The Art of Spiritual Guidance

I have been sharing a series with our staff on spiritual formation. At our staff meeting this week, I spoke about spiritual guidance or spiritual direction. This is a lost art in contemporary evangelicalism. The role of pastor can be spiritual direction in a sense. But classically, spiritual guidance happens in a one on one setting. Spiritual direction is not about Biblical information but about heart transformation. I encouraged our staff to both avail themselves to spiritual guidance as a receiver and as a giver. To seek a mentor and to be a mentor. When I got to ‘be a mentor’ time, I shared six simple principles for the art of spiritual guidance. One of our pastors jotted down some notes about it and then forwarded it to me. So here they are. Obviously this is not exhaustive by any means but it is practical and helpful. Definitely not the final word on the subject but some important ideas just the same.

1) Focus on Gods kingdom and design instead my plans for that person.
What is God’s will for this person? How has he designed them? How
can I help them down that road?

2) Keep your advice founded in the Bible. From the Book outward instead
of the opposite of that. Most of the issues with historical and contemporary spiritual guidance comes when it is divorced from the heart of God in the Word of God.

3) Founded on care and concern. Love them with the concern of Christ. Care and concern will always (with the exception of intercessory prayer) translate into time spent together. So you must figure out how to make time for that person.

4) Have a listening ear. Eugene Peterson said, “Show up an then shut up.”
Let people express their hearts. Where they are at. Do not jump in. Wait
and see where they are coming from before you put in your .02. Give
them an opportunity to express themselves. Then pick your words wisely and
choose carefully what you are going to say.

5) Be humble. The people who walk with the Lord the longest and the
closest recognize their neediness for God the most. Lead with
humility not pride. When you are addressing them, do not forget that you have a plank in your own eye!

6) Lead with the premise that you are going to reproduce yourself
, whether good or bad. It is a great responsibility. Is our
own walk where we want it to be? People we disciple will take on many
of our characteristics. Things we do and say will show up in their
lives because we are encouraging them to walk down the road with us.


Life is busy. Ministry life is even busier. Something I figured out in the first six months of being in pastoral ministry was that I was going to have to plan my week well, or die. And as my ministry load has steadily and dramatically increased over the years I’m more convinced than ever that having a “plan or die” mentality is essential to survival and effectiveness in the ministry. I’m so convinced of this that I not only plan out my schedule to the minute as much as possible every few months, but I also require all pastoral trainees at the church I lead to do the same in cooperation with their family when they start the training process. I figure it is better to learn early to plan by instruction than to figure it out through burnout and floundering ministry endeavors.

Below is a copy of one of my old daily schedules:


Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
6-7AM: Morning Routine


7-8AM: Sermon Prep


8:30-2PM: Church


2:30- Evening: Family Time


Morning Routine



Family Day/Daddy Date



6-7AM: Morning Routine





7:30-8:15AM: Sermon Prep


8:15-6PM: Solitude






6-7AM: Morning Routine


7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer


7:30-8AM: Exercise


8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing


10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems


12-1PM: Lunch


1-6PM: Leader Follow-up

6-7AM: Morning Routine


7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer


7:30-8AM: Exercise


8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing


10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems


12-1PM: Lunch


1-4PM: Counseling Apps


4-6PM: Leadership Meeting/Fellowship



6-7AM: Morning Routine


7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer


7:30-8AM: Exercise


8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing


10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems


12-1PM: Lunch


1-6PM: Counseling Apps



Morning Routine



Family Time



House Chores


12-1: Lunch



Family Time




Some will look at that schedule and think I’m too loose with planning. Others will think I’m too extreme.

Here are a few benefits I’ve experienced from learning to plan my schedule this way:

 1. Stuff gets done

If I just try to swing at things “when I get around to it” I frequently find that I never really get around to it. I have to plan for the needed stuff to happen, or it won’t happen. But conversely, if most everything has a spot on the schedule, it gets done.

 2. I have more free time

That’s right, MORE free time. The counterintuitive thing I’ve learned about intensely detailed planning is that having a solid plan actually frees you instead of restricting you. The reason for this is that if I work on everything when I’m supposed to, for as long as I’m supposed to, I end up getting things done much quicker and more efficiently than I would if I did those same things when I felt I had a spare moment. For example, I have 7 hours and 45 minutes scheduled for sermon preparation time because that is an extremely important part of my job. But the reality is that it usually only takes me 2 to 4 hours to completely prepare for a sermon. So as I work diligently on my sermon during schedule times I end up getting it done, and the remaining sermon prep slots become free time to do other things. That is how detailed planning gives me more time instead of restricting me.

 3. My family is informed

The last benefit I’ll mention (though there are many more) is that planning this way blesses my family because it makes it easy for us to be on the same page day-to-day. Generally, my wife knows exactly what I’m doing and when I’m doing it if she wants. And my family knows that when dad’s working, he’s working. But they trust me with the busy times because they know I’m making scheduled times in which we invest in our family which are just for us a priority as well.

The truth is that our need/desire to plan comes from our being made in the image of God. Our God is an ordered God of planning. Jesus came to earth when “the fullness of time had come.”[1] God is not the author of confusion and chaos, but peace, rhythm, and harmony.[2] No wonder life is draining and unproductive when we approach it chaotically, without plan or intentionality. If you feel like you’re suffocating under the weight of responsibilities and lack of direction in what to do, that alarm in your mind might be the Holy Spirit exhorting you to plan or die.

[1] Gal. 4:4 NKJV

[2] 1 Cor. 14:33

Walking the Line

So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with skillful hands. -Psalm 78:72

Sitting in seminary one afternoon, one of my professors shared a story that made a huge impact.  Class hadn’t started yet, or we were on a break or something, but the professor began to share that looking at the books in his home library was a humbling experience for him.  This pegged my interest and I began to listen intently wondering, “How in the world could looking at some books be a humbling experience?”  He continued to explain that many of his book were given to him by friends that dropped out of ministry over the course of years do to one moral failing or another.  Wow.  Powerful.  The books to him weren’t books, but scars (in some respect) of dear friends of his that didn’t make the distance.  He lesson to us was clear–if we were going to go the distance, we needed to a close watch on our hearts.

The above verse contains valuable lessons from the life of David.

Integrity of Heart.  God seems to care more about the inside of the leader than He does the fruit of his life.  Most men have the priorities backward.  Our hearts are slippery creatures that seem bent on evil.  How do we maintain our integrity of heart?  As as young believer I was blessed to be surrounded by men who were honest about their struggles and passionate about God.  Being surrounded by these men helped me understand that we can be passionate while imperfect.  In sharing struggles and shortfalls with these men helped me grow stronger in my walk with the Lord.  As I left the military and headed for the ministry, I have seen over time that isolation from true friends, or peers is a common pitfall.   In this last 7 years in the ministry I have found that it has been helpful to nurture relationships with fellow pastors.  I am thankful for these guys who are friends.  Guys I have freedom to share my struggles and successes with.  Through them I believe the integrity of my heart has been strengthened.

Skillful hands.  Preaching and teaching is an amazing calling that is a wonderful blessing.  I am grateful that I have been called to the ministry of the proclamation of the Word.  There is freedom here.  There are pitfalls.  We can become lazy in our preparation, but I believe God cares about the quality of our work of preaching and shepherding.  Preaching every week requires much time in preparation.  I have learned that it takes hard work to cut out time to work on my skill as a pastor.  We need to.  In recent months I have tried to increase my reading on preaching and pastoring in order to sharpen my skills.  I went to a pastor’s conference hosted by Alistair Begg in May to encourage and invigorate my passion for the ministry.

Integrity of heart and skill of hand are linked together.  We need to be diligent on both battle fronts.  I desire to go the distance in this marathon.

The Folly of Self Sufficiency

“Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor.” (Ecclesiastes 4:13, ESV)

In this proverb, the young guy who is nothing and who has nothing but wisdom is better than an old guy who has everything but can’t learn anything. The old king’s problem? He’d forgotten his own roots. He too had grown up poor, but now that he had power and influence, his dependent attitude went bye-bye, only to be replaced with prideful self sufficiency.

I almost laughed when I read about the old and foolish king. It reminded me of myself at times in my own ministry. During one particular season, I had lost the willingness to receive input from others, especially from those outside of our fellowship. I became somewhat isolated, and my relational circle drew ever tighter.

Early in the ministry, when I’d only been at it for about two years, I remember one seasoned CC pastor coming through our area as he traveled in his RV with his wife. He was essentially offering himself as a servant to a young pastor. Looking back, I wish I’d welcomed him with open arms, invited him to our home, allowed him to look at the church and what we were doing (and not doing), but I did not. Looking back, I realize I missed a huge opportunity to grow. I was too young and dumb to know that at the time. But now that I’m old and dumb I’ve been able to at least figure that out. I blew it.

It’s possible that in the fellowship of churches I’ve been involved with for 38 years that a similar thing has happened. Many Calvary Chapel pastors went from prison to the throne. Meaning, many were in deep trouble, the Lord rescued them when they had nothing and were nothing, but His anointing upon their lives has brought much “success,” as one might view it from the outside. It’s a dangerous place to be in. It’s easy to become like the old king who no longer knew how to take advice.

In my ministry with Poimen Ministries (a ministry that helps senior pastors in whatever ways they need and want it —, I have seen how hard and risky a thing it can be for pastors to ask for input, and to receive it. Even when it’s safe.

I hope that I can be open as I continue to get older. And I also hope that my peers in ministry … older and younger … can be the same.

The only Person in the universe that can’t learn anything or doesn’t need to learn anything is God Himself. All of the rest of us are students until the day we die. Even then, there will still be learning in heaven.