Pastoral supervision: a brief survey of definitions

The term supervision continues to be problematic for the pastoral context. Many clergy, ministry workers, and students of supervision training desire to simply ‘abandon the term and substitute it with something more palatable’, first noted by Pohly, then many others.11 In related fields such as education, the terminology already has specific meanings that differ from my usage here. For example, a team creating a pilot training program for New South Wales school leaders (principals and senior executive leaders) concluded that, in the primary and secondary school context, supervision would always be associated with teachers being assigned to ‘playground duty’. Noting Carroll’s image of supervision as a playpen, I wondered about experimenting with the imagery for the school leaders’ professional supervision. The experience and expertise of senior educators prevailed, however, and the term was abandoned to preserve the theory and practice of supervision.

Is it now time for the pastoral context to do the same? Or can supervision be pastoral? Before turning to answer this question with a resounding yes, I will observe some of the usual ways the pastoral world has retained thelanguage of supervision, with a pastoral gloss. Beginning again with Pohly, pastoral supervision is defined as

a broad space to talk about whatever is happening in ministry, sensitive to God’s voice and the spiritual that effects transition and transformation, resulting in the minister having . . . enhanced self-awareness, ministering competence, theological understanding and Christian commitment.12

In the United Kingdom, which is further along in developing pastoral supervision than Australia, the Association for Pastoral Supervision and Education (APSE) offers the following definition:

Pastoral supervision is a regular, planned, intentional and boundaried space in which a practitioner skilled in supervision (the supervisor) meets with one or more other practitioners (the supervisees) to look together at the supervisees’ practice.... Pastoral supervision is not spiritual accompaniment, counselling or line management.12

In the United States, where pastoral supervision emerged from pastoral psychology, DeLong defines it as:

an extended relationship in which experienced clinicians help trainees to reflect upon the concrete processes of their care of others in order to increase their competence in a pastoral role.... A supervisor’s attention needs to be balanced between care for the clients, care and monitoring of supervisees, and the care and monitoring of oneself, since the self of the supervisor plays a critical role in the intersubjective space of exploration formed between the supervisee and the supervisor.14

In the previous chapter I address the development and definition of pastoral supervision in Australia, focussing particularly on the recent developments in the national Anglican Church in light of the recommendations made by the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission).15

Pastoral supervision in 2020: a preliminary theological assessment

In the United Kingdom, the deep heritage of pastoral care and chaplaincy is evident in the development of pastoral supervision. Pastoral supervision is now embedded in several major Christian denominations (e.g., Anglican and Methodist) but is, at the time of writing, not widespread in the free church tradition of Christianity. Academically, pastoral supervision is finding its home in Practical Theology, instead of Pastoral Psychology,

What is ‘pastoral’ about supervision? 23 there is growing concern, however, that pastoral supervision in the United Kingdom has become too formal, overly cautious, and compliance focussed. These emphases have the capacity to limit pastoral supervision to the functions of professional supervision. Jessica Rose rightly notes the volatile marriage that characterises the relationship between theology and psychology for pastoral supervision in her chapter, ‘Rooted and Grounded in Love: A Theological Framework for Pastoral Supervision’.16 Rose suggests an excellent threefold theological scaffold: relationship, incarnation, and movement of the Spirit.17 Like many others writing in the pastoral supervision field, Rose exhibits fine theological instincts here because relationship, incarnation, and movement of the Spirit provide deep yet practical resources for pastoral supervision. After a somewhat dated detour through a spiritual, rather than religious framework (via Michael Carroll), Rose gets to the heart of her theological framework for relationality.18 At this point, her framework defaults to Jungian analysis via intuition, sensation, feeling, and thinking.19 A theological framework for relationality must be Christological—because the Christian’s humanity is now‘in Christ’ (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:3)—to be properly theological. Jung offers important insights for pastoral supervision but not the theological framework sought by Rose.

My point here is not to single out Rose in what is otherwise a very useful chapter, but simply to highlight the lack of deeper theological thinking that characterises too much of the pastoral supervision world. Intuition, transformed and transcended by ‘in Christ’, is the theological framework for relationality in pastoral supervision. My aim is to provide such a practical Christology. Similar theological cul-de-sacs appear in Rose’s other two frameworks of incarnation and movement of the Spirit, but my point is merely illustrative of a recurring issue and not intended to be critical of Rose per se.

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