Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care

Units by Discipline
Total Units Price per unit Bible Exposition Intercultural Studies Languages Philosophy Practical Ministry Research / Christian Education Spiritual Formation Theology Electives
56 $621 6 0 0 0 0 0 41 9 0

Featured Faculty

Judy Ten Elshof

Judy Ten Elshof


The Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation & Soul Care is designed as a personal growth, academic and professional program for specialized ministry. It is an intensive, integrative program within the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Talbot School of Theology, developed to equip men and women for the ministry of discipleship, spiritual direction, formation and soul care in the local church and for further academic training in Spiritual Formation.

The program is shaped around promoting growth in the believer’s inner life of faith and prayer with God in the context of a shared community and developed knowledge-base in the Word, spiritual formation and soul care. It focuses specifically on ways to deepen one’s knowledge and openness to God and His work as well as understanding of one’s self and others in order to grow toward conformity of character and inner life in the image of Christ. In turn, it trains leaders in soul care to be spiritual mentors, directors and teachers who will assist others in their journey of growth in Christ and His body. In order to accomplish this, the program has a substantial emphasis on understanding the dynamics of the Indwelling Holy Spirit as they interface human personality and relational dynamics. These integrative endeavors are enhanced by the Institute’s diverse university-wide faculty which draws particularly upon Rosemead School of Psychology and Talbot School of Theology, bringing a wide range of expertise and experience to bear upon the process of human spiritual growth and soul care.

Because the program is experiential, theoretical and mentoring in nature, the Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation & Soul Care is fashioned along the lines of an Apprentice Training Model.

The Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation & Soul Care is intended to help prepare students for professional and lay ministry as associate pastor and teacher of adult ministries, spiritual direction, teaching, mentoring, discipleship as well as preparation for further education and training in Spiritual Formation to teach in Christian university and seminary contexts.

For additional information visit the ISF website.


Personal Spiritual Direction

Required of all ISF M.A. students. Insofar as the student is to be trained to do mentoring or spiritual soul care for the Church, it is incumbent that each student has the opportunity to experience his/her own spiritual direction. Each student is required to enroll in Personal Spiritual Direction (0 units) for each semester they are enrolled in courses. The student is required during each semester to arrange monthly direction meeting with an approved mentor who is to be his/her spiritual guide for the duration of the student's program (approximately 10 sessions per calendar year). Change of a spiritual director is by permission of faculty only. The student is expected to be open and honest with the spiritual guide, hiding nothing regarding one's relationship with God and, within reason, attending to the direction of the mentor. The fee structure between spiritual director and directee is to be arranged between the parties and is not the responsibility of the Institute or University.

Didactic Therapy

Each Masters level ISF student is required to experience a minimal number of hours in personal didactic psychotherapy concurrent with enrollment with a clinical therapist approved by the faculty (a minimum of 25 hours for MA in Soul Care). This is intended to introduce the student to the work and world of Christian psychotherapy as well as enhance the student's understanding and experience of the psychological dynamics and defenses at work in himself and in those with whom he shall work. For MA in Soul Care, this is to be completed before enrolling in one's second and final practicum. The fee structure between therapist and client is to be arranged between the parties and is not the responsibility of the Institute or University. Further therapy may be recommended in SF 543 Personal Foundations of Spirituality.

Faculty-Student Retreat

For all ISF students, along with weekly chapel, faculty and students participate together in a yearly weekend retreat for the purpose of developing a more intimate and meaningful community in relation to God. Faculty, advanced students, and outside lecturers will lead the community in seminars and spiritual disciplines. Student costs for such retreats are the responsibility of each student.

Personal Retreat

All students in the ISF program are required to go on one weekend retreat each semester for the purpose of cultivating the inner life before God (a total of four weekend retreats). This is to be done in consultation with one's designated spiritual director and one's advisor before and after the experience. The retreat requirement must be completed by finals week of the student's last semester enrolled to receive final grades (including written work). Student costs for such retreats are the responsibility of each student. MA Soul Care students will provide written description of retreats to their advisor.

Preliminary Oral Interview (POI)

M.A in Soul Care students will have an oral interview with a faculty committee to (1) assess their progress and potential to successfully complete the program and (2) assess the appropriate manner suited to the student's needs and capacity in which to complete the Intensive Journey Inward Retreat requirement. This interview is typically scheduled near the end of the second semester and/or with the completion of at least 9 units. The results are reported to the Institute faculty which determines the appropriateness of allowing the student (1) to continue the program, (2) to continue the program with certain conditions and/or a POI the following year or (3) to not allow the student to continue in the program (or in some cases, permission to continue by switching to the non-training MA Emphasis program).

Intensive Journey Inward Retreat

Due to the nature of soul work involved in spiritual direction and in harmony with its tradition, each student is required to have a total of three weeks of extended retreat in isolation or partial isolation (which will be defined in each student's POI process) to explore and cultivate the inner life in the presence of God under the supervision of a spiritual guide (as designated or permitted by the faculty) and one's advisor. Special instructions will be given in order to facilitate making the proper arrangements. This experience will attempt to integrate insight from various psychological as well as contemplative traditions for the intended purpose of drawing near to God in the Holy Spirit. The student should enroll in four units of SF 670 Intensive Journey Inward concurrently or upon completion of retreat (Spring of second year or final semester of enrollment). The Intensive Retreat is to be completed before graduation. The costs for such a retreat are arranged between the student and other parties and are not the responsibility of the Institute or University.

Soul Care Pre-practicum I and II

Due to the nature of the relationship between spiritual director and directee, each student is required to pass Pre-practicum I and II training in which the student demonstrates abilities in empathic listening, interpersonal skills, and basic spiritual guidance techniques and skills under supervision of advanced TA's and faculty. The focus of this sequence is learning to listen to the Holy Spirit while listening to the directee, with appropriate response to both. These courses also provide a beginning framework for understanding issues relevant to professional ethics in the life and the practice of the spiritual director and his or her relationship with the directee. Includes direct observation and taping of the student's clinical spiritual direction practicum in the university's Center for Spiritual Renewal to provide a closely supervised introduction to the spiritual direction process. Courses also sensitize and educate the prospective spiritual director to recognize the more severe psychological adjustment disorders which may require other health care professional referral.

Soul Care Practicum I and II

Due to the practical nature of a program in spiritual direction, students practice and complete a specified number of hours of supervised, individual spiritual mentoring of others while enrolled in Soul Care Practicum I and II. Work will be done at a faculty approved site (Biola, church setting etc.) under the supervision of the faculty. This also includes a weekly student small group experience which focuses on theoretical training as well as individual supervision and training throughout the semester to foster personal growth and insight into the work of doing spiritual mentoring.


  • Appreciate and deeply grow in the reality that true Christian spirituality is grounded in the Double Knowledge and encounter of God and Self. Students will understand through experience and theory that growth in Christ is based upon an encounter with God and oneself in the Truth.

  • Understand the Word of God and its role as a primary datum for true Christian spirituality. Students will come to have a sufficient grasp and commitment to the Word of God as a primary source of truth for their understanding of spiritual formation and spiritual direction (through courses in theology, biblical studies and spiritual formation).

  • Integrate truth from the data of extra-biblical sources of wisdom and true Christian spirituality. Students will also come to appreciate the relevant information from the history of the church, spiritual classics, personal experience, the humanities and the social sciences relevant to spiritual growth.

  • Discern what is of truth or falsehood in light of various contemporary competing spiritualities. Students will be able to discern truth and error, what is helpful and unhelpful in true Christian spiritual growth in light of various competing contemporary spiritualities.

  • Foster honest self-assessment and humility. Students will gain an honest understanding of themselves in the presence of God and truth through various experiential prayer projects, meditation on the Word, retreats, spiritual direction and therapy.

  • Develop deeper understanding of the sinful dynamics at work in one’s life and others. Students will become more aware of the sinful dynamics that govern their lives and those they will be ministering to as well as a deeper appreciation of the origin of those dynamics from interaction with the Scriptures, psychological theory, philosophy, prayer projects and personal experience in therapy, retreats and spiritual direction.

  • Cultivate deeper intimacy with Christ in prayer. Students will personally nurture intimacy in their relationship to Christ in their meditation on the Word, experiential prayer projects, retreats, and personal experience in spiritual direction.

  • Grow in personal commitment to obedience and character of Christ. Students will cultivate growth in character as well as behavior consistent with the faith in their interaction with their spiritual directors, in projects of personal prayer and meditation on the Word, retreats and therapy.

  • Provide spiritual direction for others. Students will be trained to do spiritual direction by means of courses on theart of spiritual direction, supervision in practical settings and personal experience in their own spiritual direction (an activity that may be expressed in a variety of venues such as preaching, teaching, group and individual mentoring).

  • Experience evaluation and supervision in doing spiritual direction. Students will be evaluated in a variety of ways by faculty, practical supervisors and their spiritual directors to determine their ability, giftedness and preparedness to provide spiritual direction for others and in what venues.

  • Learn minimal assessment skills adequate to refer spiritual directee to appropriate care beyond competency of one’s training. Students will be familiarized with minimal content in psychological categories and assessment with the goal of referring their directee to medical or psychological care.

  • Appreciate the unique cultural dynamics involved in spiritual growth. Students will come to have some appreciation of the unique dynamics involved in teaching, mentoring and doing spiritual direction with believers of varying cultural backgrounds by means of course work and some practical experience.

Admissions Requirements

Are you an international student? Please view the international admissions requirements

  • Applicants must possess a baccalaureate degree. Each should be a graduate from an accredited college with a minimum grade point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale).

  • All applicants must submit a written statement outlining their vocational objectives and how the degree might relate to those objectives.

  • For special admission deadlines and requirements, contact Graduate Admissions. Due to the unique nature of this program, all applicants will be personally interviewed.

Graduation Requirements

  • Satisfactorily complete 56 semester units as outlined in the curriculum.

  • At least 24 of the total units required for the degree program must be completed in residency at Biola. Advanced Standing, Reduction and transfer credit are not considered residency units.

  • Obtain a 3.0 average with no grade below a “C-” in all courses to be credited toward graduation.

  • Complete the entire program in no more than five years


Below are some of the courses you’ll have an opportunity to take as a student in this program. Note: This list is intended to give you a quick glimpse into the program’s academic offerings, and should not be used as a guide for course selection or academic advising. For official program requirements, see the catalog for details.

Course Units
TTBE 519 Old Testament Survey ** pre-req
TTBE 520 New Testament Survey ** pre-req
TTSF 517 Hermeneutics and the Word in Spiritual Formation 3
TTSF 521 Introduction to Christian Spirituality and Prayer 3
TTSF 524 History and Theory of Christian Soul Care and Direction 3
TTSF 531 History and Traditions of Christian Spirituality 2
TTSF 532 Developmental Spirituality and Contemplative Prayer 3
TTSF 543 Personal Foundations of Spirituality and Retreat 3
TTSF 544 Personal Development and Psychopathology 3
TTSF 577 Soul Care Pre-practicum I and Professional Ethics 3
TTSF 578 Soul Care Pre-practicum II and Professional Referral 3
TTSF 585 Personal Spiritual Direction * 0
TTSF 642 Spiritual Disciplines Seminar 2
TTSF 645 Christian Virtue and the Spiritual Disciplines 3
TTSF 670 Intensive Journey Inward and Retreat 4
TTSF 677 Soul Care Practicum I 2
TTSF 678 Soul Care Practicum II 2
TTSF 701 Spiritual Formation Seminar 2
TTTH 521 Theology I: God, Scripture, Creation 3
TTTH 522 Theology II: Christ, Humanity, Sin, Salvation 3
TTTH 623 Theology III: Spirit, Church, Last Things 3
  General elective courses 6
  Total 56


* Must be taken four times for credit
** TTBE 519 and TTBE 520 may be used in place of electives

To download the degree requirement sheet (PDF), visit the Degree Requirements site.

Biola University
13800 Biola Ave. La Mirada, CA 90639