WHEN it comes to having vision for shaping the Church in the
21st century, there is often lively debate on what models of
secular organisation might be followed. The Church often supposes
that by discerning the kinds of secular leadership that seem to
work, and identifying which organisations have been successful, it
might benefit in turn.
One champion of such thinking is Rick Warren. His book The
Purpose-Driven Church (Zondervan, 1995) insights from
motivational tools, organisational theory, and marketing
strategies. But this approach to mission opens up much larger
theological debates - for instance, about whether the gospel
supports any organisational strategy that produces numerical
The desire for success is understandable, of course. Yet, in
trying to sate such hunger so readily, we may be robbing ourselves
of the opportunity to ponder some deeper issues in the Church.
SUPPOSE the Church were more like an institution, and less like an
organisation: understanding the difference is vital for leadership
Organisations are bodies that are free to adapt their focus in
order to flourish. Nokia, for example, is a Finnish company that
makes mobile phones, but it began its life in the 19th century
trading in rubber. In terms of identity, Nokia is what the theorist
Philip Selznick (1919-2010) would identify as an organisation. It
exists to succeed and make money. Mobile phones are a means to that
end, as rubber was earlier. Nokia is free to change its focus at
any time, so long as that turns a profit and pleases its
Institutions have different purposes. They exist to propagate
their values from one generation to the next. Crucially, Selznick
observes, good institutions should do this independent of the
popularity of those values.
The Church is clearly more like an institution than an
organisation. It embodies the life of Jesus, in times of penury and
persecution, as well as in stability or revival. What it cannot do
is to try to change its focus. It risks losing its identity if it
does. This is quite an issue for an institution such as the Church,
where our primary defining identity is as the Body of Christ.
So, relaunching is fine for organisations that are seeking to
maintain a customer base and expand into new markets. In contrast,
however, such activity can be unsettling for institutions, and can
result in a weariness of initiatives. Furthermore, in constantly
trying to remind the public of their identity and purpose,
institutions can risk looking desperate, undermining rather than
ORGANISATIONS look outwards in their restless search for success,
but they also look inwards, scrutinising for productivity.
Management comes to the fore here; but it is usually the servant of
Typically, the character of managerialism is absorbed with
reviews, strategies, and the adoption of SMART(er) criteria (that
is: reviewing performance in relation to goals that are specific,
measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound - with the
addition of evaluation and re-evaluation in recent literature).
The Church, like education and health care, has begun to adopt
some of this thinking. Yet none of this resolves the ambiguous
nature of ministry: describing it, defining it, and then trying to
assess its impact remains tricky. Apparent success cannot be
confused with faithfulness. Clear aims, objectives, and outcomes -
no matter how appealing - are not to be confused with wisdom.
In The Fate of the Anglican Clergy: A sociological
study (Routledge, 1979) Robert Towler and Anthony Coxon
understand something of the ambiguity of the ministerial role for
modern clerics. Their articulation of the issues of identity and
function remain relevant. They describe ministry not as work, a
profession, or as labour - but as an "occupation".
It is a rather quaint word; yet an "occupation" is something
that consumes time, energy, and lives, but is not paid or
recognised as "work" in the way that the secular world understands
work. This, they argue, makes ministry increasingly uncommon - a
sphere of activity where remuneration is no longer linked to the
value of the endeavour - either for practitioners or for the public
at large. They liken ministers to poets, artists, or
It is hard for the authors to say how time is spent, to what
end, and whether efforts are ever "measurable" or "valuable" - much
like ministry. It is more difficult to calculate its value in
today's world, even though public and representative functions
(such as weddings and funerals) remain visible, symbolic, and
To be sure, better organisation is important for mission and
ministry. But perhaps more could be said for the concept of
"occupation" in relation to ministry rather than its being "work".
Members of the clergy are to be occupied with God, and then to be
preoccupied with God's concerns: those people and places that are
given into our care; to dwell among, care for, and love those
people and places - as Christ himself "occupied" the world.
LEADERSHIP, it is often said, is doing the right thing, and
management is about doing things right. The Church needs both, of
course. But it is perhaps fair to say that the Church of the
post-war years has moved from being over-led and under-managed to
being over-bureaucratised and under-led.
Kenneth Thompson addresses this in Bureaucracy and Church
Reform: The organizational response of the Church of England to
social change, 1880-1965 (OUP, 1970). His core thesis
is that our post-war internal organisational reforms have been
driven by two main external forces.
The first, which affected the Church in the late-19th and
early-20th centuries, was the differentiation of institutions as
they became more specialised in their functions. The Church, for
example, ceased to run adoption services in the way that it once
did - or hospitals or universities.
The second reform to affect the Church was an increased emphasis
on rationality, accountability, and productivity - such that we are
increasingly preoccupied with immediate, empirical, and pragmatic
ends. We try to justify our value by measuring success, and then by
driving that success by the criteria that we chose to measure it
Yet what is often neglected by focusing on the measurable are
more nebulous and extensive forms of engagement in public ministry.
Prophetic engagement with issues of justice and peace, for example,
may suffer: this can be time-consuming, and may not yield any
immediate "measurable results". Pastoral work, too, is hard to
quantify. In all of this, the organisational-managerial star tends
to rise, while that of the institutional-leadership wanes.
There are some ironies here. Bureaucracies and ideologies that
support the legitimisation of the organisational-managerial quickly
sprout into being. This often means that institutions shift to
becoming smaller, rationalised organisations.
THE movement from the leadership of institutions to the management
of organisations follows, even though the rhetoric of leadership
remains. Indeed, "leadership-speak" often becomes more prevalent at
this point. This reflects our wider cultural faddishness.
The heart of the matter is this. By treating the Church as an
organisation, we may not be turning the Church into a more
efficient, productive body. Rather, we may be slowly encumbering
our clergy and churches with layers of administration and
bureaucratic processes, built around the quantification of
expectations, and their eventual concretisation. Put sharply, one's
value to the organisation increasingly lies in being able to
demonstrate measurable growth.
For most of the clergy, however, this tends only to produce
slowly rising levels of anxiety and disenchantment. Ironically,
this causes the Church to search for even stronger forms of
management, together with rationalisation and efficiencies that
will deliver a reinvigorated popularity and measurable growth.
Thus, as the grip of "emergent ecclesiocracy" increases (a
phrase coined by the Revd Jonathan Kimber, Vicar of St Benedict's,
Northampton), our grasp of ecclesiology and public theology
We may be running serious risks in talking up the prospects for
growth and management, while on the ground the situation is one of
escalating complex patterns of churchgoing, increasingly stretched
resources, fewer stipendiary ministers, and ever-greater pressures
on clergy and churches.
This is potentially serious for our national mission. As
research by Professor Linda Woodhead has suggested recently, the
vast majority of the population remain well-disposed to the Church
of England (Comment, 26 April). What puts them off, however, is too
much talk from inside the Church of money, management, and
The Church, in continuing to stress these concerns, may imagine
that it is being active. But these focuses represent reactive
responses, which can occlude the deeper character of the Church.
Correspondingly, it is rare to see an advertisement at the back of
this newspaper seeking a vicar who will lead a church into deeper
theological learning, or open up the riches of contemplative prayer
to the wider parish. Our absorption with management and growth
dominates our selection processes, from top to bottom.
I BELIEVE that our churches need managing, reorganising, and
growth - more than ever. The Church is a broad, deep, dense
institution that needs some organisation. But it is not a flagging
organisation in search of a new, more appealing identity. It is the
Body of Christ.
Conceivably, we may now need some deeper debates about reforms
that correlate to the nature of our life as a Church. Numerical
growth or the focusing of resources are fine goals. But, if our
vocation is to live and share God's love and justice - his heart,
hands, and mind for humanity and creation - then it will always be
hard to measure and manage our ministries, let alone to offer
conjectures on their apparent usefulness.
So perhaps deep spiritual discernment, and not a growing range
of forms of quantification, should be the heart of the Church's
ministry. This is partly because, as one hymn-writer put it 150
years ago, "the love of God is broader than the measure of man's
Canon Martyn Percy is Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon,
and Professor of Theological Education, at King's College,