Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls

Edited with Gary Moon, this is an compilation of chapters written by expert representatives of the major approaches to Christian spiritual direction. All chapters follow a common framework, addressing such matters as each tradition’s definition and understanding of spiritual direction, the process of authentic transformation, the role of the spiritual director, indicators of mature spirituality and other aspects of the spiritual direction process. Chapters also provide psychological and clinical insight into how spiritual direction is similar to, different from and can be integrated with psychotherapy and pastoral counseling to help others experience spiritual transformation and union with God.



The number of recent publications on spiritual direction bears witness to a widely noted but nonetheless remarkable rise of interest in spirituality. Clergy, Christian educators, youth ministry specialists, counselors (both mental health and pastoral) and large numbers of Christians without any formal ministry involvement in soul care are all reading books on spiritual direction and attending conferences and retreats on spiritual formation. In large sectors of the church, few would have ever even heard of the concepts of spiritual formation or direction until recently. Yet the seminaries and colleges of many of those traditions are now busy refashioning departments of Christian education into programs in spiritual formation, while clergy and laity alike seek opportunities to learn about spiritual direction.

Unfortunately, however, the picture of spiritual direction presented in this developing literature has often been quite one-dimensional, failing to reflect the rich diversity of Christian spiritual formation and direction. Typically speaking from within the perspective of a single denominational framework or theological tradition, each represents only an extremely small part of the remarkably rich whole that has yet to be presented.

The present volume addresses this omission by presenting articles on spiritual formation and direction from representatives of seven major traditions of the Christian church. At the heart of the book will be the voices of seven different pastors, priests or theologians who will describe the history and process of spiritual direction and understanding of spiritual formation from within their tradition—these including Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Reformed, holiness, social justice and charismatic Christianity.   Recognizing that spiritual direction is a form of soul care that is of keen interest to pastoral and other Christian counselors, we then address this interface with four chapters that compare and contrast spiritual direction, pastoral counseling and psychotherapy. The focus of these chapters is not merely academic distinctions but practical contributions each expression of soul care can make to the others.

This book has been compiled with the hope that it will aid in the rediscovery of spiritual direction throughout the Christian community. While it is important that our understandings of spiritual formation and transformation be anchored in the richness of historic Christian spirituality in all its diversity, it is also essential that we realistically face the challenge of reintegrating streams of soul care that have been separated for nearly a century. To do this we need respectful interdisciplinary dialogue and ecumenical openness. It is hoped that this volume will contribute to this climate and thereby help all who seek to understand or facilitate the process of soul care.


It is still too early to determine the significance of the recent rise of interest in spirituality—not only in society or the church, but also in such soul care professions as psychotherapy and pastoral counseling. We would like to believe that it represents a fresh breath of the Spirit of God, a revival of hunger for deep personal engagement and transforming surrender to the divine. And we are hopeful that the attention it is receiving from pastoral counselors and psychotherapists represents more than a short-lived curiosity.

But it is also clear that these developments contain faddish elements. How easily the church—some sectors of it being notably more vulnerable than others—becomes caught up with current fashion. Pastoral counseling and psychotherapy have often been guilty of the same. How sad it will be if it turns out that they have all done so once again. How sad if sectors of the church that are beginning to be interested in spiritual direction simply fit it into the programmatic approaches to spiritual formation that they have excelled in developing.

This makes it essential that those of us who seek to nurture spiritual growth in others ground our practice in an understanding of our extraordinarily rich tradition of Christian spiritual formation and direction. It also makes it essential that we offer our ministrations in ways that respect the boundaries and distinctives of each of the major soul care professions. This has been the purpose of this book.

The rediscovery of spiritual direction by Christian traditions that had lost touch with this rich aspect of our shared heritage represents, to our mind, the recovery of the lost jewel in the crown of Christian soul care. For too long soul care has been dominated by mental health professionals. Consequently, the church lost its place of preeminence in the care and cure of the inner self. The recent rise of interest in spiritual direction holds the possibility of redressing this anomaly. It also holds the possibility of helping both pastoral counseling and psychotherapy discover the unique ways appropriate to each to attend to the spiritual dimensions of personal experience. All share a concern with the inner world of persons—a world that cannot be artificially divided into psychological and spiritual parts. But each also has important distinctives, and each has a unique and essential part to play in full-spectrum Christian soul care.

Spiritual direction offers twenty-first-century Christians an ancient and time-honored relationship of accountability and accompaniment for walking the Christian path. It provides us a place within which we can know ourselves as we are truly known. It gives us a place to meet God. And it also allows both psychotherapy and pastoral counseling to do what each does best while attending to the inner life of persons and learning from their sister soul care profession.


The variety of insightful authors brought together by the editors of this book offer the reader a unique and valuable perspective on the ways eight different Christian traditions understand and practice spiritual companionship, as well as elucidating the relation of this historic spiritual practice to modern pastoral counseling and psychotherapy. The book offers a distinctive contribution to the growing literature on this vital subject.

~ Tilden Edwards, Founder and Senior Fellow, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation

Is anything more needed in our present culture than spiritual direction and soul care? I think not. So I’m elated with this comprehensive guide to spiritual direction. It is both theoretical and practical. I welcome it especially for pastors, professors and persons training for ministry. Only able advocates and practitioners of spiritual direction – Dr. Benner and Dr. Moon – could have put together this remarkable resource. I commend it.

~ Maxie D. Dunnam, President, Asbury Theological Seminary

There is a tradition of wisdom about human life and the nature of change that has been lost to many of us. Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls recaptures that wisdom from multiple perspectives and makes it available to us all. This is a rich resource for pastors, counselors, small group leaders and everyone interested in change.

~ John Ortberg, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church