Spiritual Guides and Spiritual Directors

Spiritual direction may be formal or informal, one-on-one or in small groups.  It may be primarily a peer relationship, in which the term “spiritual friendship” is more appropriate.  Or may be a relationship between someone who is clearly designated the “director” and another person, the “directee.”  Sometimes fees are involved and sometimes they are not.

Programs that seek to “train spiritual directors” may use one approach, such as Ignatian, or several different modalities.  Most require that the person getting the training receive spiritual direction first, and then undergo supervision as they begin offering spiritual direction to others.  Training programs are as short as three weeks and as long as three years.  Some are affiliated with a seminary; most are not.  Spiritual Directors International ( provides a network and an annual conference to resource this work.  A code of ethics is also a part of SDI’s ministry and concern.

There is no universally recognized certification in spiritual direction.  Anyone can hang up a sign that says “Spiritual Director.”  There are reasons for this theologically – what “training” can possibly legitimate such holy and privileged encounter?  There are also organizational headaches – who would want to officially “certify” such a ministry, and keep the list current?  Denominations go to great effort to evaluate, prepare and support people for ordained ministry; who’s prepared to do the same for something that seems even more amorphous?

Good spiritual direction programs are humble about what they are doing.  Shalem, for example, certifies only that people have been trained in spiritual direction; it does not certify that they are spiritual directors.  “Only God does that,” Gerald May is reported to have said.

At the 2000 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, delegates approved a new certification program in spiritual formation (not in spiritual direction).  Like other certifications in the UMC (such as Christian Education, Camping & Retreat Ministry, etc.), it is administered through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville but requires individuals to seek approval through their United Methodist Conference structures.  Lay persons, Deacons and Elders may be certified following a program of seminary study with practical application.  Detailed information is available through their website (

Five courses are required for the Certification in Spiritual Formation.  Those who have completed the two-year Academy for Spiritual Formation® may be exempt from two of the five courses.

Even though some of the course work for the Certification in Spiritual Formation is in spiritual direction, the term “spiritual formation” was chosen to represent the variety of ways in which this orientation may be applied in one’s ministry.

For further information, contact the GBHEM Certification Office at 615-340-7375 or

From The Upper Room 

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