MTA: Course Correction with Case Studies

Mahan, Jeffrey H., Barbara B. Troxell, and Carol J. Allen. (MTA) Shared Wisdom: A Guide to Case Study Reflection in Ministry. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

During my Clinical Pastoral Education at Providence Hospital, I learned about pastoral care in an institutional setting. My two classes both had six students and we divided our time between patient visits and classroom activities. These activities included lectures, group projects, sharing autobiographies and genograms, and offering each other feedback. Probably the most feared and most helpful activity involved sharing verbatims that were case studies of patient visits that did not go well.


In their book, Shared Wisdom, A Guide to Case Study Reflection, authors Jeffrey Mahan, Barbara Troxell, and Carol Allen (MTA) write:

“This book is offered as an invitation to those involved in ministry—whether in congregations or in specialized settings—to engage in a process of reflection on their practice of ministry.”(12)

The goal of case studies is to equip the presenter to return to ministry with greater insight and confidence in themselves and in God’s provision and protection. (19).

Case studies are most helpful when they assist participants in learning from their mistakes, but, of course, focusing on mistakes requires that one first admit to them. In a world in which politicians and celebrities daily lose their jobs over a single mistake, even in the church it is totally counter-cultural to admit to and talk about mistakes. The need for confidentially is accordingly multifaceted—both those studied and those bringing forth the study need to have the process treated confidentially.

The Case Study

MTA recommend a case composed of five parts:

  1. Background. Usually a case study focuses on a specific event that requires some context be provided.
  2. Description. In describing the event, usual dialogue is given to illustrate what happened and how the presenter responded.
  3. Analysis. “Identify issues and relationships, with special attention to changes and resistance to change.”
  4. Evaluation. The presenter assesses their performance–what worked, what did not work, and why.
  5. Theological Reflection. How does our faith inform this event? (116-117)

A case is about 2 pages single-spaced and the presentation should run about an hour.

In my experience, the choice of events to write up as verbatims is critical in revealing your strengths and weaknesses in ministry. At one point when another student was going through their case study, it became obvious that I had visited the same patient shortly after the presenter—my experience and hers were completely different.[1]

Background and Organization

The authors are all former professors of practical theology. They write in seven chapters:

  1. How Wisdom is Shared Through Case Study
  2. Writing, Presenting, Clarifying
  3. Personal Wisdom
  4. Professional Wisdom
  5. Theological Reflection
  6. Reflection on the Presenter’s Ministry
  7. Futuring (ix)

These chapters were preceded by an introduction and followed by a four-part appendix.


Shared Wisdomby Jeffrey Mahan, Barbara Troxell, and Carol Allen is a helpful guide to case studies, particularly as practiced in Clinical Pastoral Education. MTA use sample case studies to illustrate their points. More generally, the use of case studies in ministry is a helpful team building activity that will have the added benefit of deepening the experience of particular staff. In the context of individual ministry, it can’t hurt writing up difficult encounters in aiding spiritual reflection.

[1]My visit is summarized in my memoir, Called Along the Way, because it helped motivate me to focus on Hispanic ministry.

MTA: Course Correction with Case Studies

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