The importance of prioritizing spiritual direction

Confession: my role as a professional Christian replaces my personal Christian practice more times than I would like. 

As a ministry leader, I lead worship, marry, bury, baptize, lead bible studies, teach Sunday school, facilitate retreats, and lead mission trips . . . professionally.  Sometimes it’s easy to confuse my ministry role with my personal spiritual life. The truth is, my calling as a ministry leader is a part of my spiritual life, but it is not my spiritual life.  

When I was discerning the Holy Spirit’s call to seminary, I reached out to friends and family, met with mentors, and spent a great deal of time in prayer. When I finally said yes to the process of ordination, the amount of time I invested in my personal spiritual practice dwindled to a slow drip. A similar choreography took place when I was discerning my first call to parish ministry. I called friends and family, I met with mentors and professors, and I spent a great deal of time in prayer and scripture. When I said yes, my personal spiritual practice once again dwindled to drip status. 

In both scenarios, discernment invited me into deeper openness and awareness to what God was up to in the moment. But once the decision was made, I leaned on the inertia of my calling more than the Holy Spirit’s active presence. When the role of ministry leader got really busy, the amount of time I spent offering curiosity and attention to God’s activity in my life almost disappeared. 

Why is it that when we are discerning a “calling”, we spend so much time in prayer and discernment but when we say yes to that call from God, our prayer and discernment time drops drastically? If anything, the reverse should be true, right? 

Maybe that’s why 51% of mainline pastors are considering leaving the ministry today.  A key ingredient in the ministry burnout recipe is a disconnect from the mysterious reality of God’s presence with and for us. The inertia of calling can carry us only so far. When it comes to our capacity as Christian leaders, personal pursuit of intimacy with God has always been the most important. Unfortunately though, God is one thing that we can drop and no one will notice . . . at least for a while. This is a dangerous game to play and the temptation to play it only increases as ministry stress grows. 

My daughter really wants to make the starting varsity line up for her school’s basketball team. She went to basketball camp this summer and practices in the driveway every day. I can honestly say she is better at basketball than any of her blood relatives. (We’re not known for hand eye coordination, we’re more suited to settle Catan. Look it up if you don’t get the reference, and I guarantee you a giggle or a groan.) 

Depending on the inertia of God’s call more than the Holy Spirit’s active presence, is like making the starting lineup and then never showing up to practice. That’s an easy way to get injured and out of shape as well as have no idea what the coach wants you to do when they yell WOLF from the bench. 

A professional Christian’s personal faith life no longer resides in quadrant two. It has officially moved to Q1: important and urgent. (Click here to learn about Stephen Covey’s 4 quadrants.)

Your personal faith life is more important than getting people back in the pews, returning to pre-covid numbers, or even creating new, nimble programming that engages our communities in Christ’s continued ministry of reconciliation.  The pivotal choice that will ensure today’s professional Christians have the capacity to be tomorrow’s ministry leaders rests on prioritizing personal faith life over professional ministry success. These may be mutually exclusive in the short term but are rarely ever in the long run. 

As professionals, we know there are more ways to invest in personal faith life than we can shake a stick at. If you find the one that works for you, go for it. If you have yet to try spiritual direction, see if it’s right for you. *Side effects may include: slowing down, greater risk of asking for help, increased time in silent prayer and meditation on scripture, decreased pressure to get it right, and frequent fits of grace with yourself, family, friends, coworkers, and volunteers. 

Spiritual direction holds space for ministry leaders to spend intentional quality time with the one who led them to ministry in the first place. In spiritual direction, we return to the posture of prayer and discernment we were likely in before giving God our official yes. A spiritual director invites us to practice curiosity around what God is up to in our lives today so we can join in. Through spiritual direction, we become reacquainted with sustaining grace that fuels our capacity as Christian leaders. If you don’t have time to invest in finding a spiritual director near you, try a session with a Ministry Architects spiritual director. You don’t need a spiritual director to become reacquainted with God’s grace, but spiritual directors provide a unique space to be in the restorative presence of the Holy Spirit. You were never called to do the work of ministry on your own. You were always called to minister with God who called you. Consider trying one session with a spiritual director and see what God does with the time and attention you offer.

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