Pastoral Supervision in the Bible

The term “supervisor” is used in the New Testament. It is ἐπισκοπῆς or “episkopes.” The term is sometimes translated bishop, pastor or overseer. The last of these is the most literal. The clerical role is not necessarily about power or control. In fact, those that see the role in terms of ecclesiastical power seem to miss the point a bit. After all, in the qualifications for an overseer/supervisor in I Timothy 3, the only skill listed for the overseer is the ability to train people. Drawing from a second metaphor for this person, that of the shepherd, one can go to Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34, and some of the teachings of Christ to see that a second skill is in terms of pastoral care (healing, guiding, reconciling, sustaining). Much in line with the expectations for a bishop/pastor in I Timothy 3, in Clinical Pastoral Care, it is expected that the supervisory relationship will be both didactic (able to teach) and therapeutic (ability to do pastoral care).

The First Epistle to Timothy gives some guidelines for pastors or overseers in a church.  According to I Timothy 3:2-7, an overseer should be: … above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[ respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. These qualities are shown differently in the table below:

Reputation Self-Control Relationships with Others
Above reproach or blame Sexual self-control Hospitable
Respectable Self-control in habit Not violent with others, but gentle
Good reputation with outsiders Mature in role Good relationship with Family
Able to teach or guide others Able to teach or guide others Able to teach or guide others

Looking at these three major areas, perhaps there is a logical progression that should considered. Arguably, the reputation should flow from the relationships the overseer has. And the health of these relationships should flow from the intangible aspects of the overseer’s character. The qualities of an overseer in a church setting or in clinical pastoral training should be essentially the same. It is out of these qualities that an overseer may be able to train and provide therapy.

One could take the three main categories for a church overseer and come up with three related qualities for a clinical pastoral supervisor.

Reputation — is related to —– Professional competence

Self-control — is related to —– Professional ethics

Relationship with others —is related to —– Social skills

A supervisor needs to have demonstrated competence in the field he or she is supervising. In Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, he or she has reached the level of evaluating. Professional ethics involves following ethical guidelines of the profession as well as maintaining proper balance and boundaries in his or her personal life. Social skills is perhaps the most self-explanatory. These are the competencies and sensitivities in relationship with others, and most likely presupposes a level of self-awareness and self-actualization as well. Out of these areas comes the ability to supervise.

<This is in the final chapter of our book Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling (soon to be published). While the book is not primarily a Bible-centered, this are of the role of the overseer is quite interesting in its establishing criteria for pastoral supervision.>

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