Beyond Sunday morning worship, group spiritual direction may be the simplest, most effective way for churches to engage people in ongoing Christian formation. In this month’s article, Pastor Amanda Yoder tells the story of how group spiritual direction ministry began at Belmont Mennonite Church (Elkhart, Indiana).
For more information about how to get started offering spiritual direction groups, see the new book: An Open Place: The Ministry of Group Spiritual Direction (Morehouse, 2012), co-edited by Dan Schrock and Marlene Kropf.
For a list of trained Mennonite spiritual directors follow this link.
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Group Spiritual Direction at Belmont Mennonite Church (Elkhart, Ind.)
By Amanda A. Yoder, pastor
A Spirit-led initiative
Our congregation decided to offer group spiritual direction because of the Spirit-led dovetailing of several factors. In the spring of 2011 pastoral leadership felt a growing need from people in the congregation for a way to “go deeper” in their spiritual lives—to ask the hard questions and to look for God’s presence and God’s work in their lives. At the same time as this was becoming apparent to the pastors, an experienced leader in our church was feeling a nudge to offer group spiritual direction within the congregation. The Spirit led us to a conversation together, and out of that conversation the dream of Spiritual Direction Groups became a reality.
After a period of discernment, the two pastors plus four members of the congregation with spiritual maturity and previous experience in spiritual direction were invited to be part of a training experience to equip them to become Spiritual Direction Group facilitators. This training was led by Marlene Kropf who at that time was a part of the congregation. After the training, the trained facilitators were asked if they would consider leading a group for the next two years. Three of the six affirmed their readiness. Then a brochure was shared with the congregation explaining what Group Spiritual Direction is and what it would look like here atBelmont. We had hoped that this first time around maybe four people would sign up to join a group. Were we ever surprised and overjoyed when 16 people expressed interest in a group!
Once we collected the names of those interested in being in a group, the pastors discerned group membership based on information that people gave us on the response forms. Some things we asked about were whether individuals wanted to be in a single-gender group or a mixed-gender group and what time of day or evening they wanted to meet. We also used what we knew about the people, their personalities, and their relationships to create groups that were not friend groups but an entirely different entity altogether. Over time we have found this to be very important. These groups are a new way of being together, and it has been advantageous for people who are friends to be in different groups.
An evening orientation session introduced the new groups to the practice of group spiritual direction. The group facilitators demonstrated what a direction session would look like and responded to questions from participants. Each participant signed a covenant indicating their intention to participate regularly, to practice confidentiality, and to pray for group members and their leader.
Following the orientation session, groups began meeting on a monthly basis, with the expectation of meeting for two years.
We are seeing and hearing about the fruit of this ministry in many ways. Some of the people who are participating in groups say they have no other place in their lives where they can share the things they share with their Spiritual Direction Group. The groups are safer and more honest than anything else they are part of. In these groups it is okay to share searching questions and deep struggles. Group members also feel that paying attention to God in the space and time that their group is together helps them pay closer attention to God’s presence at other times, too. The group members are also finding it easier to make connections between scripture and their own lives as they become more deeply acquainted with it by engaging in Lectio Divina at the beginning of each session.
I think it is safe to say that the spiritual awareness of our entire congregation will deepen as groups like this come together to listen to God and to care deeply for each other in a way that is altogether different from any other way that we join together as church family. And when 16 or 25 or 50 or 100 people in a congregation have a deeper awareness of God’s presence and God’s voice, the church as a whole grows, matures, and deepens its walk with God and its collective awareness of God’s work in the world. I know we have not yet seen all the fruit that this ministry will bear, but what we have seen so far is nothing short of amazing.