The organisational dysfunction exposed by the Archbishop of
Canterbury's commissaries' interim report on the diocese of
Chichester is shocking. This case is focused on safeguarding
children and vulnerable adults, but in many ways it is an extreme
example of a wider problem in the Church: that of poor management
The "bad fruit" (Matthew 7.17) that is exposed has not emerged
from nowhere. It grows in dysfunctional settings, where clear
expectations are not established, proper structures are not in
place, and where robust action is not taken against those who
"Management" is not a concept that sits well within the Church.
The phrase "managerialism" is used by many as code for all that the
Church does wrong. The clergy are called to be priests, pastors,
and preachers, not CEOs of mini-corporations.
Yet, over the past 20 years, in working for and with many
churches and Christian organisations, and being a member of three
different congregations, I have consistently seen the bitter cost
of poor staff management. Whether it is curates, youth workers,
choirmasters, administrators, caretakers, or others, time and again
I have seen the problems and sadness it causes.
Bad management can, of course, occur anywhere. But I think
that there are some common symptoms that are manifested in
Christian culture which are worth examining. It is common to find
the following factors:
• A reluctance to challenge poorly performing members of staff.
Too often, it is considered pastorally insensitive or even
"unchristian" to challenge unsatisfactory quality of work.
Unresolved issues can back up behind a poorly performing person
like heavy traffic, and cause immense frustration and anger among
• Staff who have accumulated dangerous levels of pent-up
frustration, which is unexpressed through fear of being disloyal.
Many Christians have a low guilt-threshold about complaining, and
see the situation as a cross to bear rather than something that can
• Confusion between pastoral care and professional
accountability. When the roles of minister and manager are
combined, where are the lines drawn?
• A reluctance to use the professional experience of experienced
managers in the congregation. A strange, unbiblical tendency to
draw a sacred/ secular divide can afflict both clergy and lay
people, who can be guilty of assuming that things are different in
a church, and will thus fail to engage with good employment
• The reluctance of clergy to accept their management position.
Many church leaders themselves feel unsupported, and have not had
adequate training. When you are not managed yourself, it can be
hard to give what you don't get.
It is obvious how destructive these forms of dysfunction are.
Nothing is more damaging to a church community, or stressful to a
leader, than a botched staffing situation. Such dysfunction
flourishes in contexts where these underlying factors exist.
An absence of structures. Too often, churches
do not have the basics in place, such as job descriptions,
contracts, and clear reporting processes. Too often, staff are not
given regular individual supervision by their manager. I met
someone recently in a church who, in 17 years, had never had any
form of appraisal. These kinds of structures should never be
dismissed as mere bureaucracy: they are vital to people's knowing
what their job is, having clear expectations, and being able to be
accountable to others.
Unassertive culture. Unassertiveness appears in
many guises. For those familiar with the 1980s video game, many
church leaders employ what could be called the "Pac-Man" approach
to people management: whenever you hit an obstacle, you simply
Being fearful of challenging others, such managers hope that
problems will go away without any action being required. Christian
culture can be good at dressing the wounds of dysfunction, and
pretending that things are all right, when they are not. "'Peace,
peace,' they say, when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6.14).
There is frequently a reluctance to confront issues and
challenge people who are not doing what is required. Many tread on
eggshells around their staff, fearing that the relationships are
too brittle to bear any form of criticism. In doing so, they
condemn their working relationships to remain immature and shallow,
untested by honest discussion. Good staff expect to be, and
appreciate being, challenged; it motivates them because it shows
that what they do matters.
Lack of integrated theology. There is a failure
to integrate good theology in people-management. Christians should
be aware more than anyone of human frailty. However strong people's
faith is, there should never be a blind optimism about their
ability to do a job.
The example for good management is the transformative blend of
grace and truth that Jesus embodied in his ministry - encouraging
and empowering his disciples, but being willing to challenge them
sharply when necessary. Instead, church culture too often displays
what Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously described as "cheap grace", which
skirts over the real issues, and is too keen to move ahead to a
false resolution that has not really addressed the issues. It seeks
a shallow conversion of the situation without any repentance.
Our fragile human nature provides the theological basis for
structures that help to build a culture of transparency, support,
and accountability. We need to recover the idea that good
management of people is a spiritual task. It holds a mirror up to
help assess how people are doing and what areas of their work need
attention. It should help reduce the negative effects of pride,
insecurity, and other self-regarding tendencies, and truly
encourage people in their work.
The good news is that becoming a better manager is possible, and
most of it is common sense. It is not a case of swallowing
management science uncritically, or bringing in inappropriate
bureaucracy, but it is about providing appropriate support, and
being accountable to everyone who is employed.
Here are some suggestions for ways forward:
1) Invest time in your team. If you cannot give an hour of
uninterrupted time to meet one-to-one with those whom you
line-manage every month, then you should expect problems.
2) Be honest about the current situation. Open things up with a
simple review process. Ask staff for their views: what do we do
well? What could be done better? What would you recommend? Remember
that reality is liberating. Unless there is honesty about the
situation, nothing will really change.
3) Make a plan to tackle the issues that are raised. Draft a
plan, and circulate it to everyone for comment. From the start,
this will build trust, honesty, and ownership in the process of
4) Get the right structures in place. Make sure you have
up-to-date job descriptions, and use a simple structure for
supervision and appraisals to ensure consistency and fairness.
5) Use the support available. The Church Urban Fund's "Just
Employment" is a useful resource, and the community mission team
from Livability runs events about these issues. Many dioceses have
sensible procedures that can be used or adapted. Also, many
congregations have experienced managers who could offer useful
6) Review and celebrate progress. Good systems help to tackle
issues and improve relationships. Build in a review period in
advance, and ask someone independent to come in to check on how
everything is going. Make a list of the good things that have
happened, and celebrate them. Use the areas where further
improvement is needed as the basis for the next plan of action.
We need to remember that the Church has within itself the
resources to transform the most difficult situations. We are people
of hope, and the cycle of poor management can be broken.
The first step is to be honest about the current situation of
our staff. The truth will set us free. Rather than the cheap grace
that sidelines the real questions and offers superficial answers,
we need to embody the costly grace that is at the heart of the
Christian faith. It is a grace that can help us handle reality, and
show us the path to transform the most difficult problems.
Jon Kuhrt works for the West London Mission, and blogs at resistanceandrenewal.net.