Ministry Action Contacts

With thanks to Jim Longbottom Jan 05. (Rev. Jan. 07)



A MAC, otherwise known as a verbatim or critical incident analysis, is a record of the interchange between you and another person. You do the MAC by analyzing what happened with a supervisor so you can learn from it. The analysis process is much like unpacking a suitcase. The closed suitcase has everything in it, but you can't see it clearly. By "unpacking", you can bring everything out and lay it out so that it's easy to see.

MACs basically ask six related questions:

  1. What was the context?
  2. What actually happened?
  3. What were the personal dynamics involved?
  4. What could I have done better?
  5. What can I learn about myself?
  6. Where is God in it?

Especially in graduate studies, they are likely to be the core method of supervised field education and involve significant reflection. In this sense, "reflection" includes:

Advanced and graduate students may then be asked to write formal papers or do formal presentations on topics arising from their reflection.

MAC supervisors sometimes require students to keep dairies or journals.

Why use MACs?

MACs in this context are used as one method of personal formation for ministry. They can be useful for any kind of interpersonal contact, so have a very broad application. In training, MACs can be used for teaching, for formative assessment and for summative assessment.

Many people in ministry are blissfully unaware of their own baggage and consequently can cause more problems than they solve. By understanding yourself as a person, MACs help students to prevent manifesting their own baggage while pastorally caring for others.

What kinds of incident?

MACs can be written on any sort of encounter, but they do need to be real. They may be talking to the lady next door over the fence or a heated exchange in the foyer of the church. The choice is the student's. The incident that suits a MAC is one that normally offers some kind of challenge or insight. It may be an inflamed encounter or seem to be fairly innocuous, but either way, you make every effort to record what was actually said. The actual encounter is written so that the identity of the other person is concealed. It's not about them; it's about you.

Some words of warning. First, people often try to write up a neutral innocuous encounter so that the supervisor will "be kind" to them. It never works. Better to write up an encounter that moved you (one way or another) and let’s draw the learning out of it. Second, be prepared; well supervised MACs will be personally confronting; this experience can be emotional and stressful.

How to use a MAC

The proforma is in three sections:

  1. Introduction and setting (context)
  2. The verbatim encounter, together with your own internal movements.
  3. Your analysis of your learning.

Having prepared the document, students forward it to the supervisor ahead of time so that they can get some feel of what is happening and frame a few questions to help the student extract the learning from the encounter.

The presentation involves the student reading what he/she has written, and it is helpful to have the supervisor take the part of "the other." The students then traces through their analysis of the learning and then the supervisor asks some focusing questions.

How do we make sure the MAC addresses unit requirements?

As part of the assessment plan in your unit description, you should specify the kinds of situations that MACs should be used in and tell students how they will be assessed on them. These should reflect the requirements of the unit(s) you are assessing.

Hint 1: Write a list of assessment items and focused starter questions for each unit or cluster that you are assessing. Then keep some simple mapping to show how your MACs address unit requirements
Hint 2: Use MACs for both formative and summative assessment.
Hint 3: Use a MAC to cover the requirements of more than one unit.

MACs and group supervision

If numbers are greater than 6-8, It is best to break into an number of small groups with a ministry supervisor leading each group.

The ministry supervisor should be the helper in the first session. Students are rostered to be the "helper, minister, guide" for subsequent sessions.

Each student is rostered to present a MAC, and the supervisor should circulate a filled-in example for students' reference. Others in the group simply observe and do not interject. They listen to the encounter before them and note their own reactions and responses. ("fishbowl")

With the facilitation of the supervisor, feedback and discussion after the encounter leads to learning for everyone in the group … the helper, the presenter and the observers.

Tips for using MACs

With thanks to Brian Holliday and Randy Salmond

  1. MACs work better if supervisors do MACs themselves and have training in what to look for, especially inner journey. Otherwise MACs become mere "how to" discussions.
  2. MACs can also have a wider use as an assessment tool for people skills where "how to" discussions are important. For this to work, address particular learning outcomes.
  3. The person doing the MAC is usually assessed. The other students in the group can also be assessed for their input into the discussion.
  4. Role-plays are a useful adjunct kind of tool.
  5. Watch out for themes—the same students may tend to have recurrent themes in how they respond in different MACs even if the incidents are very different.



Proforma | Written explanation of process for students (.doc file)