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    Entries in Spiritual Direction (3)


    Guides and Companions

    A Christian’s need for personal spiritual direction cannot be delegated to books or tapes or videos. The very nature of the life of faith requires the personal and the immediate. If we are going to mature we need not only the wisdom of truth, but someone to understand us in relation to this truth.

    - Eugene Peterson, "On Spiritual Direction"

    For a three year period while serving in ministry I met monthly with a spiritual director. Martha is a faithful Christian, a Presbyterian, enjoys gardening, radiates joy, and is a person of prayer. Martha listened to my story and helped me to pay attention to where God was at work. Her ministry was a gift to me.

    I know many people who are following Jesus. They listen to sermons, take part in a Sunday School class or a midweek study, read their Bible, and pray. The most crucial concern for Christians, however, is not how much knowledge we accrue or how many practices we take up as a matter of convention, but instead the overall health and maturation of the soul. These things can help, and skilled teachers and preachers can inspire us from afar. But as my teacher Howard Hendricks observed, "You can impress from a distance, but you can only impact up close."

    What our lives often lack are guides who can speak to us concerning our inner life and do so in a personal way. We lack those who will help us face ourselves and ask if our actions align with our held convictions. We are masters of self deception, and without an outside observer who listens and tends and prays alongside us, a person with whom we can be vulnerable and who assists us in remaining accountable to God, we will often choose to serve the gods of our own making rather than the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

    Good guides always know where they are heading, and they also know those they are leading. A good guide knows the destination and discerns exactly what is required to deliver those in their company safely to the end of their journey. Good guides are familiar with the terrain and carefully observe those who traverse it with them, seeking to help along the way. They know when to rest, when to push, when to lend a hand, and when to change course. Good guides also know the names and faces of those in their company, and as they travel together, they learn something of their story, abilities, temperament, dreams, struggles, fears, and hopes. They are able to apprehend the context of their companions, and are thus better able to help.

    With Martha, I was better able to see and discern where I stood on the path. I was also able to see and understand that the path of discipleship, of following Jesus, is not only meant to be perceived and comprehended, but is foremost meant to be walked.

    We all do well when we have such guides.


    Book Review :: Mindy Caliguire's STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships

    Photo by Spyridoula Della

    Mindy Caliguire is a leading voice in the area of Christian spiritual formation. She writes with clarity and passion. In her book STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships, Caliguire helps us to understand three basic elements in the spiritual journey that can help church leaders think through how we create contexts where people move toward maturity in Christ.

    Caliguire identifies three distinct phases as we grow: Learning Together, Journeying Together, and Following Together. In the first stage, we discover the basics of the Christian faith. We learn the Bible, acquire a theological vocabulary, and are taught very simple practices, such as prayer. We establish relationships with others that are highly directive--we rely on others to show us the way, pointing us to Christ. As those just beginning, we need a foundation that is solid and dependable. We need to learn.

    Once the foundation is set, we transition to Journeying Together. We find other Christian friends who are walking alongside us, committing themselves to the cause, and providing us with both direction and discernment. We are being taught, but we are also listening with others, discovering the will of God for us, in our lives as they unfold. This phase might be bolstered by participation in a community group, a small fellowship, or as part of a retreat.

    Maturity leads us to a place of Following Together. Having gained foundational knowledge, faced obstacles, and increased in our love for God, we have now become steadfast. We're running the race. As Caliguire writes, the primary goal of this stage is to keep going. We act as God has called us to act, and we invite others along. We impart the wisdom that we've gained, and we remain faithful to the end.

    At each stage, Caliguire helps church leaders to identify where we might find ourselves, and how to break through when we feel stuck. She describes what someone ministering in each stage might possess in terms of giftedness, the makeup of their character, and what their next steps might be. Caliguire's model is meant to establish a frame for a church ministry, calling people within that ministry to identify where they are on the journey, and to find a place where they are challenged to step forward as they continue to follow Christ. The entire model, being relational, requires not only participants, but leaders.

    As far as model books go, this is a good one. It clearly expresses basic principles and key narratives that lead to the creation of environments that are conducive to formation in Christlikeness. If you're familiar with contemporary writings on Christian spiritual formation, you won't be surprised with new information in this book, but you will be helped by the clarity Caliguire brings to the application of these ideas to the local church. Her emphasis on the relational side of formation, of the essential aspect of community, is a needed balance, considering some spiritual formation literature focuses primarily on individual practices.

    But the book is not without a couple of shortcomings. First, I think there is a great deal of overlap between the ideas of Journeying Together and Following Together, and while I do find Caliguire's shades or degrees of maturity somewhat illuminating, the division here, in my mind, is rather small. Perhaps this is a limitation in myself as the reader, and not in Caliguire's presentation. But if I understand her correctly, the Journeying phase is where our commitment is deepened and our focus is established. During this period, we have set our mind on Christ, and we are determined to pass through any obstacle, even the challenge of the desert, to remain faithful to him. But once we transition to the Following Together stage, our primary goal is to stay the course. We're to remain with it. Everything that was established in the second phase of the model is solidified in the third. We cultivate our inward life, we commit ourselves to God's purpose, and we bind ourselves more fully to our company of Christians. There is a division, perhaps, but it is very fine, and I'm not sure how I'd fully apply these distinctions if I was developing my own model or asking those who I lead to locate themselves within this framework.

    As a second desire, I would've liked one example of how a local church has put the STIR model in to practice. An appendix with a narrative description of a single person's growth, and the relationships that were most helpful, would've created a fuller picture. If there are programs that have been used to foster the kinds of relationships Caliguire describes, I would've enjoyed a description of how those settings made an impact. While Caliguire provides examples of contexts where the stages can be experienced, I would've liked to see those elements compacted in to a single narrative.

    But however significant these shortcomings were for me personally, they do not negate the value of the book. If you're a church leader who is seeking to apply principles of Christian spiritual formation to your context, Caliguire is an instructive and clear voice. She gives you much to consider, and forces you to establish a narrative frame within which those you lead can find themselves. She knows and understands that the Christian life is a growth process, and that maturity does not come overnight. I'm thankful that Caliguire helps us to see that there is movement within our own spiritual journeys, and with God's help, there is progress. As church leaders, we are called to show others the way, to help those we pastor and shepherd to discover God's grace, and to fully rely on his power for transformation. Oftentimes, the vehicle through which God brings our greatest challenges is found in the lives of other people--change comes directly through relationships.

    I've already introduced these ideas in my student ministry, and they'll continue to serve as a subcurrent running beneath our efforts. Check it out.


    What Is the Role of the Pastor?


    Scot McKnight has been carrying on a brilliant exchange with Mark Stevens of Australia on the calling and role of the pastor. The impetus that set this conversation in motion is the challenge of the megachurch to the vocation and current embodiment of the role of the pastor, and because I have been both nurtured within and am currently a member of a megachurch, I found these words pertinent. I have also served as a "pastor" within the large church context, though not in the senior leadership role. I know firsthand the pressures of being "visionary", or leading successful programs, of applied analytics that seem to be more numerically abstract than concrete and fleshy. I think that it is very difficult to be in a large church context and remain a pastor, rather than an entrepreneurial visionary leader of a religious enterprise. Not impossible, but very difficult.

    Stevens advocates a "Petersonian" perspective on the pastorate, and in his correspondence with McKnight, draws insight from Eugene Peterson's works The Pastor and Working the Angles (if Andy Rowell's correction in the comments is on point), both to great effect. Leaning on Peterson, Stevens names the three primary aspects of pastoral vocation as:

    1. Prayer,
    2. Scripture,
    3. and Spiritual Direction.

    "But of course!", you might say. Pastors should pray. They should read and study and know Scripture inside and out and help us to hear its words rightly and truthfully in our particular cultural moment. And yes, they should help us tend to our own souls, if indeed we have one, and encourage us along the path as we grow in maturity to Christ. Of course this is the role of the pastor.

    But as I've said above, the large church does not always concern itself, primarily, with prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction. Oftentimes it is programs, soaring attendance, and strategic planning, done in a way devoid of spiritual energy; fueled by business acumen. Shepherding a soul is not the same thing as herding bodies through programs. Numerical growth is not always indicative of spiritual growth. And strategic planning can, at times, depart from the call of congregational faithfulness and move toward the achievement of personal ambition, particularly for that of the senior leader.

    Senior leaders, or pastors, of large congregations can fall prey to the temptation to establish themselves in a pastoral career, rather than within a pastoral vocation. Looking forward to the next generation of pastoral leaders, I have expressed this very concern at Resurrection, albeit quietly, when considering the name of our pastoral discernment program for students, "MAC Track", or "Ministry as Career". Here is Stevens on the subtle nuance between vocation and career, and the discreet way the latter can overwhelm the former:

    The truth is there is no blue-print for being a pastor. The circumstances and call of each pastor and their ministry are as unique as the person themselves. Nevertheless, those who are called to lead the church are called to be shepherds of God’s people. My concern is with how the pastoral vocation is conceived of, developed and understood. It is easy for most of us to give lip service to what it means to be a faithful parson when in reality what we do and what we are taught to do is pursue careers. We plan, we build we call people to follow us and our vision for God’s church. I just don’t think this is what it means to be faithful. It maybe how the world defines faithfulness to a c[a]reer but I don’t see it as faithful pastoral practice.

    Being a pastor is not a career, it is a calling. And on this occasion, I would contend "but it is both!" will not do.

    Being a pastor is a response to the voice of God to serve in a role that is unique within the community of those who believe in and call upon Jesus Christ as Lord. The role of that person is to cultivate an environment where the Word of God can be heard in the proclamation and reading of Holy Scripture, where the voice of God can be heard in the stillness, and where the Spirit of God can blow where it wills, propelling the sails of the great ark of salvation in whatsoever direction it deems faithful and best. All the while, the pastor prays for his people and teaches them to pray. The pastor listens to the people and helps the people listen to God. And the pastor witnesses to Jesus and points the people towards Christ.

    Churches do not need more religious employees, those making a career out of regulating the machinations of spiritual gizmos. The church needs more pastors, those who have gotten in to the life of God, and by their very lives compel us likewise to get in to it and get in on it, to get a glimpse of the glory and to chase it forever, because there is nothing more beautiful, nothing more satisfying.

    Like Stevens (please read his post), I do not think that the megachurch is devoid of value within the Kingdom. But I do think that it is a place filled with its own unique temptations and blind spots, and considering it is a rather recent phenomenon in world Christianity, I doubt we have yet discerned the extent of spiritual maladies that lurk within our midst. Careful discernment, and careful application of Christian wisdom is advised, as it would be in any small parish. And to discern and apply best, we will need pastors willing to shepherd the souls entrusted to their care, to pray, to immerse themselves in Scripture, and to offer us spiritual direction that helps us to better follow after Jesus.