Soul Care and Counseling
This is the most natural and spontaneous form of personal soul care, and it involves the give-and-take of unstructured interaction between friends who walk together in peace and trust. These people have discovered that our needs for healing and spiritual growth are not met by looking for one new group or relationship after another, but through the cultivation of deeper relationships with certain people God has sovereignly placed in our lives. Caring engagement and personal service among spiritual friends is brought to the most profound level through their shared experience with Jesus. This kind of spiritual alliance should also be a central component of every marriage.
The next form of soul care involves informal interaction between people who may differ in spiritual maturity though not necessarily in spiritual authority. Guidance can take place through correspondence, through recommended reading, and through offering spiritual counsel as necessary. People who serve others as spiritual guides are able to provide help and healing through words of encouragement, exhortation, and advice.
This more formal and structured dimension of soul care entails the ministry of shepherding by people who use their spiritual knowledge and experience to equip others. Mentors are often disciplers who expose, equip, encourage, and exhort others in their walk with Christ. Many of them teach and train responsive people with the intention of bringing them to the point of doing the same with others. Mentors take pleasure in seeing potential in others and enjoy the process of equipping them to attain it. There are various forms and degrees of mentoring that range in involvement from intensive to occasional to passive. Mentors can function as disciplers, spiritual guides, coaches, counselors, teachers, sponsors, or peers. In addition, there are historical mentors whose writings still speak to us and guide us even though these people are now with the Lord.
People who are serious about spiritual growth and ministry need to be part of a relational network that includes vertical (mentors) and horizontal (peers or co-mentors) relationships. Mentoring relationships are most effective when there is compatibility, clear purpose, regularity, accountability, open communication, confidentiality, a definite life-cycle, periodic evaluation and revision of expectations, and closure.
Until recently, Protestants have thought little about the ancient art of spiritual direction, the most formal and one-directional of the four levels of personal soul-care ministries. Happily, more people are becoming aware of the benefits of this form of pastoral care that focuses on the cultivation of prayer, discernment, and practical implementation of spiritual truth.
In the early centuries of the church, spiritual direction was associated with desert monasticism and continued to develop within monastic contexts as a means of providing intensive personal guidance. As “physicians of the soul” who help people understand the workings of God in their lives, spiritual directors must be people of wisdom, depth, skill, and prayer. To be effective in this form of soul care, they must be marked by a combination of knowledge (Scripture, spiritual classics and spiritual theology, psychology, the nature and machinations of the psyche), discernment (the ability to perceive the nature of souls, sensitivity to the difference between the work of the Spirit and the work of the flesh and/or false spirits), and character (vitality in faith and prayer, holiness of life, humility and brokenness through personal suffering, loving concern, openness to the ministry of the Spirit).
Spiritual directors help people discern the workings of grace in their lives and offer them guidance and assistance as they seek to progress in prayer and obedience. Their relationship with those who seek their ministry is not authoritarian or that of a professional service (e.g., the counselor-client model), but as companions on the spiritual journey who enhance inner desire and clarify the movement of the Spirit. They care for the soul through cleansing, discernment, clarification, alignment, and implementation.
Such directors must be sought out, but it is not easy to find them. When we do, we should not expect them to flatter our self-esteem or cater to our illusions. Instead, we must approach them in a spirit of humility and let them know what we are really thinking, feeling, and desiring. Good directors will ask appropriate questions, listen skillfully, reveal barriers to growth, assist in confession and repentance, show how to listen to God and how to implement spiritual disciplines, rebuke and encourage as necessary, and offer their presence and compassion. Spiritual directors have skill in distinguishing between spiritual and psychological problems (e.g., spiritual aridity versus psychosomatic illness or infantile moodiness).
God uses fellow believers as instruments of growth, and this is true of spiritual friendship, guidance, mentoring, and direction. We are simply too close to ourselves to see things as they really are, and there are times when our self-deception and insensitivity makes us vulnerable to becoming “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). All of us need the insight, hope, affirmation, and tenderhearted engagement that soul friends can offer.
This is taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth.
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