For a paltry fee most any spiritually-oriented group can hire a spiritual director to lead, facilitate or organize gatherings for discernment and prayer. I recommend this even if there is a member of the group (say a pastor or church leader) with mad skills in leadership.
Why? Every group has its own personality and every group is filled with individual personalities. Sometimes those individual personalities can get in the way of what the group wants and needs to get done. It is important that everyone in the group have the freedom to fully enter the experience and feel the Spirit without having to be distracted by leading or facilitating. For example, I’ve seen pastors try to lead discernment processes in their own congregation. The pastor usually has a stake in the outcome of the discernment, so that’s a conflict of interest to start with. Then, he or she usually has an opinion or two about what the outcome needs to be—and with their position of power in the group, what the pastor wants may carry a lot of weight.
When you bring in an outside spiritual director to these gatherings you get a person who has prepared for the meeting with prayer and commitment to the process or itinerary you have chosen. That level of preparation allows the spiritual director to step in as the quintessential “non-anxious presence,” committed to God and the group but indifferent to the outcome. Spiritual directors are trained to hold everything lightly. As long as the process was followed and everyone was invited to enter into a shared experience of God, it really doesn’t matter what the result is. We figure God is in charge of that, so it’s in good hands.
Another advantage to having a spiritual director lead your group is that he or she is trained in redirecting conversations back to the issue at hand when the group veers too far afield. It’s nice to have an outsider who doesn’t mind telling the Conversation Dominator to yield the floor until everyone has had a chance to share. Spiritual directors are also adept at noticing what is most important and drawing the group’s attention back to that.
If you are considering convening a group for serious spiritual discernment, group spiritual direction, or deep exploration of spiritual concerns, then also consider contracting with a local spiritual director as an advisor and facilitator. You can find names of spiritual directors in the “Seek and Find Guide” on the Spiritual Directors International website at www.sdiworld.org.
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