October 6, 2011

Understanding Spiritual Direction

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When I meet someone new who is interested in learning what I do vocationally, I think carefully before offering an explanation for what I do. If the person hasn’t explicitly declared themselves as someone of faith or someone interested in spirituality (by context, association or overt statement), I often say something like, “I’m a spiritual director—sort of like a counselor for the spiritual life.” It’s an inadequate summary on many levels, but for those who are primarily engaged in social niceties, it works.

If the person I’m talking to has identified themselves as someone of faith, I usually go into a more detailed explanation of spiritual direction as the care of souls. I use the guiding image of my practice (“a midwife to the soul”), and usually field a few clarifying questions. Often enough, my conversational partner says something along the lines of “Oh, like discipleship” or “So you’re a mentor, then.”

“Not really,” I say, “but sort of.”

I wish I had a laminated handout of this chart to carry in my back pocket for these conversations. It’s one of the clearest and most useful breakdowns of the various helping disciplines in Christianity that I’ve yet found. I may laminate it, yet.

Sdchart copy


  1. Matthew Green
    October 7, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Nice little chart. There is quite a lack of clarity on the differences.
    I wonder if “mirror” could be added to the director’s Role. That might not be quite right, but something close to that. Observer seems too far removed, but mirror could be construed as too close.
    Perhaps I’m simply trying to place too much into a simple chart?

  2. Shannon
    October 11, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Thank you for this. I think I might come back to this again and again.