Here’s a talk I gave at a gathering of The Renewal Fellowship Within The Presbyterian Church in Canada about understanding spiritual direction, something that is new to many contemporary Protestants. It’s a half-hour talk that hopefully will help you understand it better. Feel free to comment with any questions you may have.
You know how, every once in a while, you go shopping for one thing and come home with more than you bargained for? That happens to me when I visit Amazon. Their version of the “up-sell” is that section on the page for the book you’re interested in that says, “People who bought XYZ also purchased…”.
It’s a trap. Really. But when you’re stricken with bibliophilia, as I am, it’s an inevitable trap.
That’s how I came across Kindling Desire for God. Had I known much about the author’s theology, I probably would have skipped it. But, as so often happens, the subtitle got me: “Preaching As Spiritual Direction.” As both a preacher and a spiritual director, I had to know what this was about. So I bit.
Amazon wins again. But, in truth, so did I.
Kay Northcutt is a preaching professor at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a certified spiritual director. While I would not share her theological position, I greatly appreciate how she handles this different paradigm for preaching.
As a preaching professor, the author is exposed to all manner of different preaching styles, and this book seeks to help preachers, whether certified spiritual directors or not, to see preaching as a form of spiritual direction. All pastors, whether trained in spiritual direction or not, do undertake a measure of it by virtue of office, and that can extend from the study to the pulpit.
To that end, Northcutt seeks to encourage pastors to reclaim the authority that is rightfully theirs, spiritually – to move from being problem solvers to being spiritual guides. The authority, though, is seen not in CEO terms, but is “grounded by prayer, intimacy with God, and an explicit knowledge – as well as felt experience – of being the ‘God-person’ and the spiritual guide for congregations” (58).
She laments the loss of what she calls our “own inherited texts” – not only Scripture, but the early church mothers and fathers, and spiritual classics. We would rather quote Jack Welch than Julian of Norwich. We would rather cite Oprah than Origen. The author encourages preachers to make their preaching a spiritual act. At the end of the book, she offers some examples of her own preaching, showing how preaching can be a form of spiritual direction.
I would not suggest that these sermons are models of outstanding biblical exposition, but there is a pastoral, spiritual element to them that all preachers could learn from.
If you’re looking for a different kind of preaching text, give this one a try. If nothing else, it will call you to a deeper relationship with God – something every preacher and congregation can benefit from.
Kindling Desire for God: Preaching as Spiritual Direction by Kay L. Northcutt. Published in 2009 by Fortress Press in Minneapolis. ISBN 978-0-8006-6263-9.
Knowing my interest in spiritual formation, a friend and colleague gave me this book, written by a friend of his. Intrigued by the subtitle (“The Art of Being Friends With God and a Few Others”), and the brevity of the book (it’s a quick read at about 100 pages), I jumped right in.
The author is the founder of Touchstone Ministries in Orangeville, Ontario. His business is to nurture friendships among Christians in leadership in various walks of life, and his book illustrates why that is important to him, and hopefully, to the rest of us.
Spiritual friendship is a model of spiritual formation that can complement other ways of going deeper with God. To illustrate his understanding of this model, Allen draws from the rich breadth of Christian tradition – from the Celts to C.S. Lewis to Miroslav Volf . He tells many stories of his own experiences in spiritual friendship that have both blessed and challenged him (as any good friendship should).
We may say we have a lot of friends, when in reality what we probably have is a lot of acquaintances. How many others know us at the depth of our being? There are no gold stars for the number of friends we have who can read us like a book, of course, but there is great value in having at least one friend with whom we can share deeply, and mutually. It becomes easy for hard sharing to be one-sided, where one person becomes vulnerable and the other simply listens. But in order for a spiritual friendship to be truly mutual, it must involve both parties sharing deeply – not in an attempt to one-up the other, but to be transparent and honest with the other.
Spiritual Friendship will challenge and encourage you to find and engage in a friendship with another Christian who will walk with you as you walk with God. I recommend you pick it up.
Spiritual Friendship: The Art of Being Friends With God and a Few Others by Norm Allen, published in 2012 by Clements Publishing Group, Toronto. ISBN 978-1-926798-08-0.
This is my summer for finishing books I’ve already started, and I started Building the Bridge an embarrassingly long time ago: early 2008. I purchased it as a leadership book, but found it useful on more than one level.
I had initially gotten about 100 pages into it, but since it was so long ago that I had started the book, I decided to reread it in its entirety. This time, I read it as much from the perspective of a spiritual director as a pastor in a leadership role. It is a secular leadership book, but the author, Robert E. Quinn (also author of Deep Change), may well be a person of faith, based on how he writes this book.
To those who lead in the secular world, the book is an outstanding primer in dealing with personal change; Quinn argues that we lead from and by who we are, rather than from or by what we do. You’ll find it helpful as you navigate change in business.
To those who lead in the church – ditto.
To those who provide spiritual direction, it is a fascinating exercise to read this book from the eyes of a spiritual director. You will find it helpful for yourself, and if you give spiritual direction to anyone who leads, it will give you remarkable insight into how to encourage and ask good questions of your directees.
In one sense, I’m glad I didn’t finish the book when I bought it!