The role of Pastoral Supervision
Before the days of Zoom, I was sitting with a young church minister, clutching our cups of coffee, preparing for a first session of pastoral supervision together. “How are you feeling about doing this?” I asked, remembering the resistance I had encountered in some older ministers. “What’s not to like about having ninety minutes to talk about yourself?” he said with a twinkle in his eye that I’ve since come to recognise. I smiled back and breathed a quiet sigh of relief. “We’re going to get on fine,” I thought. Not that his description of supervision was particularly helpful, but I sensed that he was ready to go on the journey of discovery.
Whether mentoring, coaching, spiritual direction, pastoral supervision, or any of the other similar support systems, at the heart of each you will find two people committed to the journey of discovering how they can work, speak and behave more effectively, not just for their own sake, but for the benefit and safety of those they work with.
On Skype recently, an experienced youth worker was sharing how de-motivated he was feeling due to all the lockdown restrictions that were preventing him engaging with young people in the usual way. There was also a relationship situation between two young people that he wanted to talk about, so I asked how he wanted to reflect on that. We often use creative methods, but he said he would prefer to talk, because he couldn’t move his video camera to show me what he was doing, and it was all rather complicated. Basically, he couldn’t be bothered! We talked for a while and then I noticed that he was twiddling with a pencil, which he was clearly using to either write or draw. “I was just noticing the pencil and wondering what that was about,” I said. “Oh, just doodling,” came the reply. “Do you want to show me?” I asked. He lifted up his note pad and showed me a drawing of two stick people, one standing, one sitting – back to back. We continued talking and he doodled further, changing their angles, putting himself in the picture, removing himself from the picture, raising the pad to the camera each time. By the close of our session, we recognised that he had not only found a way forward with how he could handle the relationship problem, but he had also become freshly motivated by what he could do. This was in huge contrast to his earlier feeling of being de-motivated by what he couldn’t do.
Having been a full-time youth worker, the director of a national youth work organisation and more recently a Methodist Minister, I must admit that in each of those roles I could have done with a bit of space and time, not just to talk about myself as the young minister jokingly put it, but to reflect on my work and how it was affecting me. Pastoral Supervision provides just that. It differs from coaching and mentoring, and from management or clinical supervision, but it is informed by them all. It is not possible in a short blog to describe every aspect of pastoral supervision, so here is what I consider to be a key dimension.
Lockdown has presented us with many challenges, not least how to have positive coaching, mentoring and supervision sessions over the internet. What I have discovered is that many of the people I work with want more than ever to talk about why they are doing what they do. Lockdown has forced many of us to operate at the most stripped-down version of what we thought our role was about. For those of us with Christian faith working either in ministry roles or expressing our faith through a regular role in the working world, a huge driver of our motivation is our vocation or sense that we are called by God into that work. So, when Lockdown seems to be limiting how we function, many will be asking: “Where do I sense God is in all this?” The space offered by Pastoral Supervision alongside the skills of a supervisor is such a great opportunity to reflect on my role and my vocation – what I do and why I do it. No targets, no goal setting, no appraisal. So, for me, one way of describing the focus of Pastoral Supervision is: a skilled supervisor reflecting practically, emotionally and spiritually with a supervisee about their work and the people involved, and the impact it has on all concerned.
If you want to find out more about Pastoral Supervision, check out the APSE (Association for Pastoral Supervision and Education) website
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