I do a bit of supervising. It goes with the territory for pastors with grey hair. We’ve been around for a bit and younger pastors need professional supervision. Indeed, it’s required these days and for good reason, so for the last decade I’ve stepped up to the crease.
For the most part, pastoral supervision is a privilege. I get to hang out with people who love the church and talk honestly about the call of God in their lives. They come from various traditions —Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Churches of Christ and Uniting — and my own ministry is richer for it. No matter how long I’ve been at it, though, there’s a question that nudges at my conscience: am I doing it right?
A good friend of mine, Geoff Broughton, happens to be one of Australia’s leading thinkers in the practice of pastoral supervision. In fact, he’s just published a book on the subject. While Geoff is not about offering a ‘right’ way of doing anything (I’m not even sure he would judge my question a good one), what he does provide is a more theologically and biblically informed appreciation for what we do in this work. If you are involved in pastoral supervision — giving or receiving — I recommend it.
Regarding my awkwardness, there are a few points of encouragement that Geoff’s book has provided to my own practice. None of them do the book’s worth or central thesis justice, but I’ll take them as little prods to confidence.
- My work as a supervisor is essentially about paying attention to the call of God in the life and ministry of the one I supervise. That’s an extraordinary privilege.
- If it’s these enquiries that are vital to the work of supervision for the person I meet with — what should I do? what enables me to do it well? what do I really want to do? what is worth doing? — then, frankly, I am not as central to the process as I might imagine. My task is to facilitate a conversation between the pastor and the God who forms them. My getting it ‘right’ is really not the issue.
- As a supervisor, I get to walk part of the journey with another. As we walk together, we wonder and reflect and imagine together. What more could I want to do?
- Good supervision conversations are potentially luminous — they might just reveal life, truth, goodness and beauty. For both of us, that’s worth our time.
- In supervision I get to hold a space for another — space for grief, exhaustion, disappointment and failure. What could be more pastoral than that?
- Both of us — supervisor and supervisee — are called to follow Jesus. Both of us are called to lives of ministry and service. As a pastoral supervisor, I am not a professional coach or an advocate for self-development. For a period of time I stand alongside one called to a life of self-giving for the good of the church. That means my offering of supervision is an extension of my own pastoral vocation.
All of that sounds wonderfully worthwhile. Even if I don’t always get it right!
Geoff Broughton, A Practical Christology for Pastoral Supervision, London: Routledge, 2021.