Case Studies: A Model for Ministerial Case Reflection

Case study brings together a presenter who has agreed to share in writing a critical incident from his/her practice of ministry for mutual confidential reflection with an advisor or with a group of peer participants under the direction of a facilitator. What follows is an outline of one way an advisor and advisee can reflect on a case. It could also be used by vocational advisors when they meet together for a mid-point meeting.

Case Preparation

  1. The case should be written. A "Case" is a written report of an event in which the student was involved as a minister with some responsibility for the outcome. The purpose of writing the case is to produce a record of the event, and to provide concrete data for reflection and discussion.
  2. The written case should be brief. The case report is to be no longer than what can be written on both sides of a single sheet of paper. Part of the discipline is to learn what can be condensed into this limited space. Limitations of space force the writer to identify critical information. Lines should be numbered for easy reference.
  3. The case should have five parts. The five parts are to be clearly distin­guished. They need not be equal in length, but each of the parts must be included.

    • Background: Enough information to set the event in context. What you had in mind, what you hoped/feared would happen, when and how you became aware of/involved in the event, what pressures, persons, and social/contextual dynamics precipitated and shaped the event.
    • Description: What happened and what you did. Report the event, including as much detail as possible in the limited space.
    • Analysis: Identify issues and relationships, with special attention to changes and resistance to change. Try to answer the question: what's going on here?
    • Evaluation: Your estimate of your own effectiveness in the event. Did you do what you set out to do? Did you function effectively? If so, why so? If not, why not? What factors or forces emerged which you did not an­ticipate? What social/contextual/systemic dynamics impacted the case? What questions might the group discuss that would be most helpful to you?
    • Theological ReflectionTheological themes which emerge in this situation (e.g., faith, guilt, alienation, reconciliation, justice, law, grace, sin, redemption, creation, suffering, resurrection, nature, calling of the church, etc.). Be specific about where you see evidence of these. More about theological reflection is below.
  4. Clarify the question of confidentiality: If you do not want to reveal the identity of persons and institutions, use fictitious names and addresses (Mrs. A., Mr. B., X Church, Y town). If you reveal identity, but wish the information to be confidential to the group, write at the top: "CONFIDENTIAL”

Case Presentation

  1. Present the case aloud. Advisor or participants follow along on their written copy noting any questions or insights that emerge as the presenter reads through the case. The facilitator may wish to assign particular participants to pay attention to specific issues
  2. Clarify the information. Advisor or participants may ask questions. Here the goal is not analysis or interpretation, but understanding the case as the presenter represents it. The central question is: Do we understand the presenter’s description of what happened? The presenter is asked if there are aspects of the case on which they want the group to focus.
    After the presentation and clarification, the presenter is a silent observer/listener the advisor or participants engage in steps 3–6. The presenter then responds in step 7.
  3. Share personal wisdom. Here the goal is to connect the case and presenter to the lived experience of the advisor or other participants and to become aware of the feelings and images we each bring to the case.
  4. Pool professional/educational wisdom. We bring our professional and educa­tional histories, as well as our personal wisdom and experience, to bear on the case. Here the advisor or participants have the chance to offer the presenter the fruits of their training in the social sciences, psychology, litera­ture, science, busi­ness, etc, and to explore the individual and social dimensions of the interaction.
  5. Claim the wisdom. Questions of theology and spirit inform the entire case process, but here they are made explicit.
  6. Reflect on the presenter's ministry.
    • Action to date. In light of the pooling of wisdom about what has happened in this case, and what it means to us, the group turns its attention to reflection on the performance of the presenter/minister.
    • Action in the future. Having reflected on the act of ministry, the advisor or participants ask what implications are drawn for ministry in the future.
  7. Evaluate the process. The presenter is asked: What has been most helpful? What learnings have been gleaned?


Adapted from Jeffrey H. Mahan, Barbara B. Troxell and Carol J. Allen, Shared Wisdom, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 119ff, with modifications/additions by Phil Campbell, 2007. Used with permission.