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Spiritual Direction

A Biola Distinctive

In addition to offering academic training, the Institute for Spiritual Formation (ISF) serves the Biola University community by offering the ministry of spiritual direction to students, staff and faculty. This “soul care” ministry has become a distinctive and critical part of the Biola experience:

  • Nearly 50 people a day come to ISF to meet with a spiritual director.
  • An average of 700 individuals come to ISF for spiritual direction each semester, including about 300 undergrads, 350 grad students and 50 faculty and staff.
  • These individuals meet with one of ISF’s approximate 130 spiritual directors — 30 in training through ISF’s master’s program, and 100 who have completed their training and are on staff.
  • Of over 1,000 undergrads surveyed about their spiritual direction experience:
    • 95% “strongly agree/agree” that “compared to other opportunities at Biola, spiritual direction is one of the most beneficial experiences for my relationship with God.”
    • 95% “strongly agree/agree” that “spiritual direction has helped me better understand my relationship with God,” and that “spiritual direction was very helpful to my spiritual life.”
    • Nearly 100% said they would recommend spiritual direction to a friend.

Spiritual direction has been recognized as a “distinctive strength” at Biola. A recent review of Talbot by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) recognizes:

“Talbot’s considerable training in spiritual formation creates opportunities for deepening spiritual awareness & growth in moral sensibility and character. The overall ethos of the school supports spiritual formation through coursework and spiritual direction in a manner that is truly commendable.”

Learn More About Spiritual Direction

See the information below to learn more about spiritual direction at Biola. If you would like to talk to someone about spiritual direction or spiritual formation, here are some options:

  • If you are a student in immediate need of help, contact Campus Safety:
    • Phone: (562) 777-4000
    • Phone number for on-campus callers: (562) 777-4000 ext. 5111
  • If you are an undergraduate student who is not experiencing an emergency, but would like to talk to someone with pastoral training as soon as possible, contact the Spiritual Development Department.
  • ISF General Contact Information
  • Questions about Spiritual Formation Core Requirements
    • Chris Baker, ISF Assistant Director
      Phone: (562) 944-0351, ext. 3211

Overview and Explanation

What is Spiritual Direction?

Spiritual direction is simply one believer helping another to:

  • Pay attention to God’s personal communication by His Spirit and through His Word
  • Respond to this personally communicating God
  • Grow in intimacy with God
  • Live life out of this relationship with God

(Adapted Barry & Connolly, The Practice of Spiritual Direction)

Biblical Foundation & Examples

Spiritual direction is essentially a Christian ministry of prayer, care, and discernment. It fulfills the call to love one another (John 13:34) by encouraging one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11) to love (Hebrews 10:24) with increasing wisdom and discernment (Philippians 1:9-11). It takes as a basic principle that those who have put their faith in Jesus have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) by the filling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12-13), who is given to guide us into all truth (John 16:13). This Spirit-led renewing of the mind allows believers to test and approve God’s will (Romans 12:2), measuring all things according to the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Brothers and sisters in Christ are to carry one another’s burdens in prayer (James 5:13-16, Galatians 6:2), be quick to listen to one another (James 1:19), and to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Two often-cited examples of the “form” of spiritual direction in Scripture are the story of Eli helping Samuel to properly discern the voice of God (1 Samuel 3) and Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). In these stories we see a pattern where one who is spiritually wise, through a process of prayerful listening, discernment, and evocative questioning, is able to help another person move more fully into relationship with and obedience to God.

Historical Foundations

Spiritual direction has been recognized by Christians for centuries as one way to help another person learn how to grow in his or her capacity to attend to the movement of the Holy Spirit in his or her life, primarily through attentiveness to the life of prayer. It is best experienced as a complement to the life of community in the body of Christ, personal devotion to God, and other forms of soul care (participation in a local church, therapy, counseling, discipleship, mentoring, etc.) as they are needed.

What is a spiritual director?

“It is often said that the real director in spiritual direction is God, while the human spiritual director is more of a witness, one that points to God’s activity on behalf of the directee.” — Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association, Code of Ethics

A spiritual director is:

  • A mature Christian who helps the directee discern what the Holy Spirit is doing and saying and to act on that discernment
  • Characterized by mature theological knowledge, a degree of holiness, and a knack for discernment
  • Not a counselor or therapist

(Adapted from Christianity Today, “Got Your Spiritual Director Yet?”)

Spiritual Direction at Biola

Spiritual direction is one means to fulfill Biola’s mission to “equip men and women in mind and character to impact the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.” As a part of Talbot, ISF is committed to training men and women through graduate level theological education to serve the church and the world in whatever context God calls them.

ISF students in the M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care degree program are trained by faculty (Betsy Barber and Judy TenElshof) through a four-course practicum sequence to offer spiritual direction. Each year these 20 to 30 ISF students meet with undergrad “directees” as part of their supervised training. When they have completed their training, many stay on as staff spiritual directors. To date, there are nearly 100 staff spiritual directors who meet with Talbot students and Biola staff and faculty who come for either a course requirement or simply because they want to experience spiritual direction. These staff spiritual directors are supervised by the faculty and by the ISF Assistant Director (Chris Baker).

Frequently Asked Questions about Spiritual Direction

How is spiritual direction different from therapy or counseling?

Spiritual direction is similar to therapy or counseling, but there are some key distinctions:

  • Spiritual directors do not have clinical training and are not licensed, so if someone is seeking help with issues such as depression, anxiety, addictions, suicidal thoughts, etc., a spiritual director will refer them to a clinical psychologist or doctor. For Biola students, a referral would typically be made to the Biola Counseling Center.
  • In therapy the focus is often on the relationship between the therapist and the client. While the director/directee relationship is obviously important, the focus in spiritual direction is primarily on the directee’s relationship with God.
  • Thus the frequency of spiritual direction is typically about once a month rather than weekly. This rhythm emphasizes the value of spiritual direction as a place where a spiritual companion (the director) helps provide a space for the directee to pause and pay deeper and closer attention to their life and relationship with God.
  • Counseling is often focused on a particular issue, struggle, or problem with the hope of gaining specific guidance, help or relief. Spiritual direction may incorporate some concrete guidance or suggestions, but this is not the focus. Rather, the focus is on helping the directee attend more deeply to their relationship with God.

How do I find or get matched with a spiritual director?

At this time spiritual direction at ISF is only available to current students, staff, and faculty at Biola. Alumni or members of the community are welcome to contact ISF to find help locating a spiritual director. A very helpful referral resource is the Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association. All spiritual direction takes place in spiritual direction rooms at ISF.

Spiritual Direction & COVID-19

  • Spiritual direction is available online until in-person classes and services are able to resume. Current students can apply for spiritual direction using our online application. The ISF staff will review your application and will match you with someone who is able to meet with you remotely. Contact our office if you have further questions about online spiritual direction or your eligibility to apply.

Undergraduate Students

  • Biola undergraduate students can receive spiritual direction for free at ISF. You will need to come to the ISF office in Grove 1 (near the tennis courts) to fill out an application. You will then be matched with a spiritual director. That spiritual director will contact you to set up an initial appointment.

Graduate Students

  • Talbot students are required to complete two semesters of spiritual direction as part of the Spiritual Formation Core sequence (SF505 and SF506). Students registered for those courses will be sent a digital application form and be matched by the ISF department. When they have been matched their spiritual director will contact them.
  • Talbot or other graduate school students who want to receive spiritual direction apart from a required course can come to ISF to fill out an application or contact our office for more information.
  • ISF students are required to be in spiritual direction every semester (registering for SF585) and will meet with an ISF faculty or staff member to get a referral to a spiritual director.

Biola Staff or Faculty

  • When available, ISF will offer scholarships or grants to Biola staff and faculty at the start of the fall semester. These will typically be announced via email and the Inside Story. These scholarships/grants allow eligible staff and faculty to meet with a staff spiritual director at no cost.
  • If a staff or faculty member does not receive a scholarship or grant but still desires to meet with a spiritual director, they should contact the ISF office for help receiving a referral.

What happens in a typical meeting?

A typical spiritual direction meeting is 45–50 minutes long. You will wait for your spiritual director to meet you at the ISF Office in Grove 1. The first time you meet you will have to fill out some paperwork that goes over the confidentiality/spiritual direction relationship. During your very first meeting, the spiritual director will often take time to help you get to know each other a bit, explain the nature of spiritual direction and go over any administrative things that need to be covered. In this first meeting and in subsequent meetings, the focus of the time can be whatever you want it to be.

The purpose of spiritual direction is to grow in your capacity to relate to God. Because of this, the attention of the spiritual director and the dialogue you carry together will be on that relationship. It is a time to grow in your capacity to discern the movement and direction of the Holy Spirit in your life. The spiritual director will often ask you questions to gain greater understanding of your relationship with God, perhaps even beginning with the question, “what brings you to spiritual direction?” The spiritual director will often incorporate the reading of and reflection on Scripture as part of the time as well. If you have questions about the nature and process of spiritual direction, you are encouraged to talk openly with your spiritual director about it — or to contact ISF if you have other specific questions or concerns.

Can I get chapel credit for spiritual direction?

Yes. Undergraduate students who come to spiritual direction are eligible to get one chapel credit per meeting (unless you are coming for a class requirement). Chapel credit forms are available at the ISF Front Desk, at the Chapel Accountability office, or can be found online.

Form for Spiritual Development Credit for Spiritual Direction