Reflection on Practice

by Florentin Clipa

Spiritual mentoring is essentially a reflective process. Discuss the benefits and dangers of this form of ministry in the contemporary church.

Reflection is at the core in the ministry of the church, and implicitly at the core of practical theology because everything that men do, especially the Christians in their activities, must do it with a sound thinking, more precisely a theological reflection. This work attempts to show the role of reflection on practice in the ministry, the way it eveloped and grew with special emphasis on spiritual mentoring which is essentially a reflective process. To understand it well, it?s necessary to look closely on the nature of spiritual mentoring and the benefits and dangers that come into discussion.

The role of reflection in the ministry of the contemporary church:

Reflection holds together the practice of ministry with the resources of theology and allows the interaction for what the church should do in the future. Theological reflection is the art of making theology connect with life and ministry. According to Ballard reflection is on the third stage of pastoral cycle . Ballard contends that this pastoral cycle is the background where the practitioner can put together the depth and complexity of the experience and insights gained from the Christian heritage of faith for discovering God?s presence and action in the midst of the contingencies of this situation. Then, theological reflection has to play a major role in the life of the church. In fact, James Woodward and Stephen Pattison in their book The Blackwell reader in pastoral and practical theology state the importance of theological reflection in relation to practical theology: ?it is by people thinking though and analyzing their own experiences and the issues and situations that they face that the process of practical theology actually gets going. An important outcome of practical theology is to deepen and enrich this kind of theological reflection? . Ballard is somehow worried the way reflection is done. Thus, he looks at the laity and he sees that even they are doing reflection on different aspects about the Christian faith there is a lack of precision at key moments, so the reflection will remain uncritical and unfocused. Referring to clergy he sees them forgetting to do a rigorous thinking which is promoted in theological colleges and they slip into unreflective pragmatism.

In this realm of theological reflection, there are other methods of practical theology that are not based on a praxis approach, as the one which was already mentioned, because they have at the bottom things that appeal to people in their particular background like theological, temperamental and cultural reasons. Thus, a number of theological methods of reflection are presented like: linear approaches, correlation methods, praxis approaches, bible workshop, liberation methods, popular praxis, the artistic method of theological reflection and others.But the main questions that are justified here are: how do we really have to reflect? What is the impact that reflection has in the ministry of the church? What is its role?
Theological reflection can give a new meaning and a new orientation for the ministry of the church. Woodward and Pattison describe the situation of the church communities in the 1960s. It was a time when church communities have lost much of their formal influence and power and the clergy have largely lost their unquestioned place in their local communities. All these provoked and led to a crisis in ministerial role and identity. In this way, it is stated:
?Whichever response was adopted, the clerical role had become problematic both in theory and practice. It could no longer be uncritically assumed. This provided a powerful impetus to pastoral theological reflection and the acquisition of new skills

and knowledge of whatever kind was thought to be appropriate? .
Reflection on different times and different places on the ministry of the church can change the situation if it is a bad one and bring solutions to those problems met in the ministry. This is a first example where reflection does it part for future actions and steps for the ministry of the Christian church.

Reflection serves as a critical tool for the purposes of practical theology. Practical theology is concerned with the study of specific social structures and individual initiatives within which God?s continuing work of renewal and restitution becomes manifest. And all these things can be found inside or outside the church. Looking at this issue, the findings of practical theology can be expected to be mostly in the form of concrete proposals for the restructuring of the church?s life of witness, fellowship and service, for the style of life of individual Christians of the secular structures of society. And at this stage theological reflection needs to do the work. Woodward and Pattison contend that ?at the same time such proposals must then become the subject of fresh theological reflection if practical theology is not to return to a new form of ?hints and tips?, but one with a fashionable political emphasis? . The church will finds its relevance in this world only by putting theological reflection into work ?practical relevance must never be equated with an unreflected pragmatism lacking in self-criticism and historical perspective? .

Woodward and Pattison ask about the status of the specific disciplines of practical theology which still persist in the present form from the nineteen-century consensus? So, they look on homiletics, liturgics, pastoral care and comparing with the lay who claim to literatures, methods, professional organizations, that is, the social and formal marks of disciplines of higher education. They state: ?the cost of this development has been high-clericalization and severation from the basic mode of theological reflection? .
Looking to what was said, practical theology is that dimension of theology in which theological reflection is directed at a living situation in which the believer or the whole community is involved. Theological reflection must become the filter of the ministry of the church.

Theological reflection will do the work and will find its role only when will look to the ministry of the church, showing the real situation of the ministry, providing ways for development, for change, being critical to the life and ministry of the church. Only in this way, theological reflection will find its usefulness.

The nature of spiritual mentoring ? based on common factors across the types and models As the title of this essay states, spiritual mentoring is essentially a reflective process. The first part of this essay looked to the practical things that happen in the ministry of the church and reflection is asked to do the work. In the same way, reflection is the process used to analyse the things that happen in a man?s life and find ways through spiritual direction to develop his spiritual life. Thomas Merton said about spiritual direction process the following words: ?the whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a man?s life, to get behind the facade of conventional gestures and attitudes which he presents to the world, and to bring out his inner spiritual freedom, his inmost truth, which is what we call the likeness of Christ in his soul? .

Anderson and Reese mention the story of Jeanne Guyon, a wealthy widow, imprisoned in Bastilia, because of her writings. And this was as a consequence of her life of prayer and spiritual intimacy through spiritual guidance. She wrote Experiencing the depth of Jesus Christ, an influential work where she focuses on the connection between mentoring and intimacy with God. According to her, the mentor must be concerned with the issues of the heart. She suggests sincerity, authenticity, and trust, fundamentals for the stage of attraction.

Thus, to argue this idea Anderson and Reese state:
?Spiritual mentoring does not proceed according to a schema or series of steps; instead it is a sensitive movement of paying attention to God, to self and to the life of the mentoree by both mentor and mentoree, a dynamic and wise relationship that discerns next steps to take in the journey of faith? . The mentor cannot have any effect in his or her spiritual guidance on the life of the mentoree unless there is not a proper atmosphere that will create the necessary background for mentoring. Thus, leaving from this clear presupposition, it is necessary to show that there are certain common factors that will define the nature of spiritual mentoring. They are seen across the types and models used in this ministry of mentoring. These types and models of mentoring refer to different relationships between the mentor and mentoree and Robert Clinton gives a list of models.

The incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ is a supreme example for spiritual mentoring as a relational model and this is the first factor that must be analysed. The heart of spiritual mentoring is relational. And speaking on this issue, Jesus life became his message. Anderson and Reese state:
?He revealed in His life what He said in His words. The incarnationally relational style that Jesus chose becomes the form we describe as spiritual mentoring. His inner life of passionate intimacy with His Father becomes the great paradigm for all who would follow Him in the development of disciples for the kingdom? . Therefore, the best example from His life is the relation between Him and His disciples. There are many other examples in the Bible that show us a model of relational mentoring. Thus, we can think about Apostle Paul and Timothy, the priest Eli and Samuel, Naomi and Ruth. To understand its importance in a practical way is its usefulness in the spiritual growth and development of the mentoree. Thus, Sharon Heron states: ? for the mentee, there are the obvious benefits of observing and being able to draw on the knowledge and experience of the mentor and knowing the relational support of another. Further, as they approach this relationship there are lessons to be learned about team work, maintaining an open mind, considering various options, actively participating in the educational process…this has beneficial implications for the academic, training, and formation contexts. Thus, there is value in examining more closely the relational model of mentoring? .

Another aspect that is necessary to look upon is that spiritual mentoring involves an autobiographical approach. The mentoring relationship gives us the opportunity to explore boldly the life of another. Success depends by the way the two persons go to the depth of the problems. We need to focus to the ordinary things. In this way, Anderson and Reese consider what Petersen said: ?pastoral work … is that aspect of Christianity that specializes in the ordinary? .An important thing that the mentor must understand is that truth is embodied in the sacred story of the individual?s own biography. The Germans speak of heilgeschichte as different from geschichte: holy history as something much more profound than chronological history . This pattern of spiritual mentoring can be evident only through the thought-provoking questions raised in mentoring, so, the mentorres are freed to learn to pay attention to God?s presence in everything. In spiritual mentoring discussion begins with the most immediate, practical things of life, which ambush us into a detour back into the soul. Very rarely the discussion begins with the deep experiences of spirituality but find ourselves surprised that God is lurking in that which is routine. The mentor will help the mentoree to ?read between the lines? for the hidden and quietly earthly messages that God will give to him because life is full of God.

Spiritual mentoring means also a major work of the Holy Spirit and in this work this is the third factor which defines the nature of spiritual mentoring. The task of helping another discover the Spirit of Christ within belongs. In Isaiah 48:17-18 the Bible shows God?s sovereign role in the work of spiritual formation. The purpose of mentoring is to create the space in which this truth is discovered, so the mentoree can face the power of the Christian truth. Here it it important to emphasize that the responsibility of spiritual growth is properly held in the hands of God?s Holy Spirit and not in the hands and skills of the mentor, as the initiative for spiritual growth comes from God.
The relationship of spiritual mentoring is three- dimensional and dynamic: mentor and Holy Spirit, mentor and mentoree, mentoree and Holy Spirit. Thus, it is quite easy and clear to see the role of the Holy Spirit in spiritual mentoring but also the things that mentoree must consider: ?The person initiated in mentoring understands that the discovery of the already present action of the Spirit is brought by an attitude and life of prayer? .

The conditions to become a spiritual mentor

There are measures and ways to evaluate and answer the skill, productivity and success? What about the spiritual mentor? Are there any set of tools for his evaluation? Anderson and Reese believe that there are no tests. Rather, they believe instead that there are markings that suggest some of the essential skills and qualities common to spiritual mentors. In this way, they give a list that include some of the necessary conditions: role model worthy of emulation, a life of holiness, biblical knowledge and wisdom, one skilled in the hard labour of attentive, reflective listening, one gifted in recognizing potential in people, one gifted in spiritual discernment of God?s already present action, someone who has the ability to foster an atmosphere of trust, acceptance and space and surely one who is experienced in life.Anderson and Reese contend that the ministry of spiritual mentoring is for all the Christians, more precisely it is for the priesthood of all believers .The skills of mentoring can be developed and need to be enhanced in the life of anyone called to this ministry. To limit the ministry of mentoring to clergy alone would continue to impoverish the spirituality of the church. The same idea is supported by Eugene Petersen in his book Working the Angles where he states:
?Spiritual direction is no prerogative of the ordained ministry. Some of the best spiritual directors are simply friends.Some of the most famous spiritual directors have been lay persons. But the fact that anybody can do it and that it can occur at any time and place must not be construed to mean that it can be done casually or indifferently. It needs to be practiced out of a life immersed in the pursuit of holiness? .

Balance in the discussion of benefits and dangers.

A justified question that would appear into this discussion on spiritual mentoring is the balance of benefits and dangers because of the mentoring process. It is obvious that this kind of ministry will bring normally a number of benefits but there are the drawbacks, the dangers that come into discussion. There are many things that can happen when somebody opens to another one the depth of his life.
Eugene Petersen speaks about a young man George Fox, a teenager who went to five pastors to be mentored. In his Journal he doesn?t identify clearly the nature of the trouble that challenged him to seek the help from pastors. He refers to it as ?despair and temptation?. Petersen contends that at the core was his need to get knowledge about God. The most surprising thing is that the pastors failed on this aspect in their ministries: ?and not one of the pastors noticed. That the five did badly is not surprising. George Fox was complex. Spiritual direction is difficult. Pastoral wisdom is not available on prescription. Every person who comes to a pastor with a heart full of shapeless longings and a head full of badgering questions is complex in a new way. There are no fail-proof formulae? .Going to the first pastor he had discussions for a number of days but finally George Fox states about this man: ?at that time he would applaud and speak highly of me to others; and what I said in discourse to him on the week-days he would preach of on the First-days, for which I did not like him. This priest afterwards became my great persecutor? .

Going to the second pastor he finds again in a real bad condition after the first pastor didn?t gave him any help. So, George Fox explains: ?after this I went to another priest at Mancetter in Warwickshire, and reasoned with him about the ground of despair and temptations; but he was ignorant of my condition?he told my troubles, and sorrows, and griefs to his servants so that it was got among the milk-lasses, which grieved me that I had opened my mind to such a one. I saw they were all miserable comforters; and this brought my troubles more upon me ?.Looking for a better counsel and comfort for his trouble he finds the third pastor ?like an empty hollow cask? even the people were speaking positively about him.

George Fox still tries to find help and he goes to the fourth pastor, who at a specific moment got furious on him: Now, as we were walking together in his garden, the alley being narrow, I chanced, in turning, to set my foot on the side of a bed, at which the man was in such a rage as if his house had been on fire?I went away in sorrow, worse than I was when I came. I thought them miserable comforters, and saw they were all as nothing to me; for they could not reach my condition ?.

The fifth pastor didn?t give him any help, in fact he made him getting to the most worse condition. Looking to these examples, it can be said that George Fox needed a pastor who was secure enough to absorb, reflect, and tolerate the ambiguity of his troubled despair and temptation and strong enough not to have done something to or for him. That would have provided space for the Holy Spirit to initiate the new life. That might have done a difference.The problem is that when he opened to these pastors a number of bad things happened to him. One abused of him on preaching about him from the pulpit, another got angry on him because of nothing. The question is: how can the balance are made? Are there more benefits than dangers to continue in this mentoring, so the people might find help? It can be said that there are more benefits and dangers. For example, ?Hansford Lee and Ehrich, analysed one hundred and fifty-nine studies on mentoring in education. The study revealed that there were positive and negative outcomes associated with mentoring. However, of the studies reviewed almost ninety percent attributed some positive effect associated with entoring activities? .

Florentin Clipa – M.Th.


1. Anderson K R and R D Reese ? Spiritual mentoring: a guide for seeking and giving direction, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999

2. Ballard Paul , J. Pritchard ? Practical theology in action, SPCK, London, 1996

3. Heron Sharon S J ? An exploration of the relationship between tutor and student in the context of fulfilling the

objectives of theological education, with special reference to the Colleges of the Insitute of Theology at The Queen?s

University of Belfast, Master degree dissertation, The Queens?s University of Belfast, January 2004

4. Petersen H Eugene ? Working the angles: the shape of pastoral ministry, Eerdmans Publishing, Michigan, 1994

5. Woodward James and Stephen Pattison ? The blackwell reader in pastoral and practical theology, Blackwell publishing, Oxford, 2000

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