What Happens in Group Spiritual Direction?

Learn what it takes to lead, what models to follow, and what fruit to expect.

Group spiritual direction is very similar to individual direction. A small group of people meet together to provide spiritual direction for each other. Members of the group are given the opportunity, one at a time, to be the directee, and the group responds prayerfully to whatever the directee chooses to present.

The format is simple. The group starts with a time of silence or a short meditation. After that the group invites one person to talk for five or ten minutes about whatever they'd like. Then there is another time of prayerful silence. Out of the silence, the group begins to ask questions, responding to whatever the directee is presenting. At the close of the person's presentation and the group's response, there is another time of prayerful silence during which each person in the group prays silently for the individual who presented. The group may choose to allow time for two people to present in one session, but in any case, over the course of several months, everyone will have the opportunity to be the directee.

The purpose of these groups is not counseling or therapy. Nor are they intended to be places where we can engage in aimless, self-absorbed conversations. The purpose of spiritual direction groups is formation. Spiritual formation is "a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others." The intentional goal of group spiritual direction is to help each participant become more aware of God in their lives, for thesake of others. In other words, it leads to an awakening of the soul. This awakening then leads to a life that is purposeful and intentional. Group spiritual direction helps individuals grow in their faith, love others more fully, and participate in the mission of the church more effectively.

Leadership of the Group

A group like this—which invites people to share their own spiritual journeys, be personal and authentic, and seek transformation for the sake of others—is very unusual. You won't hear the average after-dinner conversation when they meet. For this reason, spiritual direction groups need informed facilitators to lead, ideally people who have been trained as spiritual directors.

This, however, is not always possible. Spiritual direction is a ministry that's just being rediscovered in the Protestant church. Most churches don't have people who have already been through spiritual direction training programs. Yet people are seeing the benefits of spiritual direction and looking for ways to engage in the experience. When this is the case, group spiritual direction can be especially valuable, and it can be effective even without a trained spiritual director. One way to begin is to have a study group about spiritual direction so that everyone understands how unique, and yet how familiar, spiritual direction can be.

Whether you have a trained spiritual director in your church or not, what is essential is for each individual in the group to be committed to the spiritual direction process, and for someone who has proven skills in group leadership to be given the responsibility to facilitate the group process.

After the facilitator guides the group through the time of silence, he or she invites the assigned presenter to share from their life. Sometimes this means that the facilitator needs to encourage the presenter with a few open questions. Other times the facilitator needs to gently keep the presenter on track and within the time frame. The facilitator also needs to provide leadership for the group in their response, encouraging questions and discouraging advice. The job of facilitating group spiritual direction is not an easy one, but if the group shares the leader's commitment to the process, it works well.

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