I can tell David is feeling upset.
His face doesn’t show its usual warmth. Instead, it reflects an eerie distance. When I ask him what’s wrong, he says he’s been feeling ‘really down’ since I saw him last. Moreover, he’s doubting his ability to be in ministry, which surprises me.
He’s obviously in pain.
When I ask David what happened, he says his new boss had given him feedback on his sermon—the one he preached last Sunday. And the feedback wasn’t quite what he expected. David had put in a lot of effort into his sermon and had preached it before in a different ministry context. He thought it was good.
But his Senior Pastor’s feedback—while respectful—led David to question his preaching abilities.
If this was one of his better sermons, thought David, what would his boss think of his more average sermons? As I listen to David, it becomes clear to me that he has a very black and white view of his own abilities: he’s either very good (when he receives good feedback), or very bad (when he receives any sort of critical feedback). There’s very little in between.
And so, he interpreted his Senior Pastor’s feedback as very negative.
From this, he assumed he’s a ‘bad’ preacher and spiralled into catastrophic thoughts like—‘perhaps I shouldn’t be in ministry?’ As I reflect on this with David and ask some more questions, he has a light bulb moment. He becomes aware of this ‘all or nothing’ way of thinking.
As his awareness develops, I begin to see the burden lift and his face once again displays its warmth.
I push even further: I ask David whether it’s realistic to see his preaching as either all good, or all bad? As we continue talking, David realises his unrealistic view of his abilities. He begins to view his abilities with a greater sense of realism. He’s neither a ‘good’ preacher, nor a ‘bad’ preacher; he’s an improving preacher.
Getting ministry supervision can be revolutionary for gospel workers. It can help uncover unrealistic and often unbiblical thinking that can damage our ministries.
The concept of ‘supervision’ is often very abstract.
A tangible story, like David’s, is a good way to make supervision more concrete. ‘Supervision’ here doesn’t refer to the supervision we associate with managers and bosses. Instead, it’s a regular, confidential space to air whatever is currently happening in ministry.
There are many and varied definitions of ministry supervision, but one of the more helpful definitions is this:
So much of ministry practice is shaped by pragmatics and history, rather than our theological beliefs. Supervision provides an opportunity to reflect on our practice in light of our theology. It’s time-out from the day-to-day stuff of what we do to think about why we do it.
– Mike Dicker (Youthworks Dean of Students)
Ministry Supervision—A Confusing Name, But a Game-Changing Role
Getting ministry supervision can be revolutionary for gospel workers. As with David’s above example, it can help uncover unrealistic and often unbiblical thinking that can damage our ministries. One of the things I often say in supervision sessions is ‘we can’t change what we’re not aware of.’ In other words, such reflection helps us re-align our misguided patterns of thinking (and practice) with God’s truth as revealed in Scripture.
Reflection helps us see our lives, our relationships, and the world around us through the lens of Scripture—rather than the distorted lenses we may have adopted.
As passages like Proverbs 23:7 and 2 Cor 10:5 point out, our thinking impacts us, and thus it is wise to align our thinking with God’s truth.
The structure of supervision—involving regular monthly meetings between the Supervisor and their client—provides a framework to discuss ministry; to reflect on the interplay between theology, those we are ministering to, and ourselves. It proceeds by conversation, reviewing the past, and by developing insights for the future. 
Why Ministry Supervision is Important
As you can imagine, exposing and realigning unhelpful thought patterns will have a sizeable impact on our lives and the lives of those around us.
Here are some of the benefits:
1. Increased Resilience
Ministry workers are experiencing a growing amount of stress. A staggering 23% of Australian ministers are presenting with burnout, and 56% of ministers classify themselves as candidates for burnout. There seems an ever- growing need for psychological resources for those in ministry. One of these psychological resources turns out to be self-reflection and its ability to strengthen resilience.
Resilience is defined as:
The maintenance or quick recovery of mental health during and after exposure to significant stresses. 
Research Psychologist Kirsty Bucknell has found that self-reflection and self-insight (key activities of pastoral supervision) are crucial in building ministry resilience. She also found that the reverse is true. That is, those undertaking less self-reflection report lower levels of wellbeing and higher stress.
A consistent finding…is the positive relationship of self-insight with both well-being and resilience. Within ministry, this finding supports ongoing interpersonal coaching and supervision of ministry workers to assist increased self-understanding and positive wellbeing where these are lacking. 
However, it’s not just undertaking reflection, but also what you do with that reflection that matters. You need to move from self-reflection to action and insight. Accordingly, one of the aims of supervision is to help you, the supervisee, see the gaps between your theology and your actions. These revelations help you to analyse what you’re doing, and where you might need to change and/or grow.
In summary, research supports the need for deliberate self-reflection (one of the aims of Supervision) to support sustainable ministry practice.
I have often heard supervision described as having “SUPER” vision because it helps you to see that which is otherwise hidden, and gain a wider perspective.
Ministry supervision helps us to untangle our thoughts and emotions and facilitates a wider-angle view of our world.
Ministry can be a lonely place. We have complex day-to-day relationships with staff and congregation members. However, for many gospel workers, there’s no place to discuss these relationships—nor the patterns that may form within them. Often this is because everything within their ministry is interrelated. It’s inappropriate for example, to talk to a congregation member about the problems you’re having with a staff member.
When we feel under pressure in ministry (conflict, stress, overwork, family problems), our relationships can become complex, and we can become ‘fused’ with our thoughts and feelings.
Ministry supervision helps us to untangle our thoughts and emotions and facilitates a wider-angle view of our world. Over time a wise supervisor will become aware of the systems that are in your ministry, the people you are working with and the relational dynamics involved. However, because the Supervisor is independent of your ministry, they are often able to provide an outside perspective. A good Supervisor is an excellent observer, looking from the outside in. They also provide you with a place outside your ministry for support and confidential debriefing.
This assists in carrying the burden of ministry and alleviates stress.
3. Safer Ministry
Ministry supervision sessions provide a place for discussion around ethical and safe ministry and seeks to foster high professional standards and wellbeing.  It is also in accord with the recommendations of “The Australian Government Royal Commission into Child Abuse”:
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 5, each religious institution should ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, have professional supervision with a trained professional or pastoral supervisor who has a degree of independence from the institution within which the person is in ministry.
Nevertheless, whether it’s mandated or not, all ministry workers would benefit from some sort of ministry supervision.
Ministry Supervision: Healthy Ministry for the Long Haul
Like David in the above story, we all have blind spots and need someone to help illuminate assumptions or beliefs that lie beneath the surface: beliefs that can be unrealistic and sometimes fly under our radar. Ministry supervision is a powerful catalyst for growing such self-awareness: an awareness that will help you remain in ministry for the long haul.
 This story is a conglomeration of supervision sessions, and of course, I have changed all names and identifying details.
 There is much more to be said about ‘ministry supervision’ than can be written in a short article. This article is only intended to be an introduction.
 As mentioned, ‘Supervision’ here doesn’t refer to the supervision we associate with managers and bosses. Rather, it’s a skill employed by many allied health professions as part of their registration standards, to ensure ‘best practice’. Ministry Supervision, however, is less about supervising specific skills and more about reflection and self-awareness. It is a ministry specific version of the original.
 Paul Fisher, Kimberly Che and Yi Jin Leow. (2015). Clinical Psychologists’ use of reflection and reflective practice within clinical work, Reflective Practice, p 731-743.
 Kaldor, P., &Bullpit,R. (2001).Burnout in Church Leaders. Adelaide:Openbook
 Crane, M.F., Searle, B.J., Kangas, M., & Nwiran, Y. (2019). How resilience is strengthened by exposure to stressors: the systematic self-reflection model of resilience strengthening. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 32, 1-17,
 Chimortz et al.,2018; Kalisch et al., Seery and Quinton 2016. Quoted in Bucknell,K. (2019) The Moderating Roles of Self—Reflection and Self—Insight in the Relationship Between Religious Coping Methods and the Resilience of Australian Protestant Ministers.
 Bucknell,K. (2019) The Moderating Roles of Self—Reflection and Self—Insight in the Relationship Between Religious Coping Methods and the Resilience of Australian Protestant Ministers.
 Grant, A.M., Franklin, J., & Langford, P. (2002). The self-reflection and insight scale: A new measure of private self-consciousness. Social Behaviour and Personality, 30(8), 821-836.
 Carrol and Hewson report that one of the principles of reflective practice is:
‘To consolidate new learning into your practice and your practice framework’. Hewson, D and Carrol, M. (2016) Reflective Practice in Supervision. Moshpit Publishing. p 46.
 Burns, B., Chapman, T.D. & Guthrie,D. (2012). Resilient Ministry: What pastors told us about surviving and thriving. Downers Grove, IL:Inter Varsity Press.
 Hewson, D and Carrol, M. (2016) Reflective Practice in Supervision. Moshpit Publishing.
 Recommendation 16.45 in Final Report Recommendations—Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 58. Web: https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/final_report_-_recommendations.pdf, accessed 5th May 2021.