The Role of Spiritual Practitioner
The modern spiritual practitioner offers spiritual and moral guidance. This usually takes place within the general framework and perspective of contemporary spirituality. Such a practitioner may lead spiritual services and ceremonies. He or she may offer individual support or group direction. A spiritual practitioner is someone who works from and practices spirituality from their own authority and independent standing. As such, the work of a spiritual practitioner does not normally take place within the context of an institution.
The role of spiritual practitioner, in the context of modern spirituality, is a new one. Yet, sociologically it is very similar to and has deep connections with the traditional role of the religious worker or leader. To highlight these similarities, I have based this text closely on the form of the job profile of “religious leader” published by the UK National Careers Service (https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/job-profiles/religious-leader).
Modern spirituality offers a new approach to human religious or spiritual life. Whilst the work involved in the role of spiritual practitioner can be seen as offering a new model for religious or spiritual work, there are many points of continuity. The basic activities of supporting people through teaching, counselling and moral leadership remain.
A spiritual practitioner is not necessarily linked to any particular religious tradition. They would not necessarily describe themselves as a religious leader, although some might. Nevertheless, many of the same underlying processes of formation that lead people into serious, committed religious life also occur in modern spirituality. Some of the basic elements of this are a sense of calling, strength of spirituality, and specialist knowledge and understanding.
Becoming a spiritual practitioner is a serious commitment. It is usually made after a process of inner enquiry and discernment that takes place over many years. It can be seen very much as a calling and as a response to that call. With many people being unaffiliated to a tradition or religious community, this vocation is usually explored alone, as part of a person’s inner work and spiritual practice. It may also be explored, in whole or part, with other people in a similar process. The process is bound to take years because of the very nature of spiritual life.
A person’s strength of spirituality will usually be well established by the time the process of discerning the sense of vocation begins. Strength of spirituality is taken here to mean acceptance that one’s spirituality and work with it affects and involves all aspects of one’s life. It implies a strong sense of belief, knowledge and understanding of contemporary spirituality. Or, more specifically, one’s own connection, journey and experience within it. This strength of spirituality can be determined not merely by the individual themselves, but by other people. This is whether or not they know anything about that person’s spirituality. In other words, strong spirituality will be manifest, palpable, to others.
A traditional religious worker usually undergoes an academic training in their religion’s theology or systems of thinking. The spiritual practitioner will also normally, but not necessarily, have reached a good standard of general education. However, it is not required that such a practitioner becomes an academic expert or theologian in all the world’s religions, or modern spirituality. Yet, a spiritual practitioner will normally have and bring to their work specialist and detailed knowledge of some aspect of spirituality. This will be gained through study and experience. It is also on the basis of this detailed knowledge and understanding of modern spiritual life, or some aspect of it, that the spiritual practitioner can work in the field.
There are no rules about who can become or call themselves a spiritual practitioner. There are no restrictions based on age, gender, race, sexual orientation or other distinguishing characteristics. To be a good spiritual practitioner and have success will, however, require a good deal of discernment, development, experience, knowledge and understanding. Ultimately, the proof of this will be in what the fruits of this work are.
A spiritual practitioner will need:
- Teaching and leadership skills
- Public speaking skills
- Counselling skills
Tasks and Activities
The day-to-day duties of a spiritual practitioner will depend greatly on the kind of spirituality that the practitioner is working with, but duties, tasks and activities may include:
- Praying, meditating, contemplating etc. according to the spiritual practices that the practitioner has developed
- Studying modern spirituality and the world religions
- Encouraging the development of spirituality in others
- Leading spiritual or religious services or ceremonies
- Conducting special services and ceremonies for specific occasions, such as births, marriages and deaths
- Explaining the meaning of the particular teachings that underpin modern spirituality
- Educating people who are seeking instruction and further knowledge in modern spirituality
- Supporting people at difficult times in their lives
- Representing modern spirituality, or a certain aspect of it, in the community
- Serving as a role model to others
- Meeting with representatives from other religious or spiritual communities
- Fundraising and administrative work
Some spiritual practitioners earn money for their work or for specific activities. This can include the provision of spiritual counselling or ceremonies, or from the proceeds of writing or teaching. However, the position is mainly voluntary. The role is usually performed alongside some other paid employment or self-employment.
Working hours, patterns and environment
A spiritual practitioner will need to be prepared to work long hours. In the case of ceremonies, these may need to be performed as specific times of the day, week or year. In the community, one will need to be available to members of the community when needed.
A spiritual practitioner does not necessarily have their own sacred space or place of worship. However, the practitioner will usually be able to adapt and consecrate a space for worship or sacred ritual. Nevertheless, not all spiritual practitioners get involved in performing sacred rituals. It is a basic aspect of the call and vocation to integrate spirituality into all aspects of daily life, and so in this regard the spiritual practitioner is always working, and every environment is an opportunity for spiritual practice.
Career path and progression
There is no set structure to modern spirituality and there is a great variety of ways of moving through and around it. The development of the spiritual practitioner’s role will depend greatly on the spiritual development of the practitioner.
Temporarily, spiritual practitioners may take on other roles. These may be in traditional religious or interfaith ministry, counselling, writing or teaching. This may occur both within and outside of traditional and non-traditional organisations and domains, depending on what opportunities arise. However, such roles are usually undertaken within the remit of the all-encompassing spiritual practitioner role.