When I started in Ministries Council (now Faith Nurture Forum) the word of the hour was ‘flourishing’. It has been a central theme of that year’s General Assembly report. I found myself wondering: what does flourishing actually look like.

The wellbeing of those in ministry has been a fundamental question I have considered when developing the provision of support in the church.  I regularly find myself questioning what a “flourishing” minister looks like, and how we can effectively care for ministers, and promote the importance of self-care.   Ascend was born out of this questioning and out of the desire to serve and support those in ministry. The development of Ascend has ultimately been underpinned by Jesus’ commandment to love and care for each other.

Jesus tells us that the way people will know that we are disciples is that we love one another.  We often think of this call to love in terms of those out-with the church, or those to whom we feel called to serve.   But Jesus calls us to love each other within the Body of Christ as well; to care and nurture one other. This, Jesus says, is the sign the world will see and will testify to what we believe; whether following Jesus is something they might want to be a part of themselves.

I don’t need to tell you that ministry can be incredibly demanding and at the same time often not well understood or appreciated.  Many local churches seem to live in a fictional paradigm where ministers meet all the needs, but have no needs of their own. One of the challenges for us in the Church of Scotland, I believe, is not only to look at improving the wellbeing of our ministers, but also to bring a culture shift in our context whereby local congregations see the wellbeing of their minister as a shared responsibility. Again, bringing us back to Jesus’ commandment to love one another.

Ascend as a vehicle for wellbeing

Although we recognise that we cannot provide everything necessary to ensure mental, physical, spiritual, emotional and social wellbeing for all in ministry, we do believe that Ascend can provide you access to information and a number of different support options to help you thrive and flourish.   The hope is that by having these resources available, ministers can be supported and equipped in caring for one another and ourselves.  We also recognise that there is no “one size fits all” approach to support and so Ascend has been developed in a way that supports ministers in their own individual journeys.

So what is available?

If you are looking to improve your wellbeing and to consider development options, we recommend you to start with an MDC – Ministerial Development Conversation.   MDC is a confidential discussion with a trained facilitator that supports and enables you to reflect on many different aspects of your role and ministry, as well as exploring what support and development options you might consider.  MDC is available now, and is a free and confidential space specifically created for those in ministry.  You can choose from a range of trained facilitators, and book directly via Ascend Online.

Alongside this, we are advocating pastoral supervision as a foundation for ministerial support.  With the term “supervision” being weighted with multiple meanings and inferences it is important to clearly define what we mean by “pastoral supervision”.

Pastoral supervision offers a regular, intentional and boundaried space in which a practitioner skilled in supervision (the supervisor) meets with one or more practitioners (supervisee) to look together at the supervisee’s practice. It is a relationship characterised by trust, confidentiality, support and openness that offers you freedom and safety to explore issues arising in your work.    In most caring professions (such as counselling, social work and health), professional supervision is seen as the norm and is often a compulsory element of practice.  The promotion of pastoral supervision comes from the recognition that ministers are continually expected to care for others, often in challenging and emotionally taxing contexts and that a regular space to reflect on these challenges and receive support and input from a trained professional who understands the demands of ministry may go a long way in preventing compassion fatigue, work-related stress and burnout.  More information is available on Ascend Online, and further updates will follow about how we are hoping to make pastoral supervision available for every minister, plus read about supervisors who are available in your area right now.

For over 10 years the Church of Scotland has been developing a coaching program to support those in ministry.  There are two big distinctions which set coaching apart from other professional relationships such as therapy or counselling: the focus is firmly on the here and now; and the premise is that the client is the expert in their own context. The coaching conversation starts with the assertion that the client is ‘creative, resourceful and whole’ and as such holds the answers to any questions they might care to explore. The journey of coaching is a partnership of discovery. What the coach and client discover along the way is determined by openness, trust, key questions and honest answers. Coaching aims to help you find balance and fulfilment in your ministry, work and life.  If you are interested in coaching please visit the website or get in touch with the Pastoral Team for more information.

Ascend also recognises the important support roles that Spiritual Accompaniment and Personal Therapy/Counselling can play in supporting ministers wellbeing.  Counselling focuses on difficulties a person may be experiencing within themselves or in their interpersonal relationships.  Spiritual accompaniment focuses on a person’s spiritual wellbeing and their relationship with God.

If this article has sparked interest or raised any questions for you, I invite you to get in touch with us at  pastoralsupport@churchofscotland.org.uk.