Church of England

Church of England to spend £2m on "new approach" to leadership


Politicians are out of touch. We know that, because we constantly hear about the ‘Westminster bubble’ or the ‘Westminster Village’, and Nadine Dorries once told us that neither David Cameron nor George Osborne knows the price of a pint of milk. Or was it a loaf of bread? They are isolated from normality, shielded from deprivation, and insulated from the worries, concerns and agitations of the fair-to-middling, milk-and-water, run-of-the-mill lives the rest of us try to live, or partly live.

Church leaders are out of touch, too. We know that because we constantly hear from the out-of-touch politicians about how the Church needs “a sharp prod” toward full equality and must “get with the programme”. And it’s about to get a whole lot worse, with the adoption of a £2m “talent management” programme to overhaul the Church’s command and control structures. It was apparently discussed by all the bishops in September, and by the House of Bishops on Monday, and so it’s sorted, done-and dusted and sewn-up.

The Church Times has obtained a copy of the report – Talent Management for Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A new approach, which was formulated by an out-of-touch group of bishops chaired by the elite Prebendary the Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, the former aloof HSBC chairman. Excitingly – almost rivetingly – it speaks of a “culture change for the leadership of the Church”.

Two million quid for a “new approach” and “culture change” for church leadership?

What was wrong with the old approach? Or the New Testament pattern?

You can read all about the mandatory processes, frameworks, bureaucracies, implementations, reviews and “residential modular development programmes” entitled ‘Building healthy organisations’, ‘Leading growth’ and ‘Reinventing the ministry’. The Church of England is adopting the corporate jargon and management-speak of the secular world. Instead of pastors and shepherds we’re getting directors and CEOs. And all this is to be inflicted on an elite “talent pool” of up to 150 “high-potential individuals”, overseen by something called the ‘Development and Appointments Group’ (does the DAG eventually replace the CNC?), all managed by an enlarged staff under Caroline Boddington, the Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments at Lambeth Palace.

Two million quid developing just 150 bishops and deans?

In Ofsted style, individuals are to be graded “early promise”, “exceptional potential”, or “ready now”. No longer will applicants be permitted to submit their CVs organically to the CNC: only if the DNG deems you to be “ready now” will you be permitted to apply for a bishopric or deanery. It’s a kind of QTS for CofE leaders; an ‘Approved List of Candidates’, if you will, just like the aloof and out-of-touch lists compiled by the political parties to advance their chosen ones. The Church might talk generically about leadership qualities and nebulous attributes (nodding to the Ordinal and spirituality), but they make it clear that the objective is to ensure that leaders emerge from “a wider variety of backgrounds and range of skills than is currently predicted”.

A CofE modernisation programme for brand detoxification? With preference given to women, ethnic minorities, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered? Well, it worked well for the Conservative Party. And the parallels are really quite astonishing, right down to the Big-Brother monitoring and summary culling:

Those who have been in the pool will form an “alumni network”, tracked continually by the “talent database” and available for mentoring and coaching future leaders. Anyone failing to fulfil his or her potential will be asked to leave.

One wonders if, unlike the Conservative Party’s total absence of natural justice, those who are “asked to leave” the leadership programme will be permitted to appeal. And one wonders what the incentive will be, in this self-perpetuating oligarchy of bishops and deans, to appoint those whose grasp of theology is robust and whose mission praxis is exemplary, but they happen not quite to fit the DAG prescribed mould and spiritual ethos. Who will discern that the DAG judges are “ready now” to judge that applicants are “ready now”?

The Dean of Christ Church, the Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, is an intelligent and discerning man. Not only is he the only living cleric to get a mention in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, he knows his theology, ecclesiology, sociology and Church history. Writing again in the Church Times, he says the Green report “has no point of origination in theological or spiritual wisdom. Instead, on offer is a dish of basic contemporary approaches to executive management, with a little theological garnish”. He says an awful lot more, too:

The report expects to see all senior leaders equipped with a standard toolkit of MBA-type organisational skills. But it does not say how this might connect with the primary calling of bishops as “shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles”. Or what the implications for public ministry might be if bishops now move from being chief pastors to chief executives. Despite the report’s stated aspiration to increase diversity in senior leadership (much needed), there seems to be no space for the bishop as scholar, evangelist, contemplative, theologian, prophet, or pastor. Or scope for senior church leaders who might be visionaries, risk-takers, and pioneers.

If a shrill and unformed Margaret Thatcher were to present herself today to the Conservative Party’s Candidates’ Department, she might be graded “early promise”, even “exceptional potential”. But she would not be deemed “ready now”, and would certainly not be preferred for a ‘safe seat’.

And if a relatively inexperienced, unknown, untried and untested applicant were to submit his CV for the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, and his background happened to be in (say) the geeky world of oil finance and big business, with very little mission experience and no episcopal track record to speak of at all, it is highly unlikely that he would be deemed “ready now” to occupy Lambeth Palace.

Would the Church of England’s ‘Development and Appointments Group’ deem a poor, ignorant, hot-headed fishermen to be “ready now” to lead the worldwide Church of Christ?