Ministry can be an incredibly lonely experience. Unlike other professionals, for the most part ministers do not work together in teams. They are on their own. True, they are part of a local church, but few if any of the lay leaders of that local church have any idea of what is involved in the day-to-day ministry of their pastor. In such a context ministers need supportive relationships which will promote well-being in ministry. In the words of Scripture, ministers need to find ways and means of ‘provoking’ (NRSV) or ‘spurring’ one another on to love and good deeds (Hebs 10.24).
For many, at a very basic level supportive relationships are to be experienced within a local ministers’ fellowship – there ministers can share with one another and pray for one another. But there are more specialised forms of support which can promote well-being in ministry.
Review and Appraisal
Appraisal provides an opportunity for ministers to reflect on the past year and to plan for the next. Rightly understood, the appraisal process is first and foremost supportive, and where there is criticism it should always be constructive. It has been said
We are called into new growth and new ministries by taking a realistic and hopeful look at what we have been and what we can still become. Surrounded by God’s grace and the crowd of witnesses in the faith, we can look at our past unafraid and from its insights eagerly face the future with new possibilities.
Appraisal is not to be feared, but to be desired!
We do easily deceiver ourselves – even in those times of quiet when with the best of intentions we may seek to scrutinize our motives before the Lord. We need to help to see ourselves as we really are. In this respect spiritual direction can be helpful. For spiritual direction, rightly exercised, brings to the surface one’s own feelings and thoughts and in the process can expose false motives. At times such direction can be painful – precisely because the real ‘person’ emerges. However, it is only as the inner self is exposed to God’s light and love that there is any hope for growth and development in the Christian life.
In the words of one Anglican report:
Clergy can never consider themselves in private practice. All are under authority and accountable to one another as independent members of the body of Christ.
That accountability can be expressed in supervision. Supervision is not about control – but rather is an encouragement to the person being supervised to reflect upon their work, and explore how they might handle people and situations differently. Supervision helps us to develop skills as also understanding. Supervision can also be restorative, in that it provides a safe place for ministers to share their emotions as they deal with all kinds of distress and pain in the course of their pastoral work.
Just as physical fitness can be developed through a variety of regimes, so pastoral fitness can be developed through a variety of regimes too. There is no one way to promote well being in ministry.
For instance, there are various ways of doing appraisal In some settings appraisal is conducted externally, perhaps involving another ministers; in other settings it is conducted within the local church – in my experience appraisal is best conducted by an external ministerial facilitator together with one or two deacons. Alternatively it could involve spending a week at the Sheldon Centre run by the Society of Mary and Martha in Devon, and undergoing what they term a 10,000 mile service!
There are also various ways of experiencing spiritual direction: it can involve seeing a trained spiritual ‘director’ on a regular basis; or it might involve more informal conversations with a ‘soul’ friend; or perhaps belonging to an accountability group linked with the Baptist Order of Ministry. Alternatively it might involve going on a week’s retreat of one kind or another.
There are various ways too of experiencing work supervision. It could involve seeing a qualified work consultant; or an experienced minister. Alternatively it could involve meetings with a group of friends who offer peer support and mentoring,
There is no one way in which ministers can receive the support and stimulation they need if they are to be effective in their ministry. The important thing is that ministers do experience support and stimulation – for if they do not, then mediocrity if not disaster ensures! One of the key roles of the College of Baptist Ministers , in which I am involved, is to promote well being in ministry, by encouraging and facilitating support and stimulation for its members.