Neil Baker is Senior Pastor at the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle, a multi-cultural, multi-congregational faith community based in Auckland’s CBD. He has been a fully registered Minister within the Baptist Churches of New Zealand since 2002. Neil is qualified in professional supervision, counselling, not-for-profit management, and pastoral leadership. In this article he reflects on the benefits of supervision for our church leaders.

“We do not learn from experience. We learn by reflecting on experience.”

These words are attributed to educator & philosopher John Dewey, a man who is considered the father of modern reflective practice.

Reflecting on our experience as Christian leaders and pastors can happen in several ways, but for me personally, my monthly meeting with my supervisor has been one of the most important. To have someone outside of my local church ministry context with whom I can reflect on what is happening in my life, my ministry, and my relationship with Jesus, has been a huge gift to me. In fact, I would credit my journey with supervision over the last 20 years of my life as being one of the key reasons why I am still in active and life-giving pastoral ministry today.

Not only is supervision a gift in my life but I also consider it a spiritual practice, a rhythm of grace that helps me to be honest and accountable to God, honest and accountable to myself, and to do so in the presence of a trusted person who is able to gently, wisely, and lovingly ask me; “How are you? How are you really?!”

Based on my own experience of supervision and my subsequent training as a supervisor, I am very supportive about our decision as a movement of Churches to request that all registered Baptist pastors and leaders now engage in External Supervision Support’. The research shows that ministry supervision can be of great value to those of us in Christian ministry. It is not about ‘compliance’ but is instead a vital ministry practice for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of the communities we serve. However, it would be disappointing if some of our registrants failed to see the value of supervision in this way and instead treated External Supervision Support as a ‘box ticking’ exercise.

To assist us to get the most out of supervision let me share 3 values/axioms that undergird my personal attitude and approach to supervision that I encourage us to consider.

1.    Be intentional: Make supervision an intentional practice and rhythm in your life. Notwithstanding the skills and facilitation of our supervisors who are able to draw us out and invite us to reflect, we ultimately get out of supervision what we are prepared to put into it. In this regard, can I encourage you to be prepared to ‘show up’ at supervision on time, having thought about what you would like to bring to supervision, and prepared to engage in intentional and beneficial reflective practice (your supervisor will be able to teach you skills in reflective practice – don’t be afraid to ask).

2.    Be present: This is an important value in supervision. Having made the time and effort to be present for a session of supervision, we must also make the decision to be fully present in our hearts and emotionally. For me this means not hiding behind my pastoral persona or sharing my ‘safe’ stories that put me in a good light, but being willing to explore those things that are present, real, and important in my life and ministry. It is too easy to play games with ourselves (and others!) and supervision can be a safe space for us to be fully present in the context of a confidential, trusted, and supportive relationship.

3.    Be honest: 24 years ago, while completing my counselling training, my counselling manager mentioned to me that she had made the decision to not bring her best and ‘easy’ work into supervision. Instead, she made the decision that if supervision was going to be valuable then she needed to bring her most challenging and difficult work, and the work that most challenged her professional identity. This impacted me greatly and I make the decision to be honest in my own supervision. Honesty in supervision means affirming that which is good and going well, being ‘sober minded’ in my assessments, but also being willing to acknowledge the challenges, including my faults, my sins, and my growth areas. God gives grace to the humble and it is through the process of honesty, confession, and vulnerability that real growth and transformation can transpire in the journey of supervision.

I genuinely look forward to my monthly supervision meeting. In addition to all the above, it is a place of levity, liberty, and life-giving engagement. It is also a place in which I am known, which is a gift I deeply appreciate.

As we cultivate our own supervision relationships, I trust we will find the encouragement, accountability, grace, and support that we as pastors and leaders so greatly need and deserve as we seek to faithfully serve the Lord and His people amidst the joys, blessings, challenges, rigors, and complexity of Christian ministry today.

Blessings,

Neil Baker

Find out more about Neil and his contact details on the Carey Centre for Lifelong Learning Supervisors directory.

A related article is The development of our External Supervision Support for church leaders by Glenn Melville (14 September 2023).

Photo credit: Karen Warner, recent External Supervision Support training with Neil Baker, provided by the Baptist National Support Centre and the Carey Centre for Lifelong Learning.

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