Five challenges for pastoral supervisors in the twenty-first century

The Age of Enlightenment, which blossomed from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, can be told as the story of a world moving from enchantment to disenchantment (according to Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor).1 Science and education were key drivers of this process. Most supervision models retain a formative/educative task. The twentieth century has been alternately called the age of the Manager and the age of the Therapist.2 Most commonly, the two other primary tasks are normative (the Manager) and the restorative (or supportive—the Therapist). The theory and practice of professional supervision has been shaped by the age of the Manager, particularly in the related practices of coaching, and the age of the Therapist, particularly in its clinical sphere. Emerging since the late twentieth century, leadership theory and literature has burgeoned. Previously confined to military and corporate training manuals, the formal cultivating and training of leaders now embraces government, church, not for profit, and other volunteer organisations. Despite the radically different contexts, most agree with the premise that crises define leadership, or conversely, a crisis precipitates the failure of leadership.3 Borrowing this idea from leadership, I propose the following premise for supervision. The five crises (or challenges) explored in this chapter will define pastoral supervision over the next decade (or its failure). In this final chapter, I offer the Christology of the revealing, remembering, and restoring Jesus to educate, equip, and encourage pastoral supervision for these five challenges for supervising ministry workers.

My central argument is that supervision is pastoral with a theological framework. Pastoral supervision is more than supervising in a pastoral context. Pastoral supervision is a way of doing supervision that draws on theological and spiritual perspectives for its work such as faith, hope, and love. Through the central six chapters, I have articulated a Christology for the work around three themes: revealing Jesus, remembering Jesus, and restoring Jesus. The integration of biblical insights with the theological resources of Luther, Brunner, and McClendon animated nine foci for supervision that is pastoral. Luther’s revealing Jesus animates contemplating, critiquing, and converting. Brunner’s remembering Jesus animates expecting, examen-ing, and encountering. McClendon’s restoring Jesus animates calling, convicting, and contending. In this concluding chapter, I employ this approach to pastoral supervision for the pastoral context by addressing five challenges for supervising ministry workers.

The first challenge is where the life of the ministry worker turns in on itself {Incurvâtes In Se) and encounters and is convicted by the spirit of Christ to live for others (whom Bonhoeffer famously described as the ‘man for others’). The second challenge is the insecurity feared and felt by many in ministry. The calling of Christ renews vocation, expectation, and hope. The third is supervising ministry workers whose theology is invisible, isolating them from the revealing, remembering, and restoring Jesus. Contemplation and examen-ation, understood as the praxis of following Christ, integrates theology and ministry, faith and life, theory and practice. Ministry workers belong to, serve, and lead the community of Jesus. The pastoral worker is an ambassador of Christ. Ministry workers devoted to care and compassion must still be able to critique the church, particularly when the vulnerable in their care are injured by the church. Ministry workers must defend—and contend—for the injured. This is the fourth challenge of supervising in the pastoral context: love and loyalty for a church that is injured and injures others. The fifth challenge of supervising ministry workers— intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic—is the evolving and expanding use of digital technology. Supervisors and supervisees are no longer separated by the tyranny of distance or time zones. The crucible of Christ was the suffering sacrifice of the cross. Luther insisted the cross became the test of everything. The cross must be the test for supervision online. Christ the Mediator, according to Brunner, ensures online encounters remain truthful and transcendent. The risen Christ, in the theology of McClendon, cannot be frozen in time (or behind screens) and it is this life that enlivens all life and all relationships.

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