Spiritual Healing is our business. What if we took a page from the medical field and specialized?
A quick Google of the term ‘health practitioner’ leads to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website and a list of 71 types of healthcare professionals, many with subtypes. From Chiropractors to General Internal Medical Specialists to Veterinarians to Health Information Technologists – all are considered health practitioners. Each type has its own education, training, licensing, types of services, and pay level.
Look up ‘faith practitioner’ in the same place, and get transferred to ‘religious organizations’ which is categorized under ‘Religious, Grantmaking, Civic, Professional, and Similar Organizations’, which is further filed under ‘Other Services’, which also includes ‘repair and maintenance’ and ‘personal and laundry services’.
In other words, the Labor Department has no idea what to do with ministers!
The only other definition of ‘faith practitioner’ I can find is an English academic paper that describes faith practitioners as ‘someone who is an active adherent of their chosen religious tradition, and whose practice includes a spiritual dimension’. Still pretty broad!
Part of the challenge we face in the church today is that there is really only one major model – an ordained person serving full-time as head of a congregation.
That’s like saying the only way we can find physical health support and treatment is by making an appointment at the practice of a general practitioner physician.
General practice medicine has been in decline since the 1960s – not coincidentally, about the amount of time that the institutional church has been in decline.
The difference is that the realm of health care has exploded, and the amount of people who serve in some aspect of healthcare is huge (whether it’s effective is another matter, though not unrelated).
Specialists abound, and we can find someone to help us with any medical ailment or challenge, and interact with them in many different contexts.
What if we started thinking this way about those of us who are called to help others with their spiritual health?
The institutional, denominational, congregational model of full-time clergy service with one congregation is going the way of the general practice physician. Physicians started specializing in area, context, and type of people served. Health care professionals have diversified into an array of types (at least 71 of them!). Healthcare outside of an institutional setting is more widely available and affordable.
Claiming the title and work of ‘Faith Practitioner’ opens up new ways to understand ourselves as bearers of spiritual health in a hurting world. We don’t all have to be ordained clergy. We don’t all have to serve in congregations. We can specialize in specific areas and types of people we serve.
This challenges us to find new ways to reach others with the love of God. It connects us in new ways to the faith tradition, and to one another. It allows new ways to understand our work as ministry, and to serve (and get paid) in new contexts.
It also invites us into considering new standards, requirements, formation and accountability for different types of faith practitioners. A theology professor, a pastoral counselor, a congregational leader, a digital community specialist and a spiritual director have different roles, and the church should have different expectations for them.
My friend Bo McGuffee describes the shift away from traditional congregational ministry as ‘the quest for diversity that flows from a mutual respect for freedom.’ Diversity is not just about individual qualities – it can be about how we connect the love of God with diverse groups of people. Traditional congregational ministry can be one model among many.