Whenever I mention spiritual direction to someone in my circles, most don’t know what to think.
“Is it a Bible study?”
“A prayer meeting?”
“Is it like going to a sage for advice?”
“Is it counseling?”
“Is it an accountability relationship?”
“What does the director do?”
“Why would one meet with a spiritual director?”
Christian spiritual direction is a historic ministry of the church where one individual ministers to another individual through the practices of prayer, holy listening, clarifying questions, and gentle encouragement in order to help another discern God’s activity in their life.
I sought training as a spiritual director because I wanted those I serve to pay better attention to God. I wanted to help others know God personally, to learn to recognize God’s prompting, and to then discern God’s will. I wanted this to be true for those I discipled individually, as well as for the groups I would shepherd.
We put together the video above to help people better understand what spiritual direction is, and to help a broader range of people discern whether God was calling them to this kind of service.
In A Time to Build, Yuval Levin identifies three predominant campus cultures which are distinguishable, interacting, and sometimes overlapping. Levin labels these cultures, “a culture of professional development, a culture of moral activism, and a culture of liberal education.”
The culture of professional development’s end is obvious: jobs. Levin writes, “The way we often think and argue about higher education policy generally suggest the same: the question is whether students and parents get their money’s worth in terms of postcollege employment and income.”
The culture of moral activism’s end is more amorphous. It has shifted depending on the morality. Levin writes:
Now largely shorn of its religious roots, [the moral aim] often looks like classroom instruction and campus political activism that demand of the larger society a kind of mass repentance for some grave collective sins. The nature of the alleged transgressions reinforces the worldview of America’s elite culture, which today is largely a progressive-liberal one. The content of the doctrines advanced by campus moralists has changed a lot, then. But the motivations of the students and some of the faculty engaged in moral activism today would be quite recognizable to activists of prior ages. Some of their methods, too, and even their excesses, would not have been altogether unfamiliar to their Puritan predecessors.
Harvard and Yale were initially Puritan institutions and were committed to a certain orthodoxy. Today’s moral activists are no less committed, albeit to different doctrines.
The third and final campus culture is that of liberal education. Here’s how Levin defines it:
Liberal education is so called because it involves the kind of learning and formation required to mold free citizens. The idea reaches back to antiquity in the West, and it has long embodied the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) said to make up the liberal arts of the classical curriculum. The concept does more than describe certain fields, though. It constitutes a mode of learning as formation, and an approach to education that seeks the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Problems often arise when people have fundamental differences with regard to what the university is for and how then we should pursue our educational mission. Levin writes, “Each of the three cultures believes it properly owns the university’s core ethic, and at least tacitly looks at the others as inadequate if not illegitimate.”
I think there is a place for all three models. But I think the third model is the right one, that it is the best. That’s the kind of education I received, so I have subjective bias.
I also think that it best aligns with a Christian vision of education, which has as its end the formation of the human person such that they can flourish in accordance with their divine design, becoming people of wisdom as they learn from a breadth of human knowledge, discovering they are endowed with purpose and entrusted to steward their lives in service to God.
This third culture, however, is in the minority, I think, not only within the realm of higher education, but also within the popular imagination.
This week our office will submit grades, tie up administrative loose ends, and then transition to thinking forward to the next academic year.
I’ll admit, I am tired.
This year we’ve adjusted to new health protocols, remote work, and online teaching and learning. Thankfully, most of our instruction took place in the classroom, albeit more distanced and with faces partially veiled. And while I did not have as many opportunities to connect with staff, faculty, and students this year over lunch or in the hallways, bonds were strengthened nonetheless.
In the next few weeks I’ll take time out of the office. I have a couple of personal projects to complete, books I want to read, and hikes I want to take. I want to rest, too. Be present with my family and friends. Maybe make art.
The year to come will be filled with transition. It will not carry the same stresses and tensions as this one did. The possibilities ahead of our family are positive developments, filled with hope. My service with Truett moves to full time in August. Molly begins a new appointment at First Methodist Killeen in July. She also will start work on her D.Min. at Truett.
Our family will make adjustments.
We’ll be busy. Galatians 6:9 reminds us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Around 2010, a curious new term arose in obscure but energetic internet chatrooms: autonomous sensory meridian response. ASMR, as it was soon abbreviated, described a peculiar form of paresthesia experienced as a tingling that starts in the scalp and then moves down the back. It’s often triggered by specific sounds, like soft whispering or a paintbrush scraping canvas. Not surprisingly, those sensitive to ASMR sometimes found Bob Ross reruns to be a reliable source of the effect.
Examples include Charles Dickens’ writing room (above), Newt Scamander’s study (Harry Potter universe), and this strange collection of sights and sounds:
This is well done. Kaelyn does a great job, and it was good to see many current students that I’m glad to know. If you’ve wondered what Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary is like, this video provides a nice overview of our mission and values. You also get a feel for the campus.
Compared to other seminaries, we’re a young institution. Great things are happening here. It’s a wonderful place to learn, grow, be challenged, and to be equipped in ministry and leadership. I’m happy to serve here. Watch the above. Tell others about us. And, if God wills and you are called, come study with us.
Following extended conversations with and consultation of seminary faculty, alumni and friends, Dean Todd D. Still, Ph.D., announced today, with strong support from university administration, the formation of a Wesley House of Studies at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary. In conjunction, he announced that Dr. William J. Abraham, a theologian, philosopher, author and minister, will serve as the founding director of this strategic initiative.
In this role, Abraham will ensure that students attending Truett from Wesleyan traditions are nurtured and networked for the ministries into which they are being called. Additionally, Abraham, who will regularly teach courses at Truett pertaining to Wesleyan thought and practice, will collaborate with individuals, congregations and organizations in the Wesleyan tradition in the recruiting, training and placing of students and in supporting and educating ministers who are already engaged in gospel service.
“From its inception in 1994, Baylor’s Truett Seminary — an orthodox, evangelical school in the historic Baptist tradition embedded into a major research university — has been blessed to train ministerial students primarily, though not exclusively, from baptistic congregations,” said Still, The Charles J. and Eleanor McLerran Delancey Dean and The William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures. “In recent years, however, Wesleyan students and churches have begun to turn increasingly to Truett as a desirable destination location for theological education. We have, in turn, warmly welcomed these Christian friends into our seminary community, which exists to train God-called people for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ’s Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. The establishment of The Wesley House of Studies at Baylor’s Truett Seminary strengthens further this ongoing practice and places Truett on a trajectory to become an increasingly multidenominational school while holding steadfast and true to its doctrinal and ecclesial commitments.”
A gifted teacher, sought-after lecturer, prolific author and ordained elder in the Methodist Church, Abraham holds degrees from The Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland (BA); Asbury Theological Seminary (M.Div.); and Oxford University, Regent’s Park College (D.Phil.), and has taught at Seattle Pacific University, Harvard Divinity School and Southern Methodist University.
“We are on the cusp of a new day for the future of the Wesleyan network of families across the world,” Abraham said regarding the creation of The Wesley House of Studies at Truett Seminary and his appointment to serve as its founding director. “In order to fulfill the promise in store for us, we urgently need fresh ways of providing the spiritual, practical and intellectual resources that are essential for the work up ahead.
“Baylor University is a world-class institution, and the creation of a Wesley House of Studies at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary is a landmark development,” he said. “I can think of no better place to be home to a vibrant Wesley House. I am thrilled to play my part in making it a stellar center of excellence that the Holy Spirit can use for reform, renewal and awakening on a global scale.”
I know I have Methodist friends out there who are discerning a call to theological education. There’s a place for you at Truett. As a bonus, I’ll get to see you, too.
Last week I began work as the Assistant Director of Spiritual Formation at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary. I’m thrilled beyond measure, unfathomably grateful, excited, and deeply gladdened to enter service in the Office of Spiritual Formation, working under the direction and guidance of Dr. Angela Reed, Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Spiritual Formation. I’m also very thankful for the leadership of Dean Todd Still, whom I have become further acquainted with during the interview process and during my first few days in office.
I’ll follow in the footsteps of Bill Walker, who has been in the role for the past two years. Bill has been a tremendous friend and colleague. He has done excellent work in the classroom and behind the scenes in the Spiritual Formation office. I pray God’s blessing on him as he returns to his roots in Austin, Texas, where he will serve as Director of Vocation at Christ Church of Austin.
It’s an incredible opportunity for me that involves the sweet coalescence of personal history, hopes, passions, and aspirations. Stated differently, this is very, very cool.
So what’s the job?
All kinds of people are part of the Truett community. Some have discerned a vocation to the pastorate, others seek a deeper faith through theological education, and still others have yet to discover why God has brought them to seminary. Many are from the Baptist tradition, though not all. There are multiple degree programs and certificate programs. The seminary exists “to equip God-called people for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ’s Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.” That’s a big mission that serves a broad diversity of people.
The Spiritual Formation office supports this mission. We do so by praying for the students, faculty, and staff who are part of the seminary community. We also coordinate and offer instruction in one distinct and vital aspect of the seminary’s curriculum: Covenant Group.
Covenant Groups are like small groups, and every seminarian takes part in these groups as part of their course of study. A major part of my new job responsibility is to coordinate these groups, recruit mentors, and shepherd students in meeting this requirement. The model is evolving, changes and refinements are being made. But the basic concept remains steady. When students begin study at Truett Seminary, they are placed in a small group of ideally six to eight colleagues, assigned one group mentor, and then participate together for four semesters in a course of study.
Covenant Groups receive instruction in biblical, historical, practical, and theological approaches to the Christian spiritual life. Each student is required to read assigned texts, to participate in their groups, and to practice spiritual disciplines individually and together. The groups allow space for testimony and ministry to one another, as well as for discernment and mutual counsel as each student listens for God’s will for their life. At the conclusion of four semesters together, our goal is for students to have a firm grasp on their story, to identify ways God has formed their identity in Jesus Christ, and to gain clarity in how God is calling them forward into a deeper, fuller faith as disciples, heralds, servants, and ministers of the gospel.
We also hope these groups nurture friendships, create community, and allow for collegiality to develop among our students. We hope our mentors are seen not only as guides or teachers, but as encouragers and helpful counselors. Community is indispensable for our students as they carefully study and practice the Christian life. Covenant Groups provide a space for a body within the Body of Christ, a place where the ideals we speak of concerning the church can be lived out among a small fellowship of disciples.
I’ll help recruit, train, coordinate, and support the mentors who lead these groups. I’ll also have the opportunity, in concert with Dr. Reed, to teach courses and offer lectures that are part of the Covenant Group curriculum.
While Covenant Groups are my most significant responsibility, I’ll also work with Truett’s Spiritual Direction Training program. As a certified spiritual director, I’m excited to continue that ministry within the context of this program.
I mentioned that the opportunity to join the Truett family was a “sweet coalescence” of my history, hopes, passions, and aspirations. Twenty years ago, while I was an undergraduate at Baylor University, I dreamed of one day serving in higher education. I wanted to be a Christian scholar, serving the academy and the church. I had models to follow in Dr. John Wood, Professor Robert Reid, and Dr. Larry Lehr, people who embodied ideas that I wanted to adopt for myself. There are other examples I could name. My highest hope and my biggest dream was to one day serve in this capacity at Baylor University–as a learned teacher, mentor, and friend.
Furthermore, one of the important figures in the history of Truett Seminary was a man named Paul W. Powell, who served as Dean from 2001 to 2007. Before he served as Dean, Paul was an evangelist, pastor, and Texas Baptist statesman. When I was a boy he was my pastor at the Green Acres Baptist Church of Tyler, Texas. His life and ministry had an effect on multiple generations of my family. Paul baptized me. Later, he preached the charge at my ordination at the First Baptist Church of Allen, Texas, which is pastored now as it was then by Pastor Chad Selph.
The chapel at Truett Seminary is named in Paul’s honor. I’m thankful to be serving in a place that has been marked by his legacy. By witnessing Paul’s life, reading his little books, and hearing stories about him, I’ve been deeply inspired to work diligently for the Lord while it is still day, while we still can, to do all to the glory of God, for “night cometh,” therefore “Go into all the world.”
Lastly, serving in the area of Spiritual Formation aligns with my research interests. I’ve been reading stuff in this area for years. I’m a nerd when it comes to Christian discipleship and formation. Plus, I’m a Christian educator. I want to teach what I’ve learned. I believe in the importance of an intellectually informed faith, rigorous and challenging theological instruction, the formation of character, love for God, and service to the world.
I look forward to serving the seminary community as we create an environment where students can be formed in the way and likeness of Christ. A couple of my friends know that means I will be quoting a lot of Dallas Willard, and they are right. Guilty as charged.
But that won’t be all. Hopefully, the person I quote most will be Jesus. He’s the Master. And I hope to serve him well in this new capacity of service with Truett Seminary. If you are ever in Waco, make an appointment to see me. I’d love to show you my desk, give you a tour, hear what you’re up to, and talk about all the good and great things taking place in this vibrant, thoughtful, and committed community of faith.
Sitting at my desk I’m surrounded by gadgets and gizmos and a ridiculous assortment of notebooks, pens, cords, drawing instruments, post-its, tabs, binders, clips, a label maker, a couple of different cutting devices, pouches, backpacks, satchel bags, folders, plug adapters, storage containers, tablet stands, stamps, paperweights, erasers, letters, envelopes, dividers, portable keyboards, cameras, external USB drives, eReaders, iPods, markers, headphones, tape, and a few talismanic knick-knacks that have come to help me feel at home: a Chewbacca Pez dispenser, a rock I used as a visual in a youth ministry talk (it says “SERVE”), an Evangecube. Stuff.
I have tools that I love. I bought my iPad and iPad Mini refurbished and long after their initial release to save money and because I knew exactly how I’d use them: primarily as word processing machines, secondarily as web browsers, and thirdly as video and music players. I added a Bluetooth keyboard and an Anker tablet stand, and I was all set for work at home and on the road. A tablet weighs less than a laptop computer. I like being able to easily sync across Apple devices, and portability is a must.
The more I’ve used digital tools the more I’ve come to trust, love and adore pencil and paper. I don’t think I need to buy another notebook for several decades–I have that many in reserve. We have an overflow of pencils and pens, too. My Moleskine (large) serves as my journal, I have an 18 month Moleskine planner that is my primary calendar but also as a place to deposit to-dos, memories, and doodles, and I have an older Ecosystem notebook that I fully customized with tabs for goals, ideas, my reading record, quotes, lists, scraps, artwork, stuff my kids have made, fortune cookie sayings, cartoons, pictures, and movie ticket stubs. If you hung around with me at Institute or at FirstLight, there might be a picture of you in that notebook. Maybe.
I’m particular about pens and pencils. I switch often between a wooden #2 pencil and a Uni-ball Vision Elite ink pen; I also employ a black Sharpie for art work and letter writing. We have so many varieties of Post-It Notes, ranging in all sizes, cuts, and colors, that I keep one stack handy in my primary desk drawer and use them liberally until they are gone. Then I reload. I use Post-Its as bookmarks, reminders, additions to my day planner, and signs I can easily post around the house (or other random places).
I used to hate writing stuff out by hand. I thought my handwriting was difficult to read and unattractive. But now I see it for what it is: the unique scratch I can put on paper, irreplicable, and the most basic form of art I’ll leave behind. One of the things I’ve come to love about handwritten notes from friends and family is that even before I read the return address or the signature I know who it is from just by the marks they’ve made, the block letters or the looping cursive. If you want a letter from me just ask. I might even include a doodle.
I’ve also started to collect a lot of stuff for drawing and sketching, inking and painting. My new hobby has also given me reasons to use stuff I already had–mainly Sharpies. But surprisingly, I have a lot of other pens and markers I’ve accumulated through the years that I now make it a point to use.
My go-to applications are Google Drive and Evernote. I’m strongly considering a move away from Google Drive, and as many other Google hubs as possible, because I have privacy concerns. I keep track of my primary to-dos, especially tasks that I’ve routinized, using Wunderlist. I’ve thought about migrating to another to-do app, too, but for different reasons. Wunderlist operates slowly sometimes, and I’d like a smoother interface. I’ve yet to dedicate a few hours to making the switch. I have plenty of data to transfer. My to-do list keeps me on track daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually.
Over the years I’ve cobbled together a really comfortable desktop computing setup. I have a Mac that I bought refurbished, I designated an older computer monitor as a secondary desktop, I bought a monitor stand to elevate that screen, I have a perfect charging station to keep my tablets upright that also preserves space to charge my phone, watch, and camera, and I have a nice little sound system for playing music at home. Everything hooks together easily, and stays compact in my work area. I still have room to lay out my books.
As for knick-knacks, I’ve named a few above. My desk area has small American flags, a Dallas Cowboys star logo patch, a small African sculpture of a thinking man that was given to me by the Conards, a #1 Dad Trophy my daughter gave me for Father’s Day, a pencil drawing of Jesus by Greg Cissell, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker ornaments my mom had placed on a birthday cake for me a few years ago, a Bob Feller autographed baseball, art created by Susan DeLong that features Numbers 6:24-26, a couple of challenge coins I’ve been given in the past year, plenty of my kids’ artwork, and a ton of LEGO builds. My diplomas are on the wall, as is a piece of art depicting the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost.
My desk has a WACO coaster that my mother-in-law gave to me, which is usually underneath a Klean Kanteen that Molly gave to me, and whatever coffee mug I happen to be drinking from that day (Einstein, Barclay College, Duke Divinity School, Philosophy News, UBC Students, one from our wedding set, a blue one from a set my mom gave me, Perkins School of Theology, a mug with D’s artwork on it, an FUMC Waco mug, or one of two mugs Molly and I have exchanged on a holiday). My mouse pad says my name. My mom had it made for me a long time ago, and I still use it.
The other assortment surrounding me: books, books, books. There are standard reference works within reach, stuff I aspire to read soon a little further away, and an active stack I’m churning through on my windowsill. Also within reach: five Audobon Society Field Guides: Rocks and Minerals, Birds, Wildflowers, Trees, and Night Sky.
Lately, when I hit the road and go mobile, I throw a few books into my Heritage Leather Bonhoeffer briefcase (thanks to Molly, who gave it to me, and David A., who made it) along with a tablet, tablet stand, one mechanical pencil, one notebook, a keyboard, headphones, and a coffee mug and go to work. Starbucks is about four miles away. I buy a short coffee, drink it black, sometimes ask for water, and try to find a seat.
Right now I’m at my desk at home, which I scored at a rummage sale in Fort Worth. My friend Ryan Thornton helped me get it home, and a former employer allowed me to store it for about a year, since it was too big to fit in my house. There are books nearby that have been gifts and some I picked up from minister friends who were handing off books to another generation.
The things are nice. The memories and the people associated with most all of my things are much nicer.
I don’t think there’s an artist of any value who doesn’t doubt what they’re doing.
– Francis Ford Coppola
This is reassuring. Or perhaps not! Maybe I should spend more time doubting what I’m doing!
The problem with any endeavor that is worth doing, artistic or otherwise, is that showing your work can be terrifying. One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in writing, speaking publicly, or in leadership has been the fear that my work will be rejected, that it won’t be received well, and that I’ll be labeled a flop or failure.
But paradoxically, that same fear has often led me to work harder, to pay greater attention to detail, to be open to correction and change, thus making sure my future efforts are of more value, not less. The result has been improvement and growth. Growth requires risk, vulnerability, boldness, daring, and courage. A little bit of doubt can foster humility. There’s always the chance that even your best efforts will fail. The odds are you have failed , and you will again. Keep going.
2018 is no longer new, but a great deal has happened since the calendar rolled over January 1, bringing a flurry of opportunity. It is time to write about it.
If you’ve seen me at First Methodist or have spoken with me, the following will not be new. But for my own sake and for friends who have wondered, this is the press release, coming your way via the World Wide Web.
First Methodist Waco: Interim Director of College Ministries
First and most significantly, since February I have served as the Interim Director of College Ministries at First Methodist Waco. It has been wonderful to be with students and to be preaching, teaching, and equipping others for life in Christ.
How did this happen? First Methodist has seen significant changes in the past twelve months. Reverend Steve Ramsdell, who was absolutely wonderful and has blessed our family, retired this past summer. Other wonderful members of the church staff stepped away from leadership or found new roles. Reverend Ryan Barnett was appointed as Lead Pastor. Change is challenging, but the church has done well, welcomed new visitors, faced new challenges, and made several wise decisions.
Last fall Reverend Brandon Frenzel shifted from his position as Associate Pastor of Student Ministries, where he worked directly with youth and college students, to a position of greater responsibility. He now oversees all of First’s ministry to families and works with an excellent team of people who coordinate ministry to children, middle school, high school, college students, and their families. Pastor Hayley House, who now works with high school students, previously helped Pastor Brandon in college ministry. These moves happened in succession.
Pastor Brandon and Pastor Hayley continued to work with college students, but because of their changing responsibilities there was a need for an interim person to come and share the load. Brandon spoke to me about the position in early January, and I was glad to help the church.
I’ve been on duty since the beginning of February and it has been a joy to get to know the students and serve them as they grow in faith.
Truett Seminary: Covenant Group Mentor // Spiritual Director
Truett Seminary launched a program for training in spiritual direction last fall, and I have had the privilege of meeting with those students one on one for discipleship, listening, and conversation concerning the spiritual life. Dr. Angela Reed directs the program, and she is absolutely wonderful. I met her students during one of their class sessions last fall. That work has continued this spring.
At the the invitation of Professor Bill Walker I was given a second opportunity to serve the seminary community in January. I now serve as a Covenant Group Mentor. The Covenant Group is an important facet of the seminary’s approach to spiritual formation, or how Christian character is developed.
These groups consist of a small number of seminarians who meet together weekly for prayer, directed conversation, discipleship, the practice of spiritual disciplines, accountability, and for guidance in growing more like Jesus. It is my responsibility to care pastorally for the students, offer wisdom and guidance, keep our sessions on track, and encourage the students as they pursue their education.
The work has been delightful. It is truly one of my favorite things I do each week. It is a privilege to serve in higher education and to serve Baylor.
Central District – Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church: Speaker
Another surprise came my way when Reverend Leah Hidde-Gregory, the District Superintendent of the Central District of our Annual Conference, invited me to speak to the United Methodist clergy in our area on the topic of spiritual formation on several occasions this year. As you can imagine, pastoral ministry can be challenging and taxing on the soul. It is my hope that my time with clergy will help them experience renewal for the task of ministry, to be encouraged in their work, and to discover new avenues for growth in their spiritual life so that they might remain strong and steadfast as they do their work “unto the Lord.”
I met with the clergy in January and again in March. In our first meeting we discussed the Wesleyan Class Meeting with help from a resource by Kevin Watson. In our second we prayed the Scriptures and then discussed the Triumphal Entry in preparation for Good Friday. I also presented a few truths I wish someone would have shared with me prior to beginning pastoral ministry on how to abide in Christ, grow in faith, and serve others.
I’m looking forward to the rest of the year. As part of this commitment I have resolved to remember all sixty-six area United Methodist Churches and their pastors in prayer each day. I pray God would bless our region through them.
Coaching Youth Sports
Of all the new gigs I’ve had this spring this one pays the best. They keep doubling my pay, too! This spring I’ve coached youth basketball, soccer, and t-ball. It’s been a blast and a great way to be part of the community.
Wait, Weren’t You Planning to Go Back to School?
That’s right. I was. And up until last fall was still considering it. But after a few conversations and plenty of prayer, I discerned that an advanced degree was not my calling at this time. So I turned the matter over to God in prayer and have experienced peace ever since.
Are You Still Writing?
I am still writing. I continue to contribute to Burlap. I received some kind feedback from congregants at First Mansfield following my work with their congregation on Mark.
I have a couple of other projects that are in the works. There are plenty of possibilities, and among them is a book, an extended treatise on the spiritual life. An idea has been with me for some time. We will see where that leads.
So, What’s Next?
Reading, family, teaching, serving, and playing basketball about once a week.