Supervision is an opportunity for the supervisee to reflect on their practice to gain a broader perspective, opening up a space in which to discover possibilities for personal and professional growth. Pastoral supervision is a structured process that explores ministry practice through a particular lens and model depending on the particular approach taken by the supervisor. It combines the skills contained in the modalities of mentoring, counselling, spiritual direction, education and personal formation. It does this without any one of these becoming the sole lens through which the relationship is constructed. The structure of the supervision ensures that these modalities are able to respect and serve the supervisory relationship’s desired outcomes.
It is a covenanted relationship that has responsibilities and expectations for those who choose to engage in it. Without this mutuality there is an imbalance that makes supervision untenable. However there is a graciousness in the covenant that seeks to find the freedom to allow someone to discover more fully their identity in Christ and to explore ways they can expand this understanding. It offers a fresh lens through the assistance of someone who is able to be a friend to one’s soul, someone who is able to care for as John O’Donohue writes in his book Anam Cara:
“If you try to view yourself through the lenses that others offer you, all you will see are distortions; your own light and beauty will become blurred, awkward, and ugly. Your sense of inner beauty has to remain a very private thing.”
? John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
To be effective it requires a healthy discussion around the current state of the relationship between these modalities, our personal identity and an exploration where the conversation may have become broken. The nature of this developing understanding is beautifully described by Leonard Cohen, in the words to his song Anthem, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. Exploring these “cracks” and allowing light to shine on one’s ministry practice in a supervisory, covenanted relationship the supervisee is able to discover a sense of the beauty to their ministry practice.
Pastoral supervision is about the conversation that is happening between every aspect of our ministry life. It explores the dynamic relationship between these influences and seeks to understand the conversation and the dependence of each part of who we are and what we do on each other. My personal influences borrow heavily from the works of writers such as Parker Palmer and his trust in one’s inner journey and the inner teacher. In his writings he stresses the importance of holding the paradox of our humanness and rather than trying to “fix” someone we trust them to their inner teacher that leads them to what they need to hear at that time. As Thomas Merton writes: In everyone there’s a hidden wholeness. Supervision seeks to enable that wholeness to be fully discovered for the ministering person.
Supervision is about the supervisor bringing a “non anxious presence” to the ministry experiences of the supervisee. In Jane Tomkin’s “Pedagogy of ihe Distressed” (1991), in which she tells of realizing that her obsession as a teacher was not with helping her students learn, but rather with showing the students how smart and knowledgeable of the subject she was. It’s important to stress that supervision is not hiding behind the shield of knowingness but about being fully present to the experiences of the Supervisee. It’s an invitational process that explores the experiences of supervisee and seeks to bring light to enable them to understand and learn to respond in new ways.
The structure of supervision provides the scaffolding by which the learning experiences are an intrinsic part of each session. As such it’s a directed conversation despite the wishes of either party to allow it to meander through. Supervision is not a training session and is not about the supervisee developing skills and yet the paradox is that through the conversation new skills may be developed and learning occurs. Supervision is often helpful in enabling someone to discover what it is that they need to know
Pastoral supervision is particular type of relationship that is
Supervision is a time limited process. PArt of the agreement is to define the parameters of the length of the relationship. An important part of the relationship is to review the effectiveness of the time allocated to the relationship and then to decide if there is a new relationship that need to be formed or whether there is still more to be explored in this relationship.
Jane Leach sums up the key focus on pastoral supervision in her book “In a nutshell, pastoral supervision is a relationship between two or more disciples who meet to consider the ministry of one or more of them in an intentional and disciplined way.” The intentionality and discipline mean that certain topics are put on the agenda these include but are not limited to the following examples:
- Accountability for their work
- Seeking out what the supervisee desires
- Developing strategies to deal with ministry life
- Developing skills to allow a supervisee to minster more effectively
The practice of supervision takes ministry work seriously and seeks to provide a space that allows for the supervisee to benefit but also as a result of them practicing healthily the community in which they practice also benefits.