The Hungering for God: The Pastor as Spiritual Guide Doctor of Ministry Cohort is launching in spring 2023.

This cohort focuses on the nature and dynamics of cultivating a personal and growing relationship with God. We will seek to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace” by “keep[ing] company with [Jesus]” so that we might “learn to live freely and lightly.” Guided by humility, our goal is to become receptive and life-long learners in the spiritual school of Jesus and also model a similar hunger and desire for those with whom we live and minister. We can hunger for God because God first loved and delighted in us and sought friendship with us. The human longing for God is a response to God’s prior initiative in our lives and our world.  

We will be shaped by the wisdom of St. Richard of Chichester, a thirteenth-century British bishop, who prayed: 

“O, most merciful redeemer, friend, and brother, 

May I know you more clearly; 

Love you more dearly; 

And follow you more nearly.”  

The minister’s function has long been debated, and the pastor fulfills many roles. Scripture and church history provide a resounding answer that, at least, it must include being a spiritual guide inspired by the Holy Spirit. This Doctor of Ministry cohort builds on this conviction and seeks to equip ministry leaders to assist others in knowing, loving, and serving God more fully.  

Dr. Chuck DeGroat, the Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program, recently talked to Cohort Mentor Rev. Tom Schwanda about his background, the cohort, and the heart behind this topic.

DeGroat: Tom, tell me a bit about your pastoral and academic career and your work as a spiritual director, as well.

Schwanda: I am an ordained RCA pastor and served three congregations (solo pastor, pastor of congregational care, interim senior pastor) in NJ and Grand Rapids. I have taught Christian spirituality at Kuyper College (Grand Rapids) and, most recently, Wheaton College and many Doctor of Ministry courses at six different seminaries in North America. I have also had the privilege of companioning others on their spiritual journeys for over thirty–five years. My ministry’s central goal has been to encourage others to know and love God more fully and live out their faith in our broken world.

DeGroat: Your DMin cohort is called Hungering for God: The Pastor as Spiritual Guide. If someone were to engage in this three-year cohort experience, what are your hopes for their growth and maturation personally and pastorally? 

Schwanda: I hope that each cohort member, including myself, would grow in our awareness that we are always in God’s presence and learn how we can better love and enjoy God. Related to that is the importance of developing a healthy self–awareness that recognizes our sins and God’s grace. This combination should create a vibrant sense of gratitude for the enjoyment and contemplation of God. We also need to learn that any relationship, human or divine, requires effort, and the more we invest, the richer our friendship will be with our Triune God and those around us. Additionally, I trust students will develop a better rhythm for personal life and ministry and grow in the skills of being a physician of the soul. This will guide them in better recognizing the pathologies of the soul and where people get stuck in their pilgrimage.

DeGroat: You’ve been in a reformed theological space for years, but you drink deeply of the contemplative tradition within Protestantism and beyond it? Why has it been important to you to discover this broader tradition? 

Schwanda: To be limited to only one’s tradition restricts a person from the diversity of how the Holy Spirit has operated for over 2,000 years. In the Apostles’ Creeds we confess that we believe in the Communion of Saints, and at least in part, that means we need to grow beyond our historical, theological, and spiritual roots. My study of the Puritans has reinforced this since they were always reading and quoting Augustine, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Bernard, Jerome, Thomas à Kempis, etc., as well as Luther and Calvin. Also, I know that the more I interact with the broad spectrum of Christian spirituality, the richer and deeper my experience of Jesus Christ becomes. There are two specific benefits that I have personally received from cultivating this awareness: it has enlarged my contemplative awareness of Scripture and exposed me to some of my blind spots that I might otherwise not notice.  

DeGroat: Finally, are there possible research pathways you might anticipate for students in your cohort? Areas they may study, explore, and write on? 

Schwanda: As you know, the beauty of the WTS DMin is its practical application and connection with the student’s ministry context. That means the potential direction is as vast as the person’s interests. I can imagine projects on creating a mentoring emphasis that would equip elders or other interested leaders to encourage the intentional formation of the member’s personal spiritual growth. Pastors could create groups for other local ministers to read devotional classics and how that could inform and transform their shared ministry. 

Ministry leaders could study the historical examples of pastors as spiritual guides, which could create a model for their own self–care and spiritual maturity that could be duplicated for other clergy. Or some could work within the youth groups or senior groups (they often have similar needs and concerns) in exploring what specific spiritual practices would be most helpful for those in their teenage or senior years. Yet another option would be to study the nature and dynamics of contemplation and how our contemporary culture might resist it yet our desperate need to recover it for healing and renewal within the church. And these are just a few possible ideas.

Want to learn more about Rev. Schwanda and this Doctor of Ministry cohort? Join us on November 2 for the Meet the Mentor Webinar. Register by clicking the link below.

Not able to make it November 2, but still want to learn more? Email us at admissions@westernsem.edu.