The value of Pastoral Supervision

Member of CBM Board, Rev Dr Paul Goodliff introduces Pastoral Supervision.

I have been indebted to pastoral supervision from 2010–2014 in my then role as Head of Ministry for BUGB, and before that throughout the nineteen-nineties when last in pastoral charge in Hertfordshire. When I began my current pastorate in Abingdon in 2015 I immediately resumed pastoral supervision with my existing supervisor, and have found his wisdom and understanding of incalculable worth. I do not know where I would be without it, which is one reason why I have taken the opportunity of half-time pastoral ministry to give me space to offer this ministry to others. I have two supervisees who I see occasionally (to one I offered more of a spiritual direction role when he held a senior chaplaincy post); two college tutors and three ministers who I see regularly, with another in the offing. In an informal way, I suppose I also offer this to my colleague at Abingdon, although there is a great deal of mutuality about that ministerial relationship.


I have offered some training in supervision at MTh level at Spurgeon’s College, and to its placement supervisors on two occasions, so I have read quite widely in the area, as well as practicing it and receiving it. I am in a privileged position, I guess, to commend this widely to others, but I do so unashamedly. I am surprised at how others seem to manage without such support (or perhaps they do not manage?) and remind our ministerial community that in many other person-focused professions, supervision is mandatory. You cannot practice as a social-worker, a counsellor or psychotherapist without it, and it is becoming more prevalent in medicine, too. What is it about ministry that seems to suggest that it is unnecessary for us? Perhaps it is the cost (it costs my church £250 a year to pay for my supervision, for which I am very grateful, but I would pay it myself if they were unwilling or unable to do so). Or maybe it is the expectations  that surround supervision which prevents it from being more widely accessed, or perhaps there is something about Baptist ministry that has an ingrained and bloody-minded independence about it, and remains stubbornly resistant to the idea of supervision. Whichever it is, ministers are the poorer for it in their practice, even if they might be the poorer for it in their bank accounts!


I find it interesting that The Methodist Church Conference has recently affirmed its commitment to supervision for all of its ministers, and is currently embarked upon a programme of training first its senior clergy to offer it, then others, with the expectation that at least some supervision will be offered “in-house”. Given the commitment to excellence that members of The College of Baptist Ministers embrace, I would hope that not only would some find pastoral supervision of enormous benefit, (as I write this I have just returned from my own supervision, and found this of great help in finding a way to hold a particularly complex pastoral situation at present) but some might even find ways of preparing themselves to offer this ministry to others through appropriate training. Courses that might be taken can be found at the APSE (Association of Pastoral Supervision and Education) website


Perhaps some might believe that supervision is just for those who are not quite capable enough to exercise ministry without its helping hand. However, my experience is that it is precisely those who are capable of good ministry who seek it, knowing that it assists them in maintaining those high standards, while deepening self-awareness and pastoral reflection. This is of particular significance in these times when the move to a more dominant style of political leadership is so prevalent. We see this in Turkey’s recent move from parliamentary to presidential “democracy” — but one step away from full-blown dictatorship, I suspect; the rise of hard right nationalism already in power in Hungary and Poland, and bidding for it in Germany and France; the President Trump phenomenon and not least, Putin’s government in Russia. We even have an echo of it in the Conservative Party’s election slogan “strong and stable government”, with parts of the right-wing media in Britain slavering at the prospect that Theresa May will “exterminate” the opposition (since when in a parliamentary democracy did we rejoice in moving to a one-party state, with opposition “crushed” under a landslide?). I believe that the Conservatives are fully entitled to seek the approval of the ballot box to continue to govern, but are not best served by an absence of any effective opposition.


All of this inevitably has an impact upon the styles of leadership that ministers adopt — either in imitation of strong leadership, or in an over-reaction to it. Supervision is one of those tools that help us stay true to appropriate leadership styles — appropriate, that is, to the service of the one who said “I have not come to be waited on, but to serve”. Ministry that is either authoritarian (even if clothed in a velvet glove of pastoral concern) or which lacks any strength of conviction and leadership altogether, inevitably weakens the body of Christ. Getting that balance right is aided by good supervision. It sheds a light upon our blind spots (how easily enamored can we become at the latest evangelistic ‘technique’ peddled by someone looking to make a name for themselves) and gives an objective sounding board for our own vision of the “good church life”, while allowing us to reflect with another skilled practitioner upon our own pastoral challenges, and the way they interact with our own sense of self and stage of life.


My supervisor reminds me that at my stage of life, with retirement (by which I mean, the end of stipendiary ministry) no longer some distant prospect, and approaching the next big phase of life — post-work, post-power, (if not quite “sans everything”!) — one of the tasks is to accommodate to a smaller ego. I guess some might have seen me once as a ‘big’ person (even if not in physical stature), with a national Baptist role and wide, if somewhat ambiguous, influence, but now I must discover what it means to be a ‘smaller’ person, less influential, and certainly dismissive of any messiah-like complex I might once have had! Supervision helps me to see myself as, I think, God sees me, and, I hope, others too — and less like the fantasy figure that my vanity might once have constructed! Have I whetted your appetite sufficiently to explore supervision for yourself? I hope so.


Further Reading


Jane Leach and Michael Paterson, Pastoral Supervision. A Handbook, SCM, 2010

Michael Paterson and Jessica Rose (eds.) Enriching Ministry. Pastoral Supervision in Practice, SCM, 2014

Peter Hawkins and Robin Shohet, Supervision in the Helping Professions (4th Edn.) McGraw Hill, Open University Press, 2014

Paul Goodliff, Shaped for Service. Ministerial Formation and Virtue Ethics, Pickwick, Wipf and Stock, 2017. pp. 262–269


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