Pastoral supervision as the biblical and Anglican practice of oversight

What is pastoral supervision and is there an existing Anglican tradition of pastoral supervision? The New Testament does not provide any real sense of the kind of supervision practised among the first and second generation of Christian pastors and leaders. We find there are certain people commended for their maturity who are promoted as faithful guides to holy living. For example, approved workers (2 Tim. 2:15) are appointed as overseers (epis-kopos 1 Tim. 3:1; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2). The biblical language of oversight (episkopeo) fits nicely with the concept of pastoral supervision. Historically, this has developed within the pastoral office more generally and orders of ministry more specifically. During the sixteenth century, the role of the priest is declared in the bishop’s exhortation in the ordination service to include the work of spiritual and moral oversight. Taking sin seriously, placing an emphasis on repentance and absolution, committing to personal holiness and transformation through the counsels of Scripture and prayer—these became the evolving hallmarks of an Anglican practice of oversight that continue to shape individual pastoring, discipling, mentoring, and coaching into the present. Contemporary challenges of both ministry burnout and clergy abuse require an integrated approach that includes best practice from the clinical and social work theory and practice of supervision

Pastoral supervision, Australian context 15 without abandoning the rich Anglican practice of oversight. Furthermore, the overseer is called to the reading, diligent study, and teaching of Scripture and the interpretation of the Gospel, according to the Anglican Ordinal. Such clear and uncompromising engagement with the Word of God and the Spirit of God equips, enlighten, stirs up, and encourages the people of God. These commitments are reflected in the tasks of the pastoral supervisor who enables priests, deacons, and other church workers to fulfil their vocation through critical reflection that enables faithfulness to Christ in the world.

A practical Christology for safe clergy and church workers

Leading theological ethicist Stanley Hauerwas would grumpily insist that ‘safe’ is not a theological category. He has a point. The Christological focus of the ordinal noted previously reflects the view that the church is largely understood in Christological terms and so, too, are the manifold ministries of Christ—both lay and ordained. There is a very limited extent to which pastoral supervision has been understood in Christological terms. Friend, colleague, and pastoral supervisor Bishop Stephen Pickard has noted a worrying trend in the Anglican communion where the management or therapeutic paradigm of the episcopate too easily eclipses a theological and scholarly expertise in the office and functions of the overseer.27 A Scripture-formed ministry of oversight calls people ‘to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ... to the truth as it is in Jesus’ (Eph. 4:13b, 21)—the faithful practice that lies at the heart of the overseers’ vocation. The overseer is always the leading disciple of Jesus.

Safe clergy and church workers are not created through mere commissions and compliance. The properly Christian way to change culture is through a rigorous grounding of pastoral supervision in the story of Jesus Christ. The faithful practice of clergy and church workers is secured and shaped by an identity in Christ—not out of sight, out of mind. The light and love of God-in-Christ redeems the isolation of busy clergy and the insecurity of burnt-out church workers. The telos (faithful practice) of church workers and clergy is found in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, at which every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, not in the larrikin spirit.

In the next chapter, I outline my Christological proposal for supervision that makes it truly pastoral where faith (and faithfulness) tops compliance, hope triumphs over goals, and love transcends empathy.


A longer version of this chapter first appeared in Journal of Anglican Studies. My thanks to the journal’s editors for permission to reprint that material here. “Pastoral supervision for safe churches,” Journal of Anglican Studies 18, no. 2 (November 2020).


The Hon. Justice Peter McClellan AM, et al., “Final report,” Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 2017. The Final Report is available at, accessed December 18,2017.

Michael P. Jensen, "Why would anyone be a pastor today?,” Eternity News (Sydney, Australia),, accessed November 22, 2019.

Jane Leach and Michael Paterson, Pastoral Supervision: A Handbook (London: SCM, 2015), 11, differentiate the term ‘professional’ from ‘pastoral’ supervision to ‘presuppose the spiritual or religious orientation of the supervisor . . . belief systems and faith commitments of those who come for supervision’. I will adopt this differentiation while admitting that it often functions as a distinction without a difference.

McClellan AM, et al., “Final report.” See the section titled Recommendations: Criteria and Compliance for a Safer Church, commencing page 24.

Arcana Caelestia, The Spiritual Hazards of Ministry, (c 900 AD), warns against those shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep through hypocrisy, obstinacy, adultery, justifying evil, speaking from their own heart and not from the Word, a desire for glory, drunkenness, and a lack of mercy.

See further Dr Michael Gladwin, ed., “Remembering our future: The response of Australian churches to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse,” St Mark's Review 245, no. 3 (2018), particularly G. Blake, “The Anglican Church of Australia under the spotlight of the Royal Commission: Its systemic failure to protect children and a catalyst for its transformation,” 6-24; and H. Blake, “Finding voice: What it means to ‘be the church’ after the Royal Commission,” 38-55.

S. Pickard, “A dangerous idea: Why private religion is bad news for the good news,” St Mark's Review 237, no. 3 (October 2016): 97.

Bruce Pascoe, Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2007) and H. Reynolds, The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press Ltd, 2006).

R. D. Wilson, “Bringing them home: Report of the national inquiry into the separation of aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families,” Report for Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, April 1997,, accessed January 3, 2011.

Robert J. Hawke,, accessed Mav 16, 2019.

V. Miller, “Speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15): An analysis of the findings of the Royal Commission into institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse,” in “Remembering our future: The response of Australian churches to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse,” St Mark's Review 245, no. 3 (2018): 72-98.

M. Percy, “Risk, responsibility, and redemption: Remembering our future,” in “Remembering our future: The response of Australian churches to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse,” St Marks Review 245 no. 3 (2018): 99—114, 103.

Percy, “Risk, responsibility, and redemption,” 1 1 1.

B. Fallon, S. Rice, and J. Wright Howie, “Factors that precipitate and mitigate crises in ministry,” Pastoral Psychology 1, no. 62 (2013): 27-40.

  • 15 Fallon et al., “Factors that precipitate,” Table 3 identified factors that contribute to crises in ministry, 33.
  • 16 Fallon et al., “Factors that precipitate,” 33.
  • 17 Fallon et al., “Factors that precipitate,” 33.
  • 18 A. Cameron, “Out of the miasma: A way to children’s safety,” in “Remembering our future: The response of Australian churches to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse,” St Mark's Review 245, no. 3 (2018): 25-37.
  • 19 Kenneth Pohly, Transforming the Rough Places: The Ministry of Supervision (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016). The first edition (2001) was an updated version of Kenneth Pohly, Pastoral Supervision: Inquiries into Pastoral Care (Houston: The Institute of Religion, 1997).
  • 20 McClellan AM, et al., “Final report: Volume 16, religious institutions book 1,” Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 2017, 72-82, 556-757. A summary of these three recommendations to all religious institutions in Australia is:
  • 16:45 (The Professional Supervision Recommendation): consistent with Child Safe Standard 5, each religious institution should ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, have professional supervision with a trained professional or pastoral supervisor who has a degree of independence from the institution within which the person is in ministry;
  • 16.43 (The Professional Development Recommendation): each religious institution should ensure that candidates for religious ministry undertake minimum training on child safety and related matters, including training that:
    • a) equips candidates with an understanding of the Royal Commission’s 10 Child Safe Standards;
    • b) educates candidates on:
    • i) professional responsibility and boundaries, ethics in ministry and child safety

ii) policies regarding appropriate responses to allegations or complaints of child sexual abuse, and how to implement these policies

iii) now to work with children, including childhood development and

iv) identifying and understanding the nature, indicators and impacts of child sexual abuse; and

  • 16.44 (The Oversight/Appraisal Recommendation): consistent with Child Safe Standard 5, each religious institution should ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, are subject to effective management and oversight and undertake annual performance appraisals.
  • 21 Geoff Broughton, “First report to the safe ministry commission of the general synod: Implementation of Royal Commission recommendations,” May 2,2019.
  • 22 Percy, “Risk, responsibility, and redemption,” 113-14.
  • 23 Minimum Standards for Professional Development—Professional development is accrued through a points system across three spheres of activity: (1) self-directed reading, reflecting, and study; (2) course enrolment, conference attendance, and formal studies; and (3) peer engagement and equipping. Minimum Standards for Ministry Reviews—Ministry reviews are conducted on a three-year cycle: (1) self-reflective review; (2) informal, peer-based review; and (3) formal diocesan (parish, church body) review.
  • 24 Leach and Paterson, Pastoral Supervision.
  • 25 See further Synnove Karvinen-Niinikoski, Liz Beddoe, Gillian Ruch, and Ming-Sum Tsui, “Professional supervision and professional autonomy,"Aoteraoa New Zealand Social Work 31, no. 3 (2019): 87-96.
  • 26 Personal communication from course graduate, paraphrasing Michael Carroll, “From mindless to mindful practice: On learning reflection in supervision,” Psychotherapy in Australia 15, no. 4 (August 2009): 38-49.
  • 27 S. Pickard, Theological Foundations for Collaborative Ministry (Surrey: Ashgate, 2009), 169-80.
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