spiritual direction directly benefits the vocation of youth ministry.

1. Having a healthy relationship with your lead pastor

It’s a weird thing when your pastor becomes our boss. You may accept a paying position at your own church where you’ve previously been a member where that relationship suddenly changes. You may walk into a community where every body sees this person as pastor, but to you, they’re the person evaluating your performance.

A spiritual director provides you a place where you can receive pastoral care from someone not with power over your paycheck. Some lead pastors have great boundaries. Some don’t. You have control over your boundaries, and with a director, you can allow your pastor to be themselves and nothing more.

2. Discerning your vocation

Chances are you didn’t train for this. Nor do you plan to retire from youth ministry. There are exceptions. Most of the youth pastors I interact with are in their mid-20s and still discovering themselves. They may envision themselves on track to a different ministry role in the future. They may be exploring other career opportunities.

A spiritual director can be a person who see us as we are and not the persona we where as youth pastor. Where do you see God at work? How is God inviting you to respond? How is this setting of youth ministry the most faithful way for you to respond? Youth ministry is oftentimes a season calling and we can need a pair of eyes on us helping us discern the next season.

3. De-cluttering from distractions

When your to-do list involves visiting students on campus for lunch, emailing volunteers about the upcoming mission trip, returning a parent’s phone call, going to the church staff meeting, taking an online seminary class, while making time for your family, how do you know what’s most important? How do you not give in to being overwhelmed?

Meeting with a spiritual director carves out necessary space to sit in quiet to listen before God. A director sits with you for that “mental triage” to discern what’s truly God’s invitation versus all the things we feel obliged to say “yes” to.

4. A guide in spiritual formation

Your work is first and foremost about leading young people deeper into the ways of God. You also have the opportunity to lead adult volunteers and parents in discipleship, as well. Who leads you? You’re only capable of leading as far as you yourself have been led.

A director helps you recognize yourself in the movements of God’s story. They can teach you to new and different spiritual disciplines. They can introduce you to books and writers have have stood the test of time and proven beneficial to growing in faith.

5. Staying anchored amidst conflicting expectations

Being a youth pastor can sometimes feel like being drawn and quartered. On the bad days, the students want one thing, the volunteer team something else, the parents go in another direction all together, and the lead pastor has still a different vision.

To be a pastor of any kind is to be accountable to God. When the expectations you feel from God and the expectations you feel from the church aren’t on the same page, a director can help you discern the way forward. When you feel the symptoms of burnout, a director is a safe place of expressing those feelings so you don’t explode.

6. Learning your gifts and bringing them forward

We are all made in the image of God. We are each uniquely gifted to minister in a wide variety of ways. We may find ourselves in youth ministry because we’re drawn to young people. Our students themselves are growing and stumbling through their own journeys of self-awareness. What does it mean to walk in hospitality, to be a nurturer, or a creative?

A spiritual director can help us name our gifts so we can bring them to our community. And as we learn to recognize our own gifts, we learn to recognize our gifts, we learn to see others’ with sharper eyes. A director can also help us name our limitations and realize we can’t do it all.

7. Having a safe outlet for frustrations

Making the transition from a teenager in youth group to a paid staff person can take you behind the curtain. In some sense, you begin to see how the sausage gets made. And for many, that can be a disillusioning experience that starts to feed your cynicism.

It can lead to questions and doubts. We need to verbally process these feelings, and doing that in the company of parents or students isn’t appropriate or healthy. A spiritual director provides an appropriate and healthy space to vent those out loud.

8. Fighting back against busyness

A youth pastor once told me, “I work 80 hours a week. And I love it. I don’t know how to turn it off. But I think I probably need to figure out how to slow it down.” Whether you’re responsible for a large group of kids or a small group, whether you’re paid or volunteer, whether you’re part-time or full-time, there’s always something more to get done. Sunday and Wednesday come every week.

If we’re not careful, we normalize this pace of life all the way until we burnout. A spiritual director reminds us that we’re not designed by God to be busy. Busyness is a sickness to our soul. A director can ask tough questions about why we let ourselves by led around by so many urgencies and teach us healthy boundaries.

9. Seeing the big picture

Youth ministry is one piece in a grand collage of what God is doing in your church and in your community. It can be easy to get lost in what you do, especially if it’s a specific niche, whether that’s junior highers or the 10th grade Sunday school class. It’s one piece of a larger tapestry. Your work as a youth pastor fits in a larger context of the church and the community.

A director helps us see the big picture and how all the threads come together. We’re connected in a larger body, and our kids are connected to a larger story. They come from particular families and will grow up and form families of their own. A director reminds us there’s more to life than youth group, both for us and our students.

Youth ministry matters because you lead the church in encountering the presence of Christ among us in kids and teenagers. You remind us continually that at the banquet in the kingdom of God there is only the kids’ table. A spiritual director is an indispensable ally in your being a healthy youth pastor.


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9 Ways Spiritual Direction Helps Pastors

9 Ways Spiritual Direction Helps Pastors

Pastor and author Eugene Peterson writes, “It is not merely nice for pastors to have a spiritual director; it is indispensable.” Spiritual direction is a beneficial practice for all Christians. For pastors, spiritual direction provides particular essential gifts.

In my denomination, our pastors gather once each year for business meetings. Within that time each year is a service of remembrance for those in our clergy family who have died in the past year. It’s beautiful service that draws us into awe and gratitude for our co-laborers in the Kingdom of God.

It’s a tangible finish line to imagine. Years from now, when my name gets read there, what will the reaction be in the room? Will it be “I am so glad that person was a part of our family”? Or will it be “Who was that”? While spiritual direction is no silver bullet from all the pitfalls and temptations that arise in pastoral ministry, it does offer tremendous benefits for the endurance race that a calling to ministry entails.

Here are some ways spiritual direction particularly helps pastors:

1. Integrity in leadership.

One pastor told me, “When you are asked to sit with those who are searching for God, you should be sitting with someone who helps YOU in searching for God. I’ve learned so much about how to guide those entrusted to my care through having a spiritual director.”

We can’t lead people deeper and further into the things of God than we’ve gone ourselves. It’s not fair to ask parishioners to cultivate a love for God and neighbor that we’re not willing to do ourselves. Spiritual direction provides one means of leading by example a passionate pursuit of God for pastors.

2. A partner in spiritual reflection.

We often need a safe, objective space to say out loud the things we can’t say anywhere else. “I have a spiritual guide to talk with and ask deep questions,” another pastor reflected to me. “Having an unbiased guide has been pretty liberating to pray with and reflect with about where the Spirit is leading.”

The pastoral vocation can often be a lonely space. A spiritual director provides the gift of presence to you. Spiritual direction can be space for turning your attention to yourself, tending the needs and hungers of your own inner life.

3. Self care.

Several months ago I attended a conference for ministry leaders. At one point, the speaker on the stage invited those who were tired to come forward for prayer. I watched as more than two-thirds of the crowd responded. In all its many rewards, ministry is still a wearisome vocation. Burnout is a very real outcome at times. Even the symptoms of it, while teeter on the brink, negatively effect those around us. We are human beings, and we have limitations.

“I really don’t think I could’ve stayed in ministry this long without a spiritual director and some close friends,” one pastor tells me. “Having a spiritual director has been essential in helping me keep my calling fresh, my spirit tended, my heart strong.” You are first and foremost a human being made in God’s image. A spiritual director can remind you that this identity comes before your ministry work.

4. Self awareness.

Ruth Haley Barton has said, “A really horrifying moment in ministry is when you realize that you were probably hired for your false self.” Each of us as human beings are a complex bundle of tremendous gifts and debilitating blindspots. Discerning between our gifts and blindspots is long, hard work.

Another pastor friend told me, “Spiritual direction helps me see myself in an honest, but redemptive way. My spiritual director has helped me more than any other understand my personality, motivation, and the unique way God has made me. It often gives me epiphanies about false ways I’ve been viewing myself and helps correct my view.”

The Enneagram is one tool at pastors’ disposal for excavating through the muck of their false self, leading us to the beauty of our authentic self in Christ. “An introduction to the Enneagram has been a great tool to know and figure out who I am in a different way,” said one pastor.

5. A partner in prayer.

As pastors, we pray for so many people. Who prays for you? Who holds you before God as you walk through hospital wings, prepare sermons, run staff meetings, and vision for the future? A spiritual director is a committed ally in prayer to pastors. A director remembers you before God not only during sessions but between them, as well.

“Every pastor needs someone who prays for them… really prays for them,” I was told. “Every pastor needs someone, who in praying for them, is truly seeking God’s will and will speak truth to them.”

6. Safe place of vulnerability.

One pastor related to me that the most meaningful part of spiritual direction for them was discovering “a safe space to feel the pain and burden of ministry. Knowing I have a companion on this journey has made all the difference.”

As pastors, we feel the burden of responsibility of having it all together all the time. Spiritual direction creates a space in your routine where it’s okay to not be okay. A spiritual director can carry your doubts, your questions, your burdens, your disappointments, and your failures.

7. Someone who tells the truth.

The role of pastor brings with it certain levels of privilege and power. If we’re not careful, this cultivates our pride. Our congregation can craft an image of ourselves that we start to believe is true. This is a dangerous space to live in.

King David had the prophet Nathan. Hezekiah had Isaiah. A spiritual director can be a prophetic voice of correction and challenge to pastors. A director tells us not what we want to hear but what we need to hear, all in a context of grace, love, and healing. It may hurt in the moment, but it can often keep us from a deeper, more damaging hurt further down the road.

8. A place to practice humility.

Meeting with a spiritual director is an intentional act of humility, submitting to the wisdom of another. “There aren’t enough words to express how valuable the gift of having a spiritual director has been to me in ministry,” I was told by a pastor. “I’ve said often, ‘Every pastor needs to be in spiritual direction.’ I think if one is not, it is dangerous. It leaves one open to the seductions of power and influence with no protective factor.”

We invite a director to see us as we are. A director invites pastors to the words of Paul when he writes, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

9. Others are counting on you.

Each Sunday, a congregation looks to you for spiritual leadership. You may have a staff depending on your for their livelihoods and callings. Your community may depend on your church for various services. You have colleagues in ministry that look to you for encouragement and support. Most importantly, you have a family that needs you to be your very best self. You are not an island. When a pastor flames out because of stubborn pride, a lack of integrity, or deep emotional unhealth, the impact is far-reaching.

“Spiritual direction makes me a stronger, more courageous leader and pastor,” I was told by one pastor. The inverse is also true. The impact of emotionally and spiritual healthy pastors is also far-reaching.

Again, Peterson writes about pastors and spiritual directors:

“In the best of all possible worlds, no pastor would ‘get’ a spiritual director. We would already have one—not by our choice or inclination, but by assignment. For the very act of choosing a spiritual director for ourselves can defeat the very thing we are after. If we avoid anyone who we sense will not be tenderly sympathetic to the ‘dearest idols we have known’ and opt for conversational coziness, we have only doubled our jeopardy. But we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds, in which someone looks after us in these matters, and the vocational/spiritual peril in which the pastor lives is so acute that, dangerous or not (but very mindful of the danger), pastors must get spiritual directors. Our spiritual sanity requires it.”

In Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, Eugene Peterson outlines three particular callings for pastors—prayer, opening Scripture, and spiritual direction. In the last section of the book, he outlines what it looks like for pastors to offer direction, and just as crucial to a faithful life, receiving spiritual direction.

If you’re a pastor and interested in what receiving spiritual direction, you can fill out this contact form.


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The Role of the Holy Spirit in Spiritual Direction

The Role of the Holy Spirit in Spiritual Direction

A month ago, I planted some sunflowers around my front porch. Yeah, I knew I was taking my chances as it was late fall already. Maybe they’ll bloom. Maybe not. When it comes to planting anything, there are elements within my control and elements outside my control. Up to a certain point, I have to trust nature’s processes. In spiritual direction, “trusting nature’s processes” comes when I relinquish control and open myself to the work of the Holy Spirit.

When it comes to spiritual direction, the primary actor doing stuff is the Holy Spirit. Not me. The Holy Spirit is the initiator, not the director, not the directee, of the conversation. The Holy Spirit sparks ideas. The Holy Spirit inspires words and phrases. The Holy Spirit pulls out meaningful memories. The Holy Spirit leads. It’s my work—as director, or as directee—to respond obediently.

Just what exactly is the the Holy Spirit?

Better question: Who is the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is always a who, not a what. We’re not talking about an impersonal force, like in Star Wars. The Holy Spirit is a person. In fact, when we talk about the Holy Spirit, we’re talking about one of the persons of the Christian Trinity.

Rublev’s famous icon of the Trinity highlights the oneness and deference of the persons of God to one another. The Father looks to the Son. The Son looks to the Spirit. The Spirit looks to the Father. They are one, and they are three, and from the earliest days, this is how Christians have talked about God. Community is a fundamental part of God’s nature.

I grew up in a faith tradition where we didn’t talk about the Holy Spirit. There was God the Father who made the world and sent Jesus. There was Jesus the Son, who died on the cross for my sins. And then there was this dove that we didn’t really know what to do with.

In college, I suddenly found myself in a setting making friends with people who turned that upside down. The Holy Spirit was everything, and Jesus and the Father took a backseat, if they got a seat at all. The Holy Spirit gave people all kinds of crazy superpowers at church.

It took some time to find a healthy balance between these two places. I had to sit with the Scriptures and soak in those stories that spoke about the Holy Spirit.

The creative work of the Holy Spirit

I’ll argue that the most important chapter in the Bible is Genesis 1. In the very opening verses of God’s story we find the Holy Spirit at work:

“The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).

The earth is a mess. And God is there. This is a profound theological truth. The Genesis 1 is not story of creation from nothing. It’s rather a story of order from chaos, and the orderer of that chaos is the Holy Spirit.

The word “hovering” in this passage looks like a mother hen expectantly guarding her eggs, or like a chef creatively stirring his pot. Before we see God as a shepherd or king or judge or father, or any other of the many metaphors the biblical writers give to God, we see God as a maker. We see God painstakingly putting everything in its right place, taking the chaos and crafting a beautiful order.

The Holy Spirit as “breather”

But that’s not the only story of creation in Genesis. Chapter 2 offers another take. There’s a lot of overlap in the Hebrew words that get translated into English as “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit.”

“Then Yahweh God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person” (Genesis 2:7).

God takes a ball of dirt, breathes into it, and it becomes a living human being. The breathing of God animates life. Breath creates. Spirit generates.

The Holy Spirit in the story of Jesus

The writer of Luke makes particular emphasis on the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus and then the life of the Church in the book of Acts.

Reminiscent of the Genesis stories, this is how the Jesus story begins in Luke:

“The angel replied [to Mary], ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you'” (Luke 1:35).

At this point in time, as far as the story of Israel goes, things are formless, void, and darkness covers the land. There is no king, no prophet, and the promises to Abraham, Moses, and David seem like fading memories. The Roman Empire rules with an iron fist.

And God’s subversive act in the darkness, in the chaos is to overshadow Mary. To hover again. The Incarnation begins with the creative work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit as “breather,” redux

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church is an epic scene as Luke tells it in Acts 2. But the Gospel of John gives us a very different take on the way the disciples first encountered the Spirit, one more intimate with echoes of Genesis 2.

It’s Easter day. The disciples are hiding behind locked doors, fearful of what happens next, uncertain of what to believe. Jesus appears.

“Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (John 20:22).

As God animated the lifeless mud ball by breathing to make the first human, Jesus animates the fearful disciples to make them the Church. The presence of the Holy Spirit brings new life, resurrection life.

The Holy Spirit makes three in the room

One crucial way spiritual direction is different from counseling or coaching is that there’s much more happening than two people having a conversation. There are always three persons in the room. It is spiritual direction, after all.

Francis Kelly Nemeck and Marie Theresa Coombs write, “The spiritual director, therefore, helps bring into consciousness and explicate the already existing spiritual direction in which the Spirit is leading the directee.” The Spirit is constantly working. Direction begins to name the shape and form and emerging life that the Holy Spirit brings.

Often in spiritual direction sessions, I’ll light a candle as a physical reminder of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our space. I’ll begin with silence and invite the directee to breathe deeply, notice their breathing, and remember how God breathed into the mud ball, making the first human being. Remember how the risen Jesus breathed on the disciples, inviting them to receive the Spirit.

The Celtic Christian communities formed by St. Patrick and those following had a hard time accepting the biblical image of the Holy Spirit as a dove. It was too tame for them. Too domesticated. Too quiet. So they chose instead the image of a goose. It was wild. It was noisy. It couldn’t be controlled or contained. This was a picture for God that inspired them.

Do you feel stuck in the formless void? Fumbling in darkness? Do you need to be overshadowed? Do you need life breathed into you?

May your journey in spiritual direction be a wild goose chase of the Holy Spirit.


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How to Prepare to Meet with Your Spiritual Director

How to Prepare to Meet with Your Spiritual Director

Let’s imagine you’ve made the plunge, you’ve made meeting with a spiritual director a regular rhythm of your life. You’ve found a director. You’ve met for the first time and decided they’re a good fit and you want to continue meeting.

Now what? What’s next?

Henri Nouwen writes, “The goal of spiritual direction is spiritual formation—the ever-increasing capacity to live a spiritual life from the heart…. Almost anything that regularly asks us to slow down and order our time, desires, and thoughts to counteract selfishness, impulsiveness, or hurried fogginess of mind can be a spiritual discipline.”

While certainly not necessary, it can be helpful to carve out some margin to consider what you want to cover when you meet with your spiritual director. That could look like spending some time scanning your journal, or it could look like turning the radio down in the car on the drive to the meeting.

Here are some ways you can get ready for a meeting with your spiritual director.


We want to be mindful of not out-sourcing our spiritual life, our listening life, our prayer life. A spiritual director is not a mediator. They are not Moses, coming down from the mountain with a word for you. A director is a partner in listening with you.

We must listen. We must make ourselves available to God. The agenda for the meeting comes from the Holy Spirit, from the ways the Spirit provokes, nudges, inspires, stretches us, not from the director.

We need daily patterns of prayer. Paul says, “Never stop praying” (1 Thess 5:17). This can look like a regular rhythm such as the daily office. It can be habits like talking to God in your car or while you brush your teeth or before meals. God is unlikely to ignore the sincere prayer, “Show me what you’re rearranging inside me. Show me where you’re at work in the world around me.”

Remember that the role of the director is like a midwife, helping give you words for the life that God shaping within you. When I begin a meeting with a directee, we start with reading the daily psalm. We give God the first word. Then we sit in silence, listening together, and I invite them to break the silence whenever they’re ready, whether it takes 20 seconds or 20 minutes. Prayer is the best way to prepare to meet with your director.


There may be artifacts from the past month—encounters, conversations, stories, insights from Scripture or other devotional reading or hearing sermons, moments of prayer, thoughts, dreams. If you’ve written them down, whether they felt important at the time or not, pulling them out before your spiritual director like items from a suitcase, or jigsaw puzzle pieces from the box, your director can assist you in connecting the dots between them. If you haven’t been writing them down, they may be lost opportunities.

Make the space to listen how God responds to your prayers, especially when God responds in unexpected ways. Regular patterns of spiritual practices give us plenty of subject matter to bring to the direction meeting. Waiting until the day before or the day of is like cramming the last minute for a big test.

Work to capture your thoughts on paper as they happen throughout the month. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or lengthy. Michael Hyatt provides a simple template for daily journaling. Sacred Ordinary Days has resources for a weekly rhythm of spiritual reflection. One of the foundational pieces to the Getting Things Done methodology is the weekly review. The Examen, a daily practice started by St. Ignatius, is yet another tool for self reflection. Whatever you do, write it down. There is no better way to keep track of and pay attention to your own growth over time.

Notice your anxious places

As a director myself, I send each of my directees an email a day or two before we meet. From a practical stand point, I do this to confirm the details of our meeting. But it also serves a deeper purpose.

I borrow a paragraph from Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations:

When we meet tomorrow, I want to explore with you whatever you feel most deserves our attention, so I will begin our conversation by asking, “What is the most important thing you and I should be talking about?” I will rely on you to tell me. If the thought of bringing up an issue makes you anxious, that’s a signal you need to bring it up. I’m not going to preempt your agenda with my own.

It’s helpful to begin to think about those things that threaten your peace, that ignite your shame, and incite your anger. That place of anxiety often reveals the growing edges of God’s work in our lives. The creation story of Genesis states, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” It’s one of my favorite verses. Formless and empty. That’s where God’s creative work happens.

Where are you feeling formless and empty? It’s my hunch that’s where God’s creative work is about to break out.

And often it’s okay to have not prepared at all. Some times it’s a bad month. Some times we get swept away by the onslaught of activities and obligations. That’s okay. All the more reason to keep your appointment with your director, so that, for that one hour, you hold the franticness at bay, and you listen. You sit still and you be with God.

Allow yourself to enter into the story of the panicked disciples, sitting in their fishing dinghy in the middle of a violent squall. Shake Jesus awake, who has the wherewithal to be taking a nap amidst the noise. Listen deeply as he stands and shouts out into the rain, “Peace! Be still!” And sit in silent wonder as he crawls back into his nap.

Your spiritual director will be with you. You are not alone.

Be still and know that I am God.


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How to Find a Spiritual Director

How to Find a Spiritual Director

Nearly eight years ago, I moved across the country to take a job at a church. I knew right away that I would need a spiritual director to help keep me grounded amidst the onslaught of tasks, activities, and competing demands that come with receiving a paycheck from a church. I’ve heard Stanley Hauerwas say, “Being in ministry is like being nibbled to death by ducks.” In my book, committing to the work of spiritual direction is much preferable to death by ducks.

“Though good advice lies deep within the heart,
    a person with understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5).

I wanted help keeping the most important things the most important things—having eyes to see and ears to hear the fresh activity of God’s kingdom around me amidst the cacophony of busyness. I needed help staying close to the heart of Jesus.

The church happened to also employ a “director of healing ministries,” so I approached him. Jerry wasn’t a spiritual director in the traditional sense, but he was a licensed counselor with extensive background in Celebrate Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous. Prayerfully, he agreed, and we’ve been meeting every other week now at a local coffeeshop for the past eight years. Long after he retired and I left that church setting, he still asks me tough questions and helps me pay close attention to the Spirit’s work in my life.

Thus far, I’ve had good experiences in finding a director by having some good people in my social network. But what if you don’t? How do you go about finding a spiritual director to walk with you in this season of life?

Here’s a couple of options:

  • Ask people you know. Do you currently know any directors? Do you know people who are meeting with a director that they’d recommend? Does someone in your church offer direction? Like my experience with Jerry, is there someone in your church that may not know they are a spiritual director but has the reputation of doing what a director does?
  • Look for retreat centers located in your region. Monasteries and seminaries can be great resources for connecting with local directors.
  • Some spiritual direction schools provide a directory of alumni who are available to new directees. Sustainable Faith provides such a directory. So does Equipping Lydia. Because of technology, many directors (myself included) offer direction via video services like Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom.
  • Other online directories for someone in your area include Spiritual Directors International and Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association.

You don’t have to be in ministry to seek out a spiritual director. You may be looking for an ally in discerning your next career steps. You may work in a service profession, like teaching, where you constantly give yourself for the sake of others, and you need some self care. You may simply desire to take some deeper steps with God.

Once you reach out to a director, you’ll want to set up an initial consultation. You want to know that this is a good fit, that is director is a person you can trust. You should treat this like a job interview, where you’re asking questions. As a director, I have particular questions I have in mind during a first meeting, and I hope that the prospective directee has some intentionality in the meeting.

It’s my hope to leave that meeting with some confidence whether or not to go forward. A good director can provide referrals if it’s just not a good fit. Spiritual directors are human beings, and sometimes things just don’t click. Sometimes it’s personality, sometimes theology, sometimes schedule. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still pursue spiritual direction.

Here are some helpful questions to bring in a first meeting:

  • Tell me your story. Everybody has a story. It’s a always a gift to hear someone’s story. It may very well cover many of the questions below.
  • What qualifies you to be a spiritual director? Have they done a school program? Received a certificate or degree? What’s their life experience as a spiritual director? And for how long?
  • Whose sheep are you? I had a colleague ask me this once, and I’ve never forgotten. This is a question about accountability. Do they have a supervisor? Are they part of a church? Are they accountable to a community and pastoral leadership? Who do they belong to? Stay away from lone gurus.
  • Who is your community? Who are your most important relationships? Similar to the above question, we are to whom we belong. To whom do they belong? Family, formal associations, neighborhood, church? Who is their support network?
  • What standards or ethics do you abide by? Spiritual Directors International provides a code of ethics for all its members, and a spiritual director should be able to communicate their standards.
  • What are your rates? Be ready to pay for spiritual direction, even if it’s not asked. It’s worth paying for. Money has a way of adding “weight” to the relationship. It adds to your own commitment to the process, and more often than not, a director is a trained professional who should be treated as such.
  • How frequently? Monthly? Bi-monthly? Every six weeks? You’ll want to be clear about expectations.
  • Who is God for you? What is the Bible to you? What does spiritual direction mean to you? At face value, these may appear to be obvious, but particularly if you’ve found this person outside of your usual network, you may find their spiritual experience to be very different from your own.
  • How does technology affect how you do direction? You may explore together the pros and cons of doing direction by video.
  • What commitments do you have in direction? For myself, prayer, confidentiality, and presence are commitments I make sure to communicate up front.
  • How does direction end? There are any number of reasons for ending a direction relationship, and you may want to discuss what those might look like.
  • How does your commitment to particular social issues or theology influence direction for you? Social and political issues are polarizing in our culture, and you and your potential director want to be honest about how your (and their) passion for such issues might creep
  • Do you give homework? This is something I’m frequently asked. I invite directees to journal. When appropriate, I may invite to read a certain book. Direction is about noticing what God is doing, and it’s between you and your director to discern how you best engage.

If you’d like to talk about what spiritual direction might look like for yourself, your team, your church staff, or your church as a whole, send me an email and let’s explore that.

If you’re just getting started with spiritual direction, I recommend these books:


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Why Every Leader Needs a Spiritual Director

Why Every Leader Needs a Spiritual Director

Whether you’re a business owner, a pastor, or a stay-at-home mom, if you’re a leader, a spiritual director can be an indispensable ally in your ability to thrive.

Last week a friend post on social media The 25 Leadership Lessons of Steve Kerr. (Kerr is head coach of the NBA Golden State Warriors.) A comment was left bemoaning the fact this is the same leadership advice that’s been packaged and re-packaged for years. To which, my friend responded, maybe it’s because bosses still don’t put it into practice.

A spiritual director leads us to slow down, to pay attention, to listen closely, to be on the lookout for the Divine Spark both in ourselves and in those we lead. Wherever your religious convictions happen to land, a spiritual director listens and sees. Here are just a few of the ways a spiritual director can be an invaluable asset to any healthy leader.

A director can guide a leader in self awareness

I took my family to an arts festival this weekend, and my kids shot straight to the inflatables and Jupiter Jump. I watch kids on inflatables and think it’s such a metaphor for emotional health and maturity. Most, if not all, kids have zero sense of self awareness. They go flying and crashing into one another and tears ensue.

Each of us has a personality that’s a tremendous gift to ourselves and those around us, and at the same time, it comes with sharp hooks and edges that can cause severe damage to our self and others if we’re not careful.

Knowing who you are is one of the most important leadership lessons to learn, and it’s not something you suddenly wake up one day to discover. Self awareness is a long and patient journey. A director is an indispensable guide on this path of self development.

A director can help a leader see what we’re missing

Some years ago, I went to watch some of my students play soccer. I’d never been to an NCAA soccer match. To me, I just saw a bunch of people running in the grass kicking a ball. My colleague who joined me (who confessed to me that if he hadn’t been a youth pastor he’d have been a soccer coach) talked me through the whole game—the ever-evolving strategies of each team, the responsibilities of various positions. I was learning there was a game behind the game.

Spiritual directors are students of human nature. When there’s conflict and friction either among your team or between yourself and your team, a spiritual director can ask penetrating, even uncomfortable, questions to get to the source. A director can help you see the game behind the game of your human interactions.

A director can ease a leader’s symptoms of burnout

There’s a story of Moses in the Bible where the children of Israel are attacked by enemies in the wilderness. When Moses holds his staff in the air, Israel prevails. When Moses’ arms get tired, the enemies take the advantage. So Aaron and Hur hold up Moses’ tired arms so that Israel wins the battle.

Who are your Aaron and Hur? Who lifts you up when you’re tired? Where do you go when the warning signs of burnout start creeping in? Where do you have a safe place where you don’t have to have all the answers and can say out loud your questions, doubts, and insecurities? A spiritual director can be your Aaron and Hur.

A director can keep a leader tethered to reality

Pride and ego are two of a leader’s most deadly temptations. If we’re not careful, we can confuse our true self with a distorted projected version of our self that others, over time, start to think is the real us.

I first met Mike when he interviewed for a youth ministry job at our church. We had a very informal group interview with the whole student ministry department. As we were ending, Mike turns to me and says, “Whose sheep are you?”

I’ll never forget it, because it reminded me that for me to be a healthy leader, I also needed to be a good follower. Whenever I start to believe too many of the nice things people say about me, my director calls me back to reality.

A director offers to a leader a non-anxious presence

Leadership can be lonely. You have to be “on” all the time. You have to have all the answers. People are counting on you. You deal with pressures both internal and external. You continually face the risk of being misunderstood.

A regular check-in with a director can be a calm in the midst of the storm, a peaceful island amidst the rocky waves of constant deadlines and demands. A director cultivates our mental and emotional health.

A director provides to a leader accountability in holding margin

We are not whole human beings without healthy rhythms of work and rest. If we’re not careful we can say “yes” to everything that comes our way. Things like vacation and Sabbath are crucial to our well being.

Our margin is valuable. A spiritual director can provide accountability in naming and keeping appropriate, win-win boundaries for both you and your team.

If you’re looking to expand the width and breadth of your leadership abilities, consider reaching out to a spiritual director. If you have questions about spiritual direction or would like to set up a free initial consultation, contact me here.


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What is a Spiritual Director

What is a Spiritual Director?

Bryan was the first spiritual director I ever sought out. He was a deacon in our church with a deep, quiet wisdom about him. I was in a transitional season. I had finished seminary, but the next steps weren’t working out the way that I had planned. Bryan helped me with a rhythm of journaling and paying attention to the movements there over time. He taught me lectio divina.

I had seen a friend write these words on his blog:

I’m coming to the conclusion that if you are in a role of leadership in the church (whether full time, part time, or volunteer makes little to difference to what i am about to say) please consider having a spiritual director.

So what is a spiritual director? I’ve heard it described as “being present to God for another.” It is a process where one person, a director will spend time listening to you while also listening to God to help you discern what God is doing in your life so that you can cooperate with his desires and activity for you.

And I thought, “Sign me up for that.” I’d never heard of spiritual director before, but those were the words for what I was hungry for right then.

The Christian culture of which I find myself seems so soaked in the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus we’ve forgotten the value of listening and submitting to wise Christian guides. We’re more prone to chase the fad of the latest Christian celebrity than we are to submit to the wisdom of a Christ-centered sage who has lived life, knows God, and takes the time to know us.

Eugene Peterson has a series of works related to the pastoral vocation, and in Working the Angles, he devotes the last third of the book of spiritual direction. He writes,

“Spiritual directors used to be important because they attended to what everyone agreed was important; they are important now because they are about the only people left who confirm the insights and longings that everyone in fugitive moments thinks might be important, but that get brushed aside by urgent and hurrying experts on their way to a therapy session or a committee meeting.”

Spiritual Directors International provides a Standards for Ethical Conduct for directors. Below is my riff on those standards. This is the kind of spiritual director you want to look for.

A spiritual director attends to their own self-care

They work on their own spiritual growth. They practice what they preach. Like the image of the oxygen mask in every airline safety presentation, spiritual directors take care of their souls through spiritual formation, both personally and in community.

Spiritual directors continually learn. They continually discern their own calling. They are life-long students of psychology and sociology and culture and theology and church history and spiritual wisdom—all as they pertain to hearing and responding to God’s voice with others.

Spiritual directors receive spiritual direction. They submit to a pastor or a denominational board or other supervisory group. They seek out their own counseling when necessary.

Spiritual directors practice self-care. They cultivate their marriages, family relationships, and other relationships. They establish healthy boundaries in all their relationships, and voluntarily remove themselves from any space that might compromise the spiritual direction relationship.

Spiritual directors know their limits. They can say “no.” They are self-aware to manage their social energy. They notice the ways that physical space can affect both themselves and their directees.

Peterson calls directors, “mentors in prayer… experienced companions in the soul’s itinerary… large-souled men and women thinking strenuously and living arduously at the deep center of life.”

A spiritual director serves as host to the directee.

Spiritual directors set the table. They initiate the expectations for, the nature of, and the limitations of spiritual direction in the life of the directee. They cast a clear vision and articulate the parameters. There are roles and responsibilities when it comes to direction, and spiritual directors communicate those. These may include the length and frequency of meetings, compensation, and the process for ending the spiritual direction relationship.

Spiritual directors value the Image of God in every directee. The story of the directee is honored in high esteem. The questions that a spiritual director asks come from a place of deep curiosity and never from a place of judgment or “gotcha.” Dignity and respect are postures of spiritual directors. Spiritual directors are careful to navigate discrepancies in power and boundaries with directees.

Spiritual directors commit to strict confidentiality. They maintain the privacy of the individuals they serve in all matters of conversation and written and electronic notes. They refrain from initiating conversation in public settings, much like a professional counselor. They host spiritual direction in appropriate spaces. They recognize and address the limits of confidentiality in regards to legal issues such as abuse or self-harm.

Peterson writes, “We need to deal with the obvious, with sin and with the Spirit, and we would rather deal with almost anything else.”

A spiritual director is rooted in community.

Spiritual directors are no lone gurus. Christian spiritual directors are committed to church life. It is in church life where directors “are earthed and find their identity,” to borrow Jean Vanier’s phrase.

Spiritual directors cultivate friendships and relationships with other directors, pastors, ministry leaders, and therapists. They’re careful to hold the work and personhood of such colleagues in high regard among directees. Directors never undercut the work of such colleagues. They know their work exists in a spiritual ecosystem that includes all of the Christian community.

Spiritual directors are open to the continuing work of discernment and accountability. They draw from the work and experience of others. They respect the different church experiences or spiritual experiences that directees may have had.

Spiritual directors are people of deep character and solid integrity in their public life. They are truthful about their credentials, education, and experience. They respect the Image of God in every human being.

Again, Peterson: “Spiritual direction is then conducted with an awareness that it takes place in God’s active presence, and that our conversation is therefore conditioned by his speaking and listening, his being there.”

I’ve been around church long enough to see this pattern: A person walks into church. It scratches an itch they never even knew they had, and next thing they know, they’re coming every Sunday. But it leaves them wanting more. So they find a way to “get connected” or “get involved.”

They join a small group or a Sunday school class. They volunteer in the youth group. They show up early and set up. They stay late and tear down. And then the thought comes, “If only I could be on staff.” So they start collecting a paycheck. They serve as a musician, a youth pastor, or an administrator.

And then they sense a call to ministry, so they go to seminary. Soon they find themselves ordained and leading a church. And then they discover they’re no closer to God than when they started.

People at all the stages of that journey populate churches around the world, and a spiritual director is a necessary voice at each and every stage of the journey interrogating reality.

Just what exactly are you looking for?

Do you have words for that hunger?

Are you responding to God or is this your own wish-dream?

Is your ego dying a slow death on the journey towards God, or are you finding it inflated by the accolades and praise of others?

How are you seeing God’s activity around you? How do you know it’s God?

What I’ve found in direction, over time, is this journey from data to information to knowledge to insight to wisdom—learning how see the signal in the noise, so to speak. A director is an attentive companion on the journey more than they are a guru. They are someone who listens and asks questions, sometimes obvious and sometimes uncomfortable.

image credit: Twitter @gapingvoid

Spiritual direction is no mere naval gazing. We attend to the work of God in our own lives so that we can attend to the work of God in the world around us.

If you’d like to set up a free initial consultation, fill out this contact form.


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7 Cues for Starting with a Spiritual Director

7 Cues for Starting with a Spiritual Director

Who is spiritual direction for?

It’s a question I frequently hear. To which, my first response is: everybody. I genuinely think every Christian should meet regularly with a spiritual director and have a safe place for going deeper in all the stuff of life.

But recently I was asked a different question.

“If I wanted to help connect people to a spiritual director, what are cues that I should listen for?”

So while there is a general sense that a spiritual director can be helpful, here are seven particular scenarios in which a director might be uniquely gifted to be God’s presence to someone you know.

1. “I work in ministry.”

Perhaps your friend is a pastor. Maybe they’re a church planter. Or a youth pastor. Or a worship leader. Or a Sunday school class teacher. Or a small group coordinator. Or they’re an administrator or children’s worker. What all these people have in common is, they get their paycheck from a church, and in all likelihood, some unhealthy sense of identity from their job.

Self care is critical if you want to live a life in service of others for any length of time. Human egos and unrealistic expectations from culture about what ministry should look like can breed resentment and depression. Even church leaders need a safe space to express vulnerabilities and disappointments, doubts and frustrations.

Working for a church or Christian organization brings with it a sometimes unspoken expectation that everybody acts like nice Christians all the time. When that expectation isn’t met, people need a safe space to fall into in order to recognize how God is actually at work in their life and find healing and reconciliation.

2. “I want to go into ministry.”/”I’m a seminary student.”

There can be some overlap in these two comments. Oftentimes we can fall into a trap assuming that the more involved we get at church, then the closer we are to God. If one isn’t careful, just the opposite can, in fact, happen.

Jesus says, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” You can have Twitter follows who retweet your profound musings. People might listen to your sermon from iTunes. You might feel important because you help so many people. And your soul can be completely empty in the process.

There’s no better time to develop healthy soul care habits than when you’re just getting started. Likewise, a director help listen with you as you clarify your calling. You may find your calling validated and confirmed. You may find that what you’re really looking for in a ministry job you can more healthily find elsewhere.

3. “I was just diagnosed with __________.”

Four years ago my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. It changed her life. Today, she has a pretty incredible story you should ask her about. It’s a significant part, not only of her story with God, but also of my dad’s.

Sometimes those doctor visits leave our friends pondering mortality. As creatures of modernity, we have a poor sense of the limitations of our bodies. Other times, a doctor visit leaves our friends needing to make radical lifestyle changes. I once had a ministry colleague suffer an unexpected heart attack. It left him rearranging everything from his diet to his work schedule.

Our bodies have a way of reminding us that we aren’t in control as much as we’d like to think we are. We live in a time and place of dualistic thinking that assumes the body and spirit are mutually exclusive. But they’re not.

Our bodies have a way of communicating to us, revealing unhealthy rhythms and habits. Hypertension, diabetes, insomnia, panic attacks—all these can be ways that our bodies tell us that life is out of whack. Listening to God with a spiritual director can bring to the surface many of these issues and how to process them well.

4. “I just moved here/there.”

Through the decade of my twenties, I lived in 10 different zip codes in four different states. We live in a transient world. This fact has tremendous implications on our relationships with people. We are designed social creatures, but chasing career or education or wanderlust have a way of unmooring us.

The Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby” has the chorus, “All the only people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong.” There can be all sorts of ways that loneliness, rootlessness, isolation, and feeling like an outsider reside just below the surface. A spiritual director can help give words to these emotions.

5. “I’m tired, busy, burned out.”

Life comes at us fast and furious. And many of us enjoy pouring ourselves out on behalf of others, whether that’s ministry or parenting or particular vocations like teaching, counseling, or caregiving. But how do you receive?

It becomes easy to wrap our identity in our accomplishments, productivity, and to-do lists. Keeping ourselves busy is most often a distraction, sometimes an avoidance, of what really matters in our lives. A spiritual director will ask tough questions about why you overstuff your life. Where is your true identity?

6. “I don’t know where I belong.”

Sometimes you just feel like a square peg in a round hole. Sometimes a career just doesn’t seem to fit anymore. Sometimes a church makes one feel like the odd-person-out.

A spiritual director can help a person separate the normal-weird from the weird-weird. Often a person just needs to hear that alternatives are possible.

7. “I want more of God.”

This can come from a sincere desire to grow deeper in a life of faith. It’s possible for growth to just happen. God is sovereign. But it happens exponentially when we cooperate with what God is already doing and we are intentional and mindful in our practices.

Spiritual direction may be exactly what someone you know or love may be looking for. You might even consider sponsoring them to meet with a director. Margaret Guenther writes, “The purpose of spiritual direction is… to help people discover how to define themselves in relation not only to the world, but also to God.”

When referring a friend or family member to a spiritual director, it’s important to remember that a person should never be compelled against their will. Spiritual direction doesn’t fix people, and it should never be confused with licensed therapy.

If your friend is unfamiliar with spiritual direction, you might refer them to online articles like those here or the publication Listen. You might share with them a book like The Practice of Spiritual Direction by William Barry and William Connolly, Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther, or The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.

If you’d like to know more what meeting with a spiritual director might look like for you, fill out this contact form, or you can search for a director in your area.

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10 Benefits of Spiritual direction

10 Benefits of Spiritual Direction

“The task of the spiritual director is to be positioned, like a campfire in the wilderness,
welcoming sojourners from all corners of life to stop, relax and yarn for a while. A place
where tired bodies and spirits are warmed by the fire and refreshed”Simon Brown.

How do you attend to and respond to the work of God in your life?

This is the question at the center of spiritual direction. In short, a spiritual director is someone who attentively listens with you as you listen to God. A person might seek out spiritual direction for any number reasons. The benefits are boundless. Below, I sketch out ten of them.

1. Self awareness

I have two toddlers. They’re all arms and legs. No self awareness at all. They bump into things, knock things over, run into walls and doorknobs that are at eye-level. Unsupervised, my daughter with an uncapped marker will result in writing on everything. Simply because she’s not paying attention.

And we’re all metaphorically a little bit like that, aren’t we? We’re all on a journey of maturity and we’re all at various stages of self-awareness. The more self-awareness we have, the less damage we do to ourselves and to those around us. Sometimes a meeting with a good spiritual director is like a serious look in the mirror. A director may ask, “I’m seeing this. Are you seeing this?” Some times it’s uncomfortable, even painful, but it may be what’s necessary for your next stage of growth.

2. Mental health

According to research in 2011, one in ten Americans are taking antidepressants, a 400% increase from the late 1980s. We live in a culture haunted by anxiety and stress and depression.

Jerry Seinfeld has a great bit about helmets:
Why did we invent the helmet? Well, because we were participating in too many activities that were cracking our heads. We looked at the situation. We chose not to avoid these activities, but to just make little plastic hats so that we can continue our head-crackin’ lifestyles.

Don’t hear me wrong. There are situations where medication is a proper and necessary solution. But there may be other situations where medication covers over a long-term unhealthy lifestyle, much like Jerry’s helmets. Sometimes we just need to slow down. Spiritual direction can be a healthy place to share things out loud to another human being. We’re hard-wired for this. In this way, it can be like “burnout insurance.”

3. Spiritual health

Most of us have heard how we need to read the Bible and pray ever since the first day we turned to God. Some of us have received more help than others in helpful ways to live that out. Christians through the centuries have a wide array of practices that draw them closer to God.

An experienced spiritual director can offer not only fresh ways of approaching Scripture and prayer, but also can introduce new spiritual disciplines with which you can experiment. And you can treat them as exactly that, experiments. Some may click immediately. Others may not be for you. Spiritual direction can be a place to discover new ways to grow deeper with God.

4. Better questions

Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask.” Sometimes, on our own, we can be blocked by the wrong questions. We find ourselves stuck in the same old patterns of thinking.

A spiritual director can help us learn how to ask deeper, more meaningful questions, not just of ourselves, but of God and of those around us. Spiritual direction cultivates our curiosity. It exercises those spiritual and mental muscles that wonder and creatively explore the world.

5. Hear “you’re normal”

Regular meetings with a spiritual director provide an outlet for all the creeping doubts, crazy hunches, and scary questions that lurk in the back of your mind. In all likelihood, in whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone. And a good spiritual director will tell you so. You just need the courage to say it out loud.

From time to time, when introducing someone to spiritual direction, I’m asked, “Well, shouldn’t my pastor do this?” And sometimes the answer is yes. But there are other situations, especially in the case of a person who works for a church, where the line between pastor and boss is muddled and some sharing would be inappropriate. In cases like these, a spiritual director is an impartial third-party who can listen, provoke deeper understanding, and lead into places of grace and healing.

6. Reconciled relationships

This follows self-awareness. As you come to a greater understanding of your own shadows that lurk in the corners of your being, you come to a greater awareness of their effect on those around you.

Frequently, our words and actions are experienced by others in ways we never intended, leading to hurt and misunderstanding. A careless word can break a relationship. A spiritual director can help expose your hidden shadows, as painful as that may be, and assist in offering forgiveness where it’s needed.

7. Clarity about decisions and purpose

Frequently we find ourselves at crossroads, in need of making significant decisions. It may related to career or education or ministry. It may involve love or family. It may involve a promotion that calls on a new set of skills and a new set of responsibilities.

A spiritual director can be a helpful sounding board. They may pry at some underlying assumptions about your choices. They may ask penetrating questions about what really matters to you. They may help you see things in a different light.

8. New language about God

I spent my first 18 years in one particular church tradition. As far as I knew at that time, that’s how all Christians were. Then I went to a Christian college that was a part of whole different Christian tradition. Later in life, I became good friends with some Roman Catholics who showed me yet another “accent” to being Christian.

The Christian faith is like a large house with many rooms. Many of us can spend much of our lives in a single room. An experienced spiritual director can show us new rooms. Just because we have a bad experience with one room doesn’t mean we burn the whole house down.

9. Hearing a new story

You may very well have assumptions about yourself, about God, about faith, about the church, that need to be dismantled. There may be be things you take for granted that need to be re-examined. You need to hear a new story.

One of my favorite stories of Jesus is found in Luke 24, just after the resurrection. Two disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus, unrecognized, joins them. Dejectedly, they share their grief, sorrow, and disappointment. And the Jesus goes on to re-narrate the story of Israel in such a way that his death and resurrection make perfect sense. Similarly, a spiritual director can take the pieces of your story and retell it in a way full of hope and joy.

10. Receive the gift of presence

We live in a day and age where we are forgetting what it means to be present to one another. Distractions scream at us from every corner of our day. Spiritual direction can be an intentional, scheduled monthly time to sit still and receive the gift of presence.

All of us are made for presence. We are hard-wired to connect with other human beings. A spiritual director is an ally on your journey. They listen without judgment in full confidence, giving you 100% of their attention.

Perhaps one or more of those benefits resonates with you. If you’d like to learn more about what spiritual direction might look like in your life, fill out this contact form and we can start that conversation.


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Crafting a spiritual plan

Crafting a Spiritual Plan

“The one who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” —Carl Jung

Do you have a spiritual plan for how you’d like to grow deeper with God in the upcoming year? In what ways can you participate with God as things like more peace and patience and self control grow in you?

When I garden, I have several plants that require some assistance. Otherwise, they spread all across the ground and get tangled up in one another. They need a trellis, a firm structure, that guides their growth and maximizes their ability to produce fruit.

As a human being, I’m finding I need something like a trellis, a structure that helps me grow. I need a spiritual plan.

In his letter to Christians in Galatia, Paul writes about how the presence of God’s Spirit cultivates in us things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I don’t know about you, but these are all things I could use a little more of this next year.

This week we find ourselves in that middle space between Christmas and New Years. We’re spending time with family. Maybe taking some time off work.

Maybe for you these are days for doing some self-reflective work. Was it a good year? Was it a bad year? What made it a good or bad year?

You take in all the things that happened over the last 365 days. You anticipate what may happen (or what you’d like to make happen) in the next trip around the sun. Maybe you make some resolutions about your health, your job, or your career.

Maybe you don’t.

What about your life with God? I’d like to put forward the idea of writing a spiritual plan for your next 12 months.

How might you make yourself available to God and your neighbors in a fresh and new way over the next 12 months? What fruit would you like to see growing in your life a year from now? Freedom from anxiety? Clarity of purpose? Empathy for others? Alleviating a nagging sense of loneliness?

Take some time in the coming days and make a plan. Maybe you write three sentences. Maybe you fill three notebooks. Quantity doesn’t matter. But thinking ahead and putting something to paper does.

Where might you like to be a year from now? What growth would you like to see happen? What would your life look like?

Consider your presence as it relates to these three places: worship, community, and mission. Mike Breen uses the language of “up,” “in,” and “out” that correlate to these. Worship (up) is our life as it relates to God. Community (in) is our life with other Christians. Mission (out) is our life in our wider neighborhood and community.


  • Can you be more regularly present with a worshiping community that you belong to?
  • Is there a consistent practice of prayer you can engage in?
  • What new practice of prayer can you explore?
  • Is there a rhythm of Scripture reading you can enter into?
  • What new spiritual discipline can you pick up?
  • Can you get into a new spiritual habit that draws you closer to God?
  • Are there new relationships you can pursue that help you be more present to God?
  • Do you need to start meeting with a spiritual director?


  • How can you be helpful to your church community?
  • How can you use your unique gifting to serve others?
  • Who is someone in your church community you can share coffee with and listen to their story?
  • Are there a couple of friends to start meeting with regularly for prayer and encouragement?
  • Do you need to mentor and encourage a younger person?
  • Do you need to be mentored and be encouraged by an older person?


  • Can you learn the name of one next-door neighbor? Of all of them?
  • Do you invite one over for dinner?
  • Do you host a simple soup dinner for neighbors on your street?
  • Who is someone in your neighborhood you can share coffee with and listen to their story?
  • Are there ways to re-narrate your place at your job to imagine yourself in a place of God’s mission?
  • Can you meaningfully serve somewhere in your community (school, shelter, non-profit, etc.)?
  • Is there a place in your community where you can be a regular (like a Starbucks or McDonalds) in order to simple be present, pay attention to people, and listen to your community?

Whatever you do, keep it simple. But also keep it just beyond the realm of your comfort zone. Stretch yourself. Be specific. “Invite a neighbor for dinner once a month” is better than “Be more hospitable.” “Read a chapter each day and share with my partner what I discovered” is better than “Read the Bible more.”

Write it down. At the very least, consider one thing in each of those three areas. Share it with your partner, a mentor, a pastor, or a spiritual director. A trained spiritual director can drill down and explore with you the “why” about your plan. Knowing the “why” behind your plan can be invaluable in helping stay on track.

Set a reminder for yourself to revisit your plan in about month. Are you on track? Is it realistic? Have you completely forgotten about it? Did you set the bar too low? Have grace for yourself if it’s not working out. Just reboot and start over.

It’s crucial to remember we don’t grow the fruit in our life. God does. But we do play a part in being receptive to God’s work in our lives. We can posture ourselves to receive.

Be proactive in making this next year a season that increases your capacity to love God and love your neighbor.


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