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Pastoral Supervision for Safe Churches

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 September 2021


This essay will examine the contribution of pastoral (professional) supervision in enabling and ensuring a safe church. Pastoral supervision is the brave, safe space where clergy (and ministry workers) reflect on their ministry practice in a regular, planned supervision session. The present article emerges from a decade of training pastoral supervisors and consultation across the national Anglican Church during 2019 based on recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It concludes that the properly Christian way for pastoral supervision to change the culture of the Church is christological: a rigorous grounding of its theory and practice in the story of Jesus Christ.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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The Revd Dr Geoff Broughton is Senior Lecturer in Practical Theology at Charles Sturt University; Principal, Pastoral Supervision Australia; and Associate, Institute for Pastoral Supervision and Reflective Practice, United Kingdom.


2 The Hon. Justice Peter McClellan AM et al., ‘Final Report’ (Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 2017). Full report available at (accessed 18 December 2017).

3 A.B. Paterson, The Collected Verse of A B Paterson (London: Angus & Robertson, 1985), where the jolly swagman dies alone, asserting to the authorities in pursuit, ‘you’ll never catch me alive’.

4 This idea is developed later in the article but emerges from the family systems approach to the causes and cures for anxiety in church and ministry contexts, for example: J. Brown and L. Errington (eds.), Bowen Family Systems Theory in Christian Ministry: Grappling with Theory and its Application through a Biblical Lens (Sydney: The Family Systems Practice & Institute, 2019).

5 J. Leach and M. Paterson, Pastoral Supervision: A Handbook (London: SCM Press, 2015), pp. 1-5 who differentiate the term ‘professional’ from ‘pastoral’ supervision to ‘presuppose the spiritual or religious orientation of the supervisor… belief systems and faith commitments of those who come for supervision’. I will adopt this differentiation while admitting that it often functions as a distinction without a difference.

6 McClellan AM et al., ‘Final Report’. See the section below, ‘Recommendations: Criteria and Compliance for a Safer Church’.

7 See, further, ‘Remembering our Future: The Response of Australian Churches to the Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’, St Marks Review 245.3 (2018), particularly G. Blake, ‘The Anglican Church of Australia under the Spotlight of the Royal Commission: Its Systemic Failure to Protect Children and a Catalyst for its Transformation’, pp. 6-24; and H. Blake, ‘Finding Voice: What it Means to “Be the Church” after the Royal Commission’, pp. 38-55.

8 B. Pascoe, Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with your Country (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2007), pp. 51-60 and H. Reynolds, The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press Ltd, 2006), pp. 1-12.

9 R.D. Wilson, ‘Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families’, Report for Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (April, 1997), available from (accessed 3 January 2011).

10 Jacques Ellul, Humiliation of the Word (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 12. A consistent theme in his many books such as The Technological Society (1954), and The Technological System (l980), and in scores of articles, is Ellul bearing witness to the central role played by technology (la technique) in modern society. La technique is the attempt to rationalize and to make efficient all the workings of human society.

11 Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (New York: Penguin Press, 2015), introduces her latest research by stating that ‘I’ve been studying the psychology of online connectivity for more than 30 years. For the past five, I’ve had a special focus: What has happened to face-to-face conversation in a world where so many people say they would rather text than talk? I’ve looked at families, friendships and romance. I’ve studied schools, universities and workplaces.’

12 Jeremy Drumm and Stuart Johnson, ‘Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey’, 2016, (accessed 19 April 2018).

13 Derek Beres, ‘Being Busy Is Killing our Ability to Think Creatively’, (accessed 10 November 2019).

14 ‘Heavy Social Media Use Linked to Poor Sleep’, BBC News, 23 October 2019, (accessed 23 October 2019). See also Kara Powell, Art Bamford and Brad M. Griffin, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating our Digital World (Pasadena, CA: Fuller Youth Institute, 2018).

15 Sebastian Smee, ‘Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age’, Quarterly Essay 22 (2018), pp. 1-55. See also Michael Jensen, ‘Through a Glass Darkly Social Media and the Paradox of Virtual Intimacy’, ABC Religion & Ethics, 6 November 2014, (accessed 21 January 2020).

16 M. Percy, ‘Risk, Responsibility, and Redemption: Remembering our Future’, St Marks Review 245.3 (2018), pp. 99-114 (103).

17 Percy, ‘Risk Responsibility, and Redemption’, p. 111.

18 Michael Paterson, Pastoral Supervision Conference, Adelaide, 11 February 2020.

19 V. Miller, ‘Speaking the Truth in Love (Eph. 4:15): An Analysis of the Findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’, St Marks Review 245.3 (2018), pp. 72-98.

20 B. Fallon, S. Rice, and J. Wright Howie, ‘Factors that Precipitate and Mitigate Crises in Ministry’, Pastoral Psychology, 1.62 (2013), pp. 27-40.

21 Fallon et al., ‘Factors that Precipitate’, pp. 37-38.

22 A. Cameron, ‘Out of the Miasma: A Way to Children’s Safety’, St Marks Review 245.3 (2018), pp. 25-37.

23 K. Pohly, Transforming the Rough Places: The Ministry of Supervision (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016). The first edition (2001) was an updated version of K. Pohly, Pastoral Supervision: Inquiries into Pastoral Care (Houston: The Institute of Religion, 1997).

24 McClellan AM et al., ‘Final Report: Volume 16, Religious Institutions Book 1 (Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 2017), pp. 72-82, 556-757.

A summary of these three recommendations to all religious institutions in Australia is: 16.45 (The Professional Supervision Recommendation): 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; 16.43 (The Professional Development Recommendation): each religious institution should ensure that candidates for religious ministry undertake minimum training on child safety and related matters, including training that: (a) equips candidates with an understanding of the Royal Commission’s 10 Child Safe Standards, (b) educates candidates on: (i) professional responsibility and boundaries, ethics in ministry and child safety, (ii) policies regarding appropriate responses to allegations or complaints of child sexual abuse, and how to implement these policies, (iii) how to work with children, including childhood development, and (iv) identifying and understanding the nature, indicators and impacts of child sexual abuse; and 16.44 The Oversight/ Appraisal Recommendation: consistent with Child Safe Standard 5, each religious institution should ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, are subject to effective management and oversight and undertake annual performance appraisals.

25 G. Broughton, ‘First Report to the Safe Ministry Commission of the General Synod: Implementation of Royal Commission Recommendations’, 2 May 2019.

26 Minimum Standards for Professional Development: Professional development is accrued through a points system across three spheres of activity: (i) self-directed reading, reflecting and study; (ii) course enrolment, conference attendance and formal studies; (iii) peer engagement and equipping. Minimum Standards for Ministry Reviews: Ministry reviews are conducted on a three year cycle: (i) self-reflective review; (ii) informal, peer-based review; (iii) formal diocesan (parish, Church body) review.

27 See further, S. Karvinen-Niinikoski, Liz Beddoe, Gillian Ruch and Ming-Sum Tsui, ‘Professional Supervision and Professional Autonomy’ in B. Blom, L. Evertsson and M. Perlinski (eds.), Social and Caring Professions in European Welfare States (Bristol: Policy Press, 2017), pp. 53-66.

28 See also M. Paterson and J. Rowe (eds.), Enriching Ministry: Pastoral Supervision in Practice (London: SCM Press, 2015).

29 Leach and Paterson, Pastoral Supervision, p. 7.

30 Leach and Paterson, Pastoral Supervision, p. 13.

31 Leach and Paterson, Pastoral Supervision, p. 16.

32 Leach and Paterson, Pastoral Supervision, pp. 145-46, 167.

33 Leach and Paterson, Pastoral Supervision, p. 92.

34 Emil Brunner, Our Faith (trans. John W. Rilling; New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1936), p. 59.

35 J. W. McClendon, Doctrine: Systematic Theology Vol. 2 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994) p. 239.

36 S. Pickard, Theological Foundations for Collaborative Ministry (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 169-80.

37 G. Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009), p. 52.