During seminary, I received training in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). By placing seminarians in institutional settings — in my case, the cardiac unit of Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington, KY — CPE prepares clergy to engage in meaningful ministry with people in the midst of life’s most uncertain moments.
And there is a whole conversational style that goes along with CPE. It’s all part of the training. CPE conversation is heavy on the following:
- Open ended questions;
- Answering questions with . . . another open ended question;
- Re-phrasing what you hear the client/patient say;
- Hesitation to give advice or direction — instead allow the client/patient to clarify their own feelings and opinions;
- CPE cliches: “tell me about . . .” “it sounds like . . . ” and, of course, “how does that feel?”
All in all, CPE training is invaluable for pastoral ministry. I remember thinking that my early years at Mt. Carmel UMC, which were full of home & hospital visitation, were simply an extension of that summer internship in Kentucky.
But here’s where the CPE-inspired pastorspeak has become a problem for me: when I use it at home or around the office. It is now such a part of who I am and how I talk that it is hard to break out of it.
Yet there are many times when the staff I work with doesn’t need a reflective listener; they need a leader who will make his wishes known with confidence and clarity.
Or when my family asks a question, they want an answer, not an open-ended response that puts the issue back in their lap.
So as I navigate the roles of pastor and boss, of counselor and father, I need to remember which mode of communication best fits the situation.