Over the years I have noticed that many times the kind of supervisory conversations that take place on a council level, look more like feedback. Supervision requires guidance. Supervision suggests that there are standards to be met for which the supervisors are held accountable. But in council, supervision is often handicapped. To provide guidance requires a level of expertise (experience, skill, knowledge). To hold people accountable requires a set of standards that can be judged. Both can be fuzzy. So more often than not, the supervisory discussions can be reduced to feedback- a few comments from experienced people about their observations and a few mild suggestions. Important, helpful but missing the mark of supervision.
So I begin to wonder: how can the supervisory task of council be improved? Here are a few suggestions.
- A clearer sense of vision and purpose of the task being supervised. Consider worship: what is worship? How does the worship service tie into lives of worship? What do we expect of the music? Liturgy? Preaching? At times there are quite conflicting expectations with regard to worship. Without clarity, we swim in the fog of member’s diverse and perhaps market-driven desires.
- Learn. If you want to supervise, you need to know enough that your judgments ring true. Otherwise it remains feedback. If we want to take our task seriously we ought to develop a learning program that will develop our knowledge of the significant areas of supervision. This does not mean we need to know more than everyone else but we should develop enough understanding to ask good questions and provide meaningful guidance. Sometimes we simply need to direct people to others who can provide more meaningful guidance.
- Provide support. Everyone needs tools and encouragement for doing a job well. Most often, the church is built on the work of amateurs who for the love of the church and/or the task (teacher, musician, deacon, and caregiver) give themselves in service. Amateurs need support. Do they have the right materials? Are we providing them with opportunities to develop their skills? Do they know when they have done a job well? This is also true for paid personnel. Does a pastor get enough time to study? Is their professional allowance adequate?
- Supervisors can also help develop a better team atmosphere that encourages better commitment and skills. To do this we need to encourage an understanding of our shared commitment to common goals and encourage every person to contribute to the tasks at hand.
Supervision is important. It keeps us on track in our service to God and keeps us working together. Elders play a key role. Many times the leadership of elders in the work of supervision has lead to a better focus in the congregation and more energy in the ministry.
There are different types of supervision. Some is very tight and "hands-on". Other is supervision from a "distance", where much freedom is permitted and expected, and feedback is provided, both positive and negative, in a way to infer the individual responsibility of who-ever is being supervised. Sometimes more supervision is delegated, other times not. So one style does not fit every person or every situation.
Sometimes there is an expectation that every expectation be met. Other times there is an expectation of alternatives, or variety, so that not every expectation will be met. Supervision requires a degree of trust and respect, but also a way of evaluating whether the main objectives are being met. If children are to understand the confessions or doctrinal standards of the church, how will this happen, who will be responsible, and is it happening. Or if the church has a goal to reach out to the community, same thing... how will this happen, who is responsible, and is it happening. Is what is happening sufficient to achieve the goals and objectives? Is the reason for having the goal being satisfied?
There are different definitions of a job being done well. And sometimes these definitions change throughout the course of a project, a year, or an activity. Of course it is important to do a job well. But it is not just a job. It is a service, a worship, a fellowship. Merely doing the job well, based on laid-out expectations, may not serve the primary purpose of the worship, or the service or the fellowship. If that is not well understood, then the vision and the mission may be lost.
Good comments, Neil.
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