Discerning the Spirit

Discerning the Spirit

When Dr. Angela Reed, Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Spiritual Formation, joined the Truett Seminary faculty in 2010, she began praying about a spiritual direction program at the Seminary. 

“Very few people in the area were familiar with the practice. Over time, I provided spiritual direction for students, taught an introductory course in spiritual guidance, and had conversations with several ministers about this kind of spiritual care-giving,” she said. “I found that there were others eager to grow in their ability to be spiritual guides in various contexts of ministry.” 

Spiritual direction is a historic practice of the church that involves accompanying others in prayerful reflection and conversation as they attend to God’s presence and calling in their lives and grow in Christian maturity. Growing a life with God is an essential dimension of the Christian journey, and people generally grow best when making that journey with others who give the gift of “one anothering” through prayer and encouragement. The ministry of spiritual direction is one form of relationship that responds to this need.

After seven years of prayer, conversation, and learning from other programs, Reed began offering a training program in spiritual direction in the fall of 2018. 

“After considerable prayer and reflection, it seemed right to us that the program be a part of Truett’s growing commitment to continuing education for ministers and laypeople. We have been offering the program one Saturday a month over a two-year period, and many students have described it as a kind of retreat experience. They are passing the word, and we continue to get emails from interested persons across Texas,” Reid said. “What has most exceeded my expectations is the profound desire of participants to grow in their relationship with God, to deepen in discernment, and to walk with others in their spiritual lives.” 

Michael Liga is a current Truett Seminary student pursuing his master of divinity degree and is in his second year of the spiritual direction training program. Liga was drawn to the program because of the title, “spiritual direction.” 

“What has most exceeded my expectations is the profound desire of participants to grow in their relationship with God, to deepen in discernment, and to walk with others in their spiritual lives.” –Dr. Angela Reed

“It’s a curious and even presumptuous title. I thought, ‘Wow, is there a way to be directed by God or at least discern what God might do?’,” he said. “Of course, as I would realize later on, spiritual direction entails much more.” 

Liga currently serves in church ministry, and he hopes that spiritual direction will equip him as he ministers to those in his church. 

“In every church, there are people who experience a multitude of things from pain, grief, anxiety, joy — just to name a few. Spiritual direction is a useful tool to discern the movement of the Spirit as one encounters people with various dispositions and circumstances. I hope spiritual direction helps me and folks in the church to grow closer in relationship and obedience to God as he makes himself known to his people.”

Dr. Deirdre LaNoue also is about to begin her second year in the spiritual direction program. LaNoue had participated in different spiritual formation programs, but she struggled to find a spiritual direction training program in the Baptist or evangelical tradition. When she learned about Truett’s program, she signed up for the second cohort that started in the fall of 2019. She hoped that spiritual direction could be a helpful tool for discipleship, small group ministry, and curriculum writing as well as simply how she talks to people, one-on-one. 

“I hope that in whatever role I have in church life, spiritual direction will be a catalyst for transformation,” she said.

One of the best surprises LaNoue experienced through the program is how so much of the emphasis is placed on listening to the Spirit and not giving advice or trying to fix specific issues. 

“I’ve been surprised by this, challenged by this, and realized how unpracticed I am in this. What does it really mean to listen to the Spirit and to listen to the other person and only speak as prompted?” 

Kenneth McNeil, MDiv ’18, pastor of Willow Grove Baptist Church in Waco and a graduate of Truett’s first spiritual direction cohort, echoed the importance of holy listening. McNeil stated that one of the best practices he gained from the training program is listening. 

“I am intentional about listening — really listening and not thinking about how we will respond or what we will say next.” 

Spiritual direction has been an especially helpful tool to McNeil as he offers pastoral care to members of his church. 

“You would be amazed at how many people are experiencing grief,” he said. “When members of my church share with me, I am listening and I am praying. I am listening to their grief and their pain and I am praying for them. I am paying attention to what the Holy Spirit is saying before I respond.” 

Truett’s spiritual direction program requires a two-year commitment and is available to seminary students, Baylor faculty and staff, ministers, and laypeople seeking to become spiritual directors. New cohorts begin each fall. Those who complete the program receive a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from Truett Seminary and can offer spiritual direction to individuals and groups in congregations, other ministry contexts, and beyond. To learn more about the program and the next cohort, visit: baylor.edu/truett/spiritualdirection.

From its founding until today, Truett Seminary conjoins rigorous academic instruction with intentional spiritual formation in order to prepare students thoroughly for their post-seminary callings. The Seminary offers a robust theological education that encourages and cultivates intellectual, spiritual, and ministerial growth, even as it equips students for the joys and challenges of a life devoted to sacrificial Christian service.