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The Intensive Journal® Method: a Tool for Ministry*
by The Rev. James D. Miller, D. Min.**
The Rev. Dr. James D. Miller of Trinity United Church of Christ in Mt. Penn, Reading, PA explains how the
Intensive Journal method has been a valuable tool for his
personal and professional life, and for his work in ministry. He
describes the theoretical basis for the Intensive Journal process and the deeper spiritual implications it has for Christianity.
Again and again the renewal of the church finds in the pastor a
formidable ally or enemy, easing or hindering the flow of God's Spirit
among its members. Which the pastor turns out to be often hinges on
what is happening in his or her own professional life as well as on
what is happening within the local church structure and activities. My
own experience of over forty years as a pastor has brought this home
clearly to me and those who work with local churches on regional and
national levels know that the pastor is a key person for the life and
vitality of the local congregation. Very often the personal and
professional crises of the pastor can be traced quite vividly in what
is happening in the local church he or she serves.
Pastors, like everyone else, struggle with questions of
identity and meaning not only with those whom they serve in the church
but within themselves. How can they be expected to help others if they
have found no way to bring integration and wholeness into the many
claims and demands and questions of their own lives?
It is my belief that the Intensive Journal method is
an effective tool to deal with the personal questions of identity and
change and can also be helpful in enabling others to undertake the
journey toward personal wholeness and spiritual growth. In order to be
available to the local church as a true shepherd of souls and not
merely as director of a program, the pastor must undertake the inner
journey first before acquiring the skills and sensitivity to help
others along this path.
The Intensive Journal process, through its structure
and method, has been designed as a means of keeping in touch with the
inner and outer events of one's life and as a means of opening up new
directions and gathering power for next steps, drawing forth what has
occurred in the past on out into the future. Its ability to integrate
the many aspects and movements within a life and to draw forth the
hidden undercurrents of the psyche makes it a live option for pastors
in their own personal and professional growth and in their care for and
work with persons in the local church.
Psychological Concepts of the Intensive Journal Process
The Intensive Journal method was designed by Ira
Progoff, Ph. D. as a means to implement his views of holistic depth
psychology. Progoff traced a movement beginning with Freud as the
founding father of psychoanalysis and showed how psychology, fighting
for recognition as a science, as a means of methodically understanding
the human psyche and dealing with its symptoms and illnesses, came to
something of a dead end. It could not answer all the questions and even
Freud was forced to admit that psychological theory led beyond itself
to what some describe as the realm of meaning and spirit.
It is in this very central quest, that search for meaning
which can bring wholeness and integration to a person as it is
experienced personally, that Progoff felt humanistic or holistic depth
psychology could be of greatest service to our life. What pathological
schools of psychotherapy interpreted as illness and problems within the
psyche, Progoff viewed as evidences that the process of unfolding of
the psyche has become stuck or blocked. He would proceed to work with
the person in this blocked condition by neither trying to analyze the
difficulty nor attempting to understand it, but rather helping the
person connect once more to the inner movement of his or her life.
The psyche makes itself visible and vocal, directing the life
process by symbolic images, words, and concepts. Progoff, in line with
Jung, sees the psyche as the dwelling place of what he calls the
"protoplasmic image", that is, the image of what the person is meant to
be. It is this guiding image within which directs and channels the life
energies. Depth psychology then tries to build bridges as it were to
provide means for this inner knowing to come forth and connect itself
to the outer life of the person. The Intensive Journal procedures are designed to draw these symbols forth without imposing any predetermined meaning or direction upon them.
Theological Aspects of the Intensive Journal Process
Progoff professes to offer in the Intensive Journal
process a system which has no content of its own, but rather uses the
particular content of the individual life in all of its many phases and
forms, including the spiritual aspect. Examining some of the dimensions
of depth psychology in the light of Christian tradition provides a
necessary opportunity to reflect upon the deeper implications of the Intensive Journal method for the Christian pastor.
Progoff sees depth psychology as the means by which the modern person
can continue the process of evolution toward that which God intended in
the creation. The psyche, he believes, is the key to our continued
development and growth. In this conscious participation in our own
evolution, Progoff sees us answering the call of God to be co-creator,
along with God, of our own life. He quotes a text in the Midrash to
make this very point. God, when asked why, after creating us in God's
own image, God did not say in the Torah that we were good, responded by
saying, "Because man I have not yet perfected, and because through the
Torah man is to perfect himself and to perfect the world." Thus we, not
yet perfected, are left with a divine imperative to complete the work,
and this is the meaning for our life.
Depth psychology views what the Bible calls sin as incomplete
evolution. In Genesis 3 we read of the Fall, the act of disobedience
which banished humankind forever from the Garden and that perfect
communion which it once knew. Not only was our relationship to God
broken, but now the effects, the guilt and anxiety of our sin, confused
our own psyche as well. Powerful forces now struggled for our attention
where before there had been a single-minded and centered orderliness.
Those creative energies given to us by God to enable us to live our
life to the fullest turned against us and became destructive.
Depth psychology suggests that the way to correct the problem
of the creative turned destructive is to enable the inner energies to
find a way to come forth more freely in a life so that, now able to
move from the unconscious levels where the meaning and direction of the
life are carried to the conscious level where they can be acted upon,
the energies become once more creative.
If, as Progoff argues, the inner self maintains that image of
what it is to become in its fullness, and can communicate that to us
through symbols and imagery, it is because there is a God of order and
grace who has made this possible, and who, through the life, death, and
resurrection of Jesus Christ, has broken the power of the forces of
confusion and darkness who would hide that image from us and keep us
from touching it again.
Both Biblical religion and depth psychology agree on the
seriousness of the human condition. Where depth psychology has
discovered methods to enable persons to develop inner resources that
have lain dormant to new growth, Biblical religion can offer the
spiritual experience of those who have encountered the living God over
the centuries to interpret and discern how God is calling forth God's
people into new directions and possibilities. The church, as the
biblical community in our day, offers therefore a corrective context
which depth psychology needs, and depth psychology offers the church an
opportunity, through grasping more fully the nature of personal
religious experience, to open up to new winds of the Spirit which are
calling us to new seriousness to face the challenges of ministering to
the modern person.
If we can use depth psychology to help keep ourselves in touch
with the whole of our life, knowing that God is involved with us at
each step, using our Christian traditions and doctrines along with the
Scriptures as an interpreter for our experience, then depth psychology
in general and the Intensive Journal method in particular can serve us well.
The Intensive Journal Workbook
The Intensive Journal workbook is a simple three ring
notebook. Log sections are used to record the raw material of our
lives. They are to be neutral observations, a simple, brief recording
of our inner and outer experiences. These entries provide the base
material with which we work in the other sections of the Intensive Journal workbook using what Progoff calls the Feedback Exercises.
The Feedback Exercises digest the raw material provided by the Log
sections and transform it through various mini-processes, generating
new experience and carrying forward the inner movement of life to the
next steps. A series of Intensive Journal Workshops have been developed to take the
novice and the veteran participant through the process step by step,
explaining and helping each one to move at his or her own pace.
A Tool for the Personal Life of a Pastor
In terms of my own experience, I have found the Intensive Journal
method to be an excellent tool to continue my own life journey and to
enable constant growth in just about every aspect of my life. The life
of a pastor is an extremely busy one, with many demands upon one's time
and energy and many people seeking out a personal relationship with
their pastor to give support and strength to their own lives. While in
some sense this is the pastor's role, if not kept in perspective to the
whole of the life and all the other demands, a congregation, trying to
save itself can sink a pastor's family in the process.
Some pastors, not knowing how to maintain their position in
the church and their families at the same time, have opted for one or
the other, causing themselves and those around them no little degree of
heartache and guilt. The Intensive Journal method has helped to keep this undercurrent
of concern out in front where it can be faced again and again. I have
made conscious decisions about my family and the time I give to them as
an outcome of this work.
The Intensive Journal process assists in clarifying
issues and feelings about the family and in raising underlying concerns
to the level of consciousness where action can be taken and changes, if
needed, can be made.
Even in the life of the pastor who gives a serious and regular
attention to the nurturing of the inner life with God, there is
frequently a lack of understanding as to how to move beyond the present
relationship and into deeper waters, and how, when the things of the
spirit are powerfully stirred and moving, to integrate that activity in
the depths into the rest of the life. The Intensive Journal process is a means of isolating oneself from
other demands which clamor for attention and in being present to
oneself, to be present also to God.
My own relationship to God has been greatly affected by my work in the Intensive Journal
method at Progoff workshops and has opened up a new understanding of
prayer, for instance. In prayer, I always seemed to be talking to God,
feeling guilty about those I was not able to remember in intercession.
But this deeper prayer into which I was being led without my knowing
consisted of trusting God who knew all that already and simply having
God there with me. Now prayer is a time of quiet communion with God,
each being present to the other in silence, a silence that renews and
strengthens and which speaks more profoundly in the depths of the
spirit than any words could ever do.
A Tool for the Professional Life of a Pastor
The Intensive Journal method can be used with almost
any need dealing with the life and work of a pastor and in addition
offers a means to achieve and maintain a balance and integration in
that life and work. The relationships a pastor has with other clergy
are very significant to his or her own ministry though this is often
overlooked. A pastor needs to be able to share what is happening in his
or her own life and church with others to be able to get a new
professional appraisal of the situation, especially in times of
transition or crisis. Pastors are expected to be strong, independent,
rooted only in God's claim upon their lives - or at least so it appears
to some. In reality, many are afraid, lonely, disappointed in the
results of their work and need desperately to find some way to reach
out to others in similar situations for common support and
The Intensive Journal method can help to make a
beginning at forming such relationships by offering the pastor a
totally private way to take the first steps. For those who have no
problem reaching out to others, there are always things which need to
be clarified and carried further in professional relationships and in
those simply with friends who happen also to be pastors. I was working
in the Intensive Journal method through a difficulty in the life of a
friend for whom I had strong feelings of love and concern. Those
feelings stirred a memory alive in a new way which has had far-reaching
and lasting effects upon me and upon my relationships with other church
members. Now I feel myself searching less for approval from others and
am better able to relate in a clearer, freer way.
Education is considered by some to be a purely intellectual
pursuit, but true education involves more than that, especially for
those who would be pastors. In addition to a body of knowledge
centering in Biblical-theological fields and practical experience in
classroom and field education situations, more and more seminaries are
offering students the opportunity of coming to know oneself and
becoming intimately involved with wrestling with one's own beliefs and
theology, as well as entering into dialogue with events and persons in
Biblical history. The Intensive Journal method, because it works through every
dimension of a life including spiritual experience and helps to
integrate every kind of experience into the ongoing movement of life,
is uniquely suited to use in seminary education. Leading these
workshops for the Lancaster Theological Seminary, I have found the Intensive Journal method most beneficial to the participants.
At an eight day retreat I was given the assignment by my spiritual
director to enter into the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness after
he was baptized. Feeling very much at home in this kind of experience
after my work in the Intensive Journal process, I used the method as an aid to the
assignment. A much fuller understanding of the meaning of temptation,
the experience of Jesus, and the love of God for all of us came from
it. In this fashion the Intensive Journal method can serve to couple the issues of
theology and Scripture to the movement of the pastor's own journey of
faith, providing continued spiritual growth and a rich resource of
methods and experiences to share with his or her congregation.
A Tool for the Ministry
Just as the Intensive Journal method can make a
significant contribution to the lives of pastors, so it can also make a
significant contribution to the lives of those they serve in their
congregations. Some counseling will be done each week if not each day
in the church, and the pastor is expected to work with all kinds of
people with all different degrees of need. A chief area of concern in
counseling for me was that persons oftentimes tended to become
dependent on the counselor. I began to feel that some method was
required which those coming for help could learn to use on their own,
coming back only as necessary for occasional guidance. A series of
exercises were prepared for use with those I would counsel and, for
those who follow through, the Intensive Journal method has been a helpful way for persons to focus their life and work through particular problems.
The worship service of the local church remains at the center of the life of every congregation. The
Intensive Journal method, by keeping the pastor more in touch
with the movement of his or her own life, can contribute to new depth
in worship as services and sermons flow from a deeper personal level
within the pastor. On occasion, I have had very powerful insights to
Scripture and church doctrine through the Intensive Journal method. There is an inner awareness that has
come in a new and exciting way and in a form which can easily be
communicated to others. By reading the dialogue script I wrote, I found
others quickly become involved and interested more so than with a
simple description of the experience. My own experience is that when
one is firmly rooted in Biblical faith and in active relationship to
God and the church, there will be much that will come forth from
working in the Intensive Journal method which can be fed back into the life of the church in many ways.
On the basis of my own personal experience with the Intensive Journal
method in its application to my personal and professional life and to
my ministry within the congregation I serve, I would recommend it
highly as a valuable and suitable tool for pastors. Being more in touch
with my inner life now, I find that my life, rather than keeping me
preoccupied with its many feelings and needs and demands, becomes
instead a channel or a means to receive the grace of God and to
experience God's love afresh.
* Based upon Doctor of Ministry Thesis by The Rev. Dr. James D.
Miller entitled "The Intensive Journal: A Tool for Ministry," Lancaster
Theological Seminary, 1979. © Copyright 2003. James Miller. Reprinted
with permission of the author.
** James Miller is Senior Pastor at Trinity United Church of
Christ in Mt.
Penn, Reading, Pennsylvania. He has been a certified leader of the
Intensive Journal program under the auspices of Dialogue House since
"Intensive Journal" and "Journal Feedback" are trademarks of Jon Progoff and used under license by Dialogue House.