The Makings of a Spiritual Director

by Alan Fadling 

Here is a great summary of what makes a good spiritual director. These qualities are also useful for those of us in any form of spiritual leadership. You can easily change out the words “spiritual director” for “Christian leader.”

How is God growing these qualities in your own life and ministry?

The lines in bold come from Kenneth Leech’s revised version of Soul Friend (Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 2001, p. 84-85.)

“From the tradition, the spiritual director appears, first as a person possessed by the Spirit…

The consensus among Christian spiritual writers is that the best mentors of the spiritual life are those who are uniquely gifted by God in this way. Those whose lives are growing in holiness and in intimacy with God are the ones who we can trust to give good spiritual guidance. A godly spiritual director is one in whom Christ is making Himself more and more fully at home.

Secondly, the spiritual director is a person of experience, a person who has struggled with the realities of prayer and life…

Good spiritual directors are dealing with their own challenges in life and prayer. Experience like this comes not from reading but from living. There is no substitute for facing temptation, trial, hardship, questions, doubts, and other realities of walking with Christ over a lifetime.

Thirdly, the spiritual director is a person of learning, though, as Augustine Baker points out, learning without spiritual maturity can be dangerous…

A good spiritual director is a person in whom the word of Christ dwells richly (Colossians 3:16). She (or he) is one who is well-read in historic and contemporary spiritual writings. Though many warn against the potential danger of cognitive knowledge unseasoned by godly wisdom, there is still great value in being experientially aware of what others have written over the years.

Fourthly, the spiritual director is a person of discernment…

Going back to the desert fathers, the value of discernment has been continually lifted up. There is a need to be able to discern the times, discern the spirits and discern desires as to whether they are life-giving or life-draining, God-honoring or God-denying.

The spiritual director is, finally, a person who gives way to the Holy Spirit.”

A good spiritual director is not directive. There is a shared sense of confident trust that the Spirit of God is the primary Director. Godly spiritual directors are more like John the Baptist, pointing the way to Jesus and being very comfortable in the background.

Alan Fadling serves as a frequent speaker, consultant and retreat leader with local churches, national organizations and international leaders. He speaks from the intersection of spiritual formation and leadership, with content that is approachable, usable and transferable. Check out his website, Unhurried Living.


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Click here to watch a short video that describes the primary role of a spiritual director.

Click here to read about five gifts a person received from spiritual direction.

Click here to read a very convincing article, “Why We Need Spiritual Direction More Than Ever.”

Click here to find a Christ-centered spiritual director.

Click here for more information on how to be trained as a spiritual director through the Sustainable Faith School of Spiritual Direction.