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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 encouragement.

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 1976.

"Intensive Journal" and "Journal Feedback" are trademarks of Jon Progoff and used under license by Dialogue House.