Today ends my first year, of a three-year “Certificate in Spiritual Companionship with Practicum in Daily Life,” at St. Thomas University (for more information, https://www.stu.edu/theology/programs/spiritual-companionship-certificate-program).
This year’s focus was on Christian spirituality, faith development, and the basics of Spiritual Companionship (also known as Spiritual Direction). Starting next fall, year two will focus on the “Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.” The third, and final year, will focus on the actual practice of being a Spiritual Companion/Director.
Some enroll in this program simply to deepen their own spiritual practices. Some do so to enhance the ministries they’re already doing. Some will actually become professional Spiritual Companions/Directors.
But, what about me? Why am I, after 24+ years of ministry and two seminary degrees, taking a course in Spiritual Companionship? For several reasons….
One, I love learning, and felt like a specific program would be good for me. And, a program focusing on prayer and spirituality was very attractive.
Two, though I’ve never technically been a “Spiritual Director,” I feel like I’ve done a lot of spiritual direction in my ministry, and would like to do it better.
Three, my current ministry role is not nearly as personal as previous ones have been. As the “senior” pastor of a large church, there are more administrative responsibilities, less one-to-one contact, and fewer opportunities to be in ministry with parishioners more personally. Hopefully, also offering the ministry of Spiritual Companionship/Direction will help me find balance in my ministry role and my pastoral calling.
What is Spiritual Companionship/Direction? A Spiritual Companion/Director is a trained guide, who assists a spiritual traveler on their journey toward knowing Christ, and themselves, better. A Spiritual Companion/Director is a listener, an encourager, a resource, a fellow-traveler. A Spiritual Companion/Director is not a therapist or an advice-giver, or even necessarily a pastor. The task of the Companion/Director is to know Jesus, and to walk beside, pointing the way, for another to discover Jesus and themselves.
As I come to the end of this first year, one particular thought has become clearer to me.
Though I met Christ as a teen, at a Christian summer camp, I didn’t really begin my spiritual journey until I graduated from college. But, then, my life turned in a surprising direction. Almost as soon as my spiritual journey began, I sensed a call to ministry. Within months, still early in my spiritual development, I became a youth director. Before I read most of the Bible, or understood much about Christian theology, I was enrolled in seminary.
From the beginning, my spirituality, my calling, and my ministry have been intertwined, as if they were one in the same. Though we never discussed this in class, I’ve recently realized, more clearly, that my spirituality, my calling, and my ministry are three distinctly different things. Though they’re interrelated, and overlap, they’re not same.
My spirituality is not dependent on my calling or my ministry. My calling, though important, is only one aspect of my spirituality. And, my ministry is simply the context/role where I strive to be faithful to my calling and my spirituality.
Too often, I’m guilty of conflating the three. Many pastors do. We act as though our primary duty is our ministry role and responsibilities, sometimes losing touch with our actual calling, and treating our spirituality as an afterthought, or something we do to fuel our ministries. But, that’s backward.
Spirituality – meaning a growing relationship with Jesus – has to be first, even for ministers (I would argue, especially for pastors!). Pastors may have abundant knowledge of theology, Bible, and Church management. But, if they don’t have an active, personal, current relationship with Jesus, how can they lead spiritually? If my role and calling are to lead people to Jesus, to grow in spiritual maturity, to discover their callings, and to know Jesus personally, then all of those things must first be true in me!
How can a pastor offer something he/she doesn’t have? And, knowing Christ and myself is the goal, whether I’m a pastor or not.
I value my calling. I’m committed to my current ministry role and performing it as faithfully as I possibly can. But, both are secondary.
My spirituality must come first. Knowing Jesus must come first.
That’s true for me. That’s true for you.