January 31, 2022
by Greg Henson, CEO, Kairos University and President, Sioux Falls Seminary and Susan Reese, Professor of Spiritual Formation
Over the past several weeks, we have highlighted various programs within the Kairos community. Today, our focus is on the Listening People to Life certificate program. The program provides training in spiritual direction. Let’s take a look at why people enroll, what people can expect from the program, and how it has worked for students.
Before we dive in, however, here’s a little bit on how the program came into being. The phrase “listening people to life” was a signature saying for Sister Del Rey Thielman. She was a Benedictine spiritual director in the Sioux Falls, SD, area who was sought out by many followers of Jesus from both Protestant and Catholic traditions who represented many theological traditions. After her passing, a group of spiritual directors came together to discern what might be needed in the ministry of spiritual direction and how the legacy of Sister Del Rey could be honored. The group of early collaborators included faculty from Sioux Falls Seminary (now part of Kairos University). Today, the community includes students, faculty, and partners from around the world. Listening People to Life can serve as a stand-alone certificate program or be integrated with a master’s or doctoral program.
Often, those who enroll in Listening People to Life share a desire for community and spiritual formation. This desire can stem from an experience they have had or from what might be described as a void in their own lives. Sometimes, students will express that their life of faith has been steeped in the “Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures” and that they need to learn more about the Holy Spirit and what it means to be aware of and attentive to the work of the Spirit.
In many cases, students note that, for some reason or another, people seek them out as holy listeners. In practice, people in their community (i.e., their workplace, congregation, friends) seek them out as one who listens to their spiritual life. These students have a desire to walk alongside others while paying attention to a life of prayer and discernment. While some students enroll in the program because they are called into the profession and ministry of spiritual direction, others come to experience enrichment in their listening skills. Enrolling in Listen People to Life, therefore, is often connected to a deep desire to serve others well.
Regardless of the reason why people enroll in the program, those who flourish see the program as a unique opportunity for community and formation. Students will best prepare for this training in spiritual direction by having participated in spiritual formation training in their church, at seminary, or through programs like Renovare, Transforming Community, Upper Room Academy, VantagePoint3, etc. The Listening People to Life certificate program is the “next thing” for people called to listen to and discern the work of the Spirit in one’s spiritual life.
Listening People to Life Training in Spiritual Direction is a two-year journey through various aspects of the Christian tradition, one’s own spiritual narrative, and the practice of spiritual direction. Let’s review the structure of the certificate program and the means of engagement.
Structure of the Program
In the first year of the program, attention is given to the nature of spiritual narrative. This includes a review of Christian heritage, one’s own spiritual narrative, and the spiritual disciplines. In the first few months of the program, usually September through December, students review God’s story and their own story. In the next season of the program, which is usually January through April, students focus on the spiritual disciplines and which disciplines might be offered to a directee in light of their spiritual journey. The second year of the program follows the same rhythm but focus is placed on the practices of spiritual direction and peer group supervision. It is in year two that students begin meeting with their own directees.
Means of Engagement
Weekly Cohort Interaction – Students engage with each other and faculty through weekly online sessions. Each cohort meets on a specific day and time. For example, a cohort might meet each Monday evening while another might each Thursday morning. Readings and learning experiences better prepare students for these weekly sessions.
Fall and Spring Retreat – In addition to the weekly interactions, students participate in two retreats. The first retreat occurs in the first few months of the program while the second occurs in the final few months of the program. In each case, the retreat takes place online via Zoom.
Spiritual Direction – Prior to, and throughout the certificate program, students meet monthly with a spiritual director of their choosing.
These weekly cohort engagements, monthly spiritual direction, and two retreats lead to a vibrant community of Jesus followers who support each other as they listen people to life in their local contexts.
I chose to enroll in Listening People to Life because I had been sensing God’s invitation spiritual direction for several years. In my vocational role, I found that I was often invited to help people consider what God is up to in own their lives and how that plays out on a very tangible level. I found these experiences to be life-giving and also discovered it was something that folks in our congregation seemed to desperately need—space to consider who God is, what the Holy Spirit is doing, and what that means for their very real, messy, mundane lives.
The work of the program is allowing me to sense God’s movement in my life has been challenging but good and holy work. For anyone in ministry, I would encourage you to consider enrolling in this program or, at least, going to a spiritual director to grow in awareness of who you are and who God is.
For me, Listening People to Life was a place to learn new ways to connect with God. As followers of Jesus today, many of us are lacking in the area of spiritual discipline. We do not spend enough time with God. I longed to learn centering prayers, solitude, and how to discern – how to slow down to listen.
I enjoy every moment in class. The discussion with classmates is opening my eyes to learn from them and their varied experiences. All the professors are so kind, always reminding us not to be too hard on ourselves. They invite us to treat class like we are talking with friends. This has relieved any pressure I felt when starting the program. When asked about this program, I usually tell people that I have learned so many different ways to listen, pray, and spend time with and talk with God. Engaging in the spiritual disciplines has helped me understand myself more.