Supervising workers whose theology is invisible:
the praxis of Christ for integrated ministry
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.
The pastoral worker seeks to make a difference—an eternal difference— through their ministry. This desire can seduce the pastor into believing that they are responsible for everything. Some call this functional atheism. While many pastoral workers hold positional—even institutional—authority to get things done, their malfunctioning faithfulness is reflected by an old saying: ‘pray as if it depended on God, work as if it depends on you’. While intended as a call to prayer, this advice makes theology—and Christ—invisible to those engaged in pastoral work. Functional atheists, whose theology is invisible, set about doing God’s work for God by displacing God. The colloquial name for it, ‘Messiah-complex’, highlights the Christological deficiencies. These ministry workers are often outwardly successful but privately disillusioned or demoralised. Without the revealing Jesus, they contemplate on (or obsess over) the wrong things. Without the critique of the cross—Luther’stest of everything—they lurch from a brittle defensiveness (when criticised by others) to the burden of despair and self-doubt. Without Brunner’s remembering Jesus, true examen becomes impossible. Consequently, these ministers are isolated from the truth about themselves or their work and genuine encounters with self, world, or God. Only the restoring Jesus, who converts and calls, can save them from such a life of ministry (one that has turned in on itself). Only with the convictions of the risen Christ can faithful pastoral workers contend for faith, hope, and love in the church and world.
As a young youth pastor in my early twenties, I was told that I did not need to ‘be Jesus’ for the young people in my care. More simply (and profoundly), they needed to know that I met with him from time to time. It was wise advice. During the retreat prior to my own ordination more than 20 years ago, I was moved profoundly during the communion service when the retiring Archbishop—I was in the last group he would ordain—spoke passionately and profoundly from his many decades of faithful ministry that God is faithful. Released from an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, we are given permission to do only what we were called for: no more and no less.
One of the presenting issues in professional supervision that is replicated in the pastoral context is the lack of opportunities for clergy and church workers to integrate their beliefs and practices, their theology with their ministry, their faith with their life. My friends in the United States, with their love for alliteration, describe integration as the intersection between the sanctuary, the seminary, the streets, and the soil. Ministry workers live and breathe at this intersection, knowing God is encountered, God is known and served in those in-between places of church, college, local community, and country. Where I teach theology in Canberra, Australia, the spatial geography is suggestive of these essential connections. Before morning tea, we gather briefly in rhe chapel to pray together as countless others have done for thousands of years. For most of Christian history—and for most studying Christian theology—it has been the primary way in which Christians encounter God, know God, serve God. For some taking their first class in studying Christian theology, it marks an important transition, a radical change of scene. In terms of the geography of the St Mark’s campus, it is turning right to head down into the library, not just continuing straight ahead to the chapel. A new student may rightly wonder, isn’t Jesus Christ still the same (yesterday, today, and tomorrow) independent of where God is encountered? Isn’t there broad agreement between the prayer books and the library books? The short answer is Yes. But it is also a little more complicated than that. I have come to believe that God is known at the intersection of all three and pastoral supervision believes that faith, hope, and love is found and forged at the intersection of all. Ministry workers cannot imagine Christian faith or serving God and following Jesus without these intersections.
The yawning chasm between the leaders the writer to the Hebrews remembers and the terrible abuses of power and trust by some of our contemporary leaders in the church remains. ‘Remember your leaders, those who spoke the
Five challenges for pastoral supervisors 135 word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith’ (Heb. 13:7). A serious challenge to current ministry practice is the failed integrity of too many leaders. How can pastoral supervision help leaders be the kind worth following? Contemplating, examen-ing, and convicting are connected. Contemplating what will be imitated.
Scripture commands ministry workers to ground their praxis in the imitation of Christ: ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1) and ‘you became imitators of us and of the Lord’ (1 Thess. 1:6). Yet ultimately, imitation does not refer to one who mimics or even to one who follows as a disciple but to one who actually internalises and lives out the model that has been set before them. Pastoral supervision enables ministry workers to first internalise, then live out (or integrate) the example of the revealing, remembering, and restoring Jesus. Integration precedes integrity and the church, and the world need ministers and leaders of the highest integrity.