Models of Spiritual Companionship
Spiritual direction is a relationship of holy listening, discernment, and prayer, providing encouragement and accountability. Spiritual direction is not usually a formal ministry of the church, like Stephen Ministry, but rather a resource for people who are moved by the Holy Spirit to seek direction for their spiritual life. An individual meets with a spiritual director who listens and helps discern the presence and work of God’s spirit. Although spiritual directors have been part of some church traditions for many years, they are now becoming more common as a resource for spiritual growth in the Evangelical world.
Spiritual friendship is a relationship for mutual accountability and encouragement with the express purpose of spiritual growth. Spiritual friends can mutually help one another take notice of God’s presence and our response to that presence.
The Willow Creek Association’s Reveal Study noted that often more mature Christians participate in fewer church activities but their informal relationships with other Christians grow deeper. Often these relationships begin in peer ministries like small groups. These friends continue to meet informally to talk about their faith, life and prayer needs. Some churches intentionally organize these spiritual friendships for mutual accountability and encouragement with the express purpose of spiritual growth.
Discipling is a relationship of encouragement and guidance between a more mature disciple and a (spiritually) younger believer for the purpose of moving the disciple toward spiritual maturity.
Aside from Sunday school classes, small groups, and the teaching that happens from the pulpit each week, the discipleship of a new believer will be most effective when careful and personal attention is given to each individual’s growth as a disciple of Jesus. Just as a newborn baby needs care and attention, so does each person who is new to the faith. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, the apostle Paul writes, “Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” The provision of this care is the responsibility of all members of the church; not just the pastor or some key leaders. Paul teaches us to care for each new believer as a mother cares for her new child.
Christian Coaching/Mentoring is a relationship in which one person empowers another by sharing their God-given resources. This process of guiding one to his or her maximum potential in Jesus Christ is generally done through personal modeling, guidance and encouragement.
Other churches discover the power of the coaching/mentoring process and create a formal system for training coaches/mentors and matching them with people seeking guidance for their Christian life. In some cases, churches use this model for guiding new Christians as they encounter the Bible and the faith for the first time. In other situations, the person has been a Christian for some time but is looking for wisdom and guidance for putting their faith into practice. The more formal coaching/mentoring ministries include goals for the ministry, guidelines for coaches/mentors and mentees, application processes, training, prayerful matching of coaches/mentors and mentees, and ongoing supervision.
Peer or Accountability Groups
Some churches help people establish a relationship with one or two other people for mutual accountability. These groups of two or three meet regularly, either weekly or twice a month, for life-oriented conversation and lifestyle evaluation. The groups commit to open, honest conversation and prayer about the successes and challenges they encounter a they seek to follow Christ in their daily lives.