Thursday, April 7, 2011

Supervising - or Pastoring - the difference matters

Good morning God,
Can you please explain to me why the Church feels the need to Supervise its ministers rather than provide them with Pastoral Care?
When I worked in industry, when I employed people with job descriptions and measurable outcomes and provided a foot in the door for young people on YTS or BTEC or similar programmes, supervision meant comparing expected measurable outcomes against achieved outcomes.
If the company expected 20 units a day to be tested or put through quality control and the person being supervised only managed 15, then we could have a conversation about whatever it was that was causing the difference.  Supervision allowed the person being supervised to compare how they thought they were doing  to how the company thought they were doing. It allowed us to identify future training needs and to give praise where praise was due.
Supervision was always a two way process - but I was never under any illusions about which way power was slanted: as the employer, it was the supervisors assessment of the area under supervision that mattered - not the employee's. We could talk all we liked, and I was always open to hearing constructive criticism about the working of the company - but in the end - it was not the company that was being supervised. This is what made it perfectly possible and acceptable for employees to be supervised by  line-managers and a member of the Human Resources team - both of whom could be (and often were)  less experienced and less knowledgeable about the actual work being done by the employee than the employee was.  They had taken a course in supervision - and it really didn't matter what the employee thought. Supervision was never about a relationship of equals, or even first among equals. Super-vision implies that the person conducting the interview has greater ability to 'see' what has been and needs to be done than the person being supervised.(i.e. seen by this superior vision)

My first Superintendent was a senior minister, someone who had spent their entire life in the service of the Church. He knew the joys and the sorrows of circuit ministry. He knew what it was like to be loved into the work, and what it was like to love the work in spite of those you are called to serve. He didn't 'supervise' my probation - he provided genuine pastoral care: Honesty where it was needed, advice where it was asked for, and support and encouragement to develop and grow further. He walked with me, not once a year at a staged supervision - but weekly as we met in staff meetings. I learned and grew as a minister by listening to my colleagues discussing ministry, by sharing in prayer and learning how to be open and not possessive or defensive about my own calling, We shared the contents of our diaries and watched over one another in love. He inspired me, by his pastoral care of me,  to become all that I could be in your service God - even though my own particular gifts and graces were very different from his. The only power at work in all this that I was ever conscious of, was your power God.

The Church's most recent vote of no confidence in its circuit ministers means that we are set to turn Superintendents into line-managers and supervisors. At a stroke we deny the theology of pastoral care which once meant so much to us and create a sub-structure of the Church in direct contradiction with one of the most fundamental aspects of circuit ministry - collegiality. As a line manager and the person designated to conduct the annual supervision, the Superintendent ceases to be a colleague, a fellow minister, the 'first among equals' described in the 'What is a superintendent' report. Instead the Superintendent becomes the boss, the record keeper of a minister's attempts to measure up to some unwritten 'measurable outcomes' of ministry - and the (potentially unqualified) judge of their performance. So who will pastor to the pastors - because supervision is NOT pastoral care. There is nothing 'pastoral' in supervision, nothing 'gracious' or deliberately of you God - supervision is a performance indicator - nothing more and nothing less. And I doubt that it will be too long before annual supervision reports are held in the new personnel files for ministers.

I hate to think that I will end my ministry outside of the discipline of my Church - but I object to the very idea of being 'supervised' in the manner currently being proposed. I am opposed to it on both theological and practical grounds.  Will I reflect on my ministry - of course, I have been and always will be a reflective practitioner: will I do so with my Superintendent as part of a formal, recorded annual supervision of my 'performance' in the Church - I very much doubt it. Why not - because it may be good management - but its just not good pastoral ministry. 

I am happy to reflect on my ministry with an experienced practitioner and spiritual director and to then share those reflections with colleagues in staff meetings as part of our pastoral care of one another. I am happy to be held accountable to my colleagues and to the Circuit meeting for the conduct of my ministry - isn't that what circuit ministry is?

I do understand why the Church feels that it needs to introduce supervision - its a neat, tried and tested way to bring employees to heel and maintain discipline amongst the work force. It allows the managers to set standards and outcomes and task the workforce to ensure that those outcomes are achieved to the desired standard.

And it's so tempting to think that that will solve our problems out in circuit. There can be no denying that we do have a problem, the increase year upon year in discipline cases tells its own sorry story - as do the terrifying tales of abuse of care in circuits. But am I alone in wanting to challenge the very idea that something that so completely undermines the theology and value of circuit ministry and the collegiality of ministry is the best answer we can come up with? Make no mistake, I believe it is important that ministers do reflect and are held accountable for their ministry: But is 'Supervision' by the superintendent really the best way to achieve this?

If, as a Church we have problems with discipline - then why not deal with the root cause of it.
Might our problems be caused by the practice of sectional instead of circuit ministry? We now actively encourage the idea that the minister is assigned to a Church or Churches rather than to a circuit as part of a circuit team.  Is this because we are too 'busy' or unwilling to practice 'circuit ministry - to meet regularly - to spend time in prayer and conversation with one another - to watch over one another in love - and yes, that does mean censure one another where appropriate?
On second thoughts God - perhaps the Church is right - it's just so much easier and neater to supervise staff once a year..
after all - who needs pastoral care?


  1. This is a genuine question for information since being the wrong side of the Atlantic seems to make me out of the loop. What is "the recent vote of no confidence in circuit ministers"?

  2. In terms of "discipline" issues, if I can reflect for a moment. And please excuse my frankness.

    From what I have seen in circuit ministry and from what I have learned in Clinical Pastoral Education, I believe that the main problem is we don't know how to speak our truth to each other and we don't know how to do it in love. "Not speaking the truth" is, I believe, ingrained in British society so I think it's definitely not just a Methodist problem.

    I've seen a minister go through a totally unwarranted disciplinary action which, at the bottom line, was essentially allowing one member to have a big hissy-fit at the expense not only of the Connexion but the minister's stress levels. (I wonder how many of these account for some of the rise in disciplinary cases?)

    I've also seen absolutely and utterly appalling ministers continue in circuit who no one has had the guts to tell they shouldn't be ministers. From the ineffective person who should be a librarian or research biologist to someone who needs serious care. At the more local level, I've seen bad Local Preachers get through the system because no-one in the circuit had the guts to tell them they weren't good at preaching.

    My Superintendent minister did as yours did and I am so grateful for everything that she taught me. But she also could "tell it like it is" and with genuine love for me and for others. We can change the system all we want, but until there are individuals who have the guts to either stand up to bullies or tell nice people that they are not particularly effective, nothing is going to change.

  3. Pam,
    the fact that we now need to be formally, connexionally 'supervised' can, in itself be seen as a vote of no confidence. Especially as most Districts had already implemented a form of accompanied self-appraisal.
    See Council papers
    Peculiarly, the paper says
    "Ministerial Development Review is not spiritual direction or mentoring, nor is it line management."

    So what is it then?
    What on earth do they mean by an 'annual review meeting' which states that:
    After the meeting, a report of the outcomes of the meeting should be written and agreed to by all three participants. In the case of Ministerial Development Review processes for circuit ministers, the minister herself/himself and the superintendent should each retain a copy.'

    Please note: it is being recommended that 'reports' are only written about circuit ministers, not Superintendents and District Chairs..
    If the Superintendent were to be 'reviewed' by one of their colleagues - under the same conditions and with the same expected outcomes - written report included, I might be persuaded that it is not about 'line management' or a criticism of circuit ministry.

  4. Pam
    " We can change the system all we want, but until there are individuals who have the guts to either stand up to bullies or tell nice people that they are not particularly effective, nothing is going to change."

    Agreed, Agreed Agreed..

    except of course we run the risk with this system of creating power structures that could facilitate an even greater degree of bullying is currently being experienced.

  5. I understand now. That system was being implemented as I left and - as a newly ordained minister - didn't feel too much different than Probation. I was lucky to be in a Circuit with a lot of good people and I was always able to talk things through with folk. But I agree with you about the creation of power structures. I think the underlying problem is not having skills in full, frank, transparent and respectful discussions. I didn't know that Supers and Chairs were not subject to these. When I worked in business *everyone* had a review and a Supervisor.

  6. I recently raised the same concerns about the hierarchy of power that the new system is likely to introduce. At the very least I think there should be 180 degree feedback within the process. I'm Super in a two presbyter circuit and I cannot imagine engaging in a reflection on my colleague's work without asking him to reciprocate - especially when you know my colleague :o) Anything else appears to go against our core values. But this doesn't appear in the skeleton framework

  7. good thoughts Angela (and Pam) thank you.

  8. As a Baptist I can only say I totally agree with your comments.While I sometimes wish we (Baptists) could get more pastoral support from our regional ministers than we sometimes do(it is very hit and miss)no way should a minister be line managed!
    I am dubious about the value of circuits but that is merely the observation of an outsider from a distance
    The need surely is to find spiritually minded friends and mentors could the denomination facilitate that instead?