The Ministry of Supervision

Terry Shue is director of leadership development for Mennonite Church USA

By Terry Shue

I heard a moving story of the IBA (Anabaptist Biblical Institute)  teaching center  located  in the “Ark of Salvation” congregation in Fort Myers, Florida. While I was attending a Mennonite Education Agency board meeting last year in Fort Myers, the leader of this center spoke of the work she does teaching and leading the students.  As she explained all they do through this vital link of leadership development, she made a comment that I will long remember. It was in response to the question, “Why do you do what you do?” She replied, “Creating leaders is just what leaders do!”

In Mennonite Church USA, we have a priority which gives specific focus to leadership development. In our denomination, this priority is being worked on in our schools and seminaries at all levels.  And there are many important opportunities in local congregations of all sizes which can be a great context for leadership development as well.

The role of a pastor is an honor and a responsibility, which is strategically placed in the congregation to help the body recognize, nurture and grow as the people of God. One of the many ways this happens is through supervisory work of interns either from within the church family or from outside the congregation.

The task of supervision, whether it is formal or informal, has three basic components which form the basis for healthy and formative leadership development:  Action, Reflection and Feedback.  Supervisors will grow in their supervisory skills while growing the pastoral skills of the intern while attending to these crucial components.

Action  – First leaders are developed when they are given responsibilities. Very little is learned by simply shadowing a seasoned leader around in ministry situations for weeks.

Ministers are shaped by ministering and leaders are shaped by leading. Pastors who are supervising persons seeking to grow in their ministry skills need to find real and appropriate ministry opportunities to engage in. There are plenty of these opportunities in all of our congregations which are excellent practice-based experiences for growth.

It is important these ministry assignments are appropriate for the person or persons who will be receiving the ministry. While it would be inappropriate for a new intern to be given the responsibility to do a funeral alone just to get experience, it is appropriate, with the family’s permission, to ask them to read a scripture or offer a prayer at a funeral.

It is good to remember is that any ministry opportunity which the student minister is asked to do, needs to be incrementally appropriate to their stage of ministry development.  Sufficient time for planning also needs to be given to the student to provide a high probability of satisfaction for everyone involved. To ask a developing minister to undertake a new large ministry opportunity, say preaching, with little time for or support in the preparation is not only a recipe for frustration, it can also be a sure way to have them declare they will never do that again!

Reflection – Secondly, leaders grow when, following significant appropriate ministry actions, they are given time to reflect on the ministry action. Asking for a written summary of what they did and what went into the process of deciding what to do, is not wasted time. In fact this sort of action and reflection is a gift which is often overlooked in ministry as we hurry on to the next  thing on our “to do” list.

As their supervisor, you have the opportunity to help them think about the ministry context, the options which they choose from, as well as the response of those persons who received the ministry.  Moreover helping the growing minister reflect upon where God was in this situation will help shape the ability apprentice traits of tracking God at work in our world. Asking the simple question of a spiritual guide, such as–What was happening to your spirit when you do these ministries?—becomes a great way to help the student minister reflectively.

Feedback – The cycle of good supervision is complete when the person is given clear and honest feedback from a trusted, caring supervisor. What are the strengths of the person growing in ministry which can be encouraged and drawn out? What passions do you see in the person, which are aligned with their giftedness which brings a spark of life to them and everyone around them?   In what ways can you recognize spiritual giftedness which is being expressed in their ministry?

Sure, there will likely be some ministry experiences, which may require honest hard feedback.  We serve no one well by providing supervision which is nothing more than “sloppy agape”, allowing anything to pass as “good enough” in the ministry realm. Yet, learning from appreciative inquiry theory we will likely find the most meaningful and satisfying growth to come through building upon one’s strengths and gifts, rather than focusing on the areas which are weakest.

These tools of action, reflection and feedback can serve us well as pastors in a variety of settings. If you have the opportunity to work with someone this summer or in the near future, who is doing an internship with you and your church in any capacity, try it out. Don’t be surprised if you find the unintended consequence is that you grow as well!!

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One thought on “The Ministry of Supervision

  1. Wish my father had lived to see this one ~ M. Morrow-Farrell, Philadelphia, PA.

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