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Why the worry about ministering together?

01 August 2014

Some clergy are too fearful of collaborative ways of working, says Brian Cranwell. The Church needs to use the assets it already has

THE pressure to move towards a more collaborative ministry is more than a managerial flavour of the month: changes in parish structures now make it an essential way of working. Many Anglican clerics now find themselves in charge of more than one parish, working with a lay and ordained ministry team that expects to share in decision-making - but in a way that even experienced incumbents have not encountered before.

My experience in training clergy has often revealed suspicion about managing collaboratively and about learning from models in industry, but such approaches are widely accepted and familiar to those with whom the clergy need to work. They reflect changing expectations both in the Church and in our culture.

The number of non-stipendiary or self-supporting ministers (SSMs or NSMs) has increased from 1800 to nearly 3000 since 1999. There are also some 10,000 Readers - an increase of nearly 1000 in the same period; their training is now moderated nationally, and many take theology degrees. The training for pastoral assistants runs for two or three years. Every year, some 300 clergy retire, many of whom want to play some part in parish life.

Each of these groups now seems to have increasing expectations of a deeper level of involvement in a more collaborative approach to ministry. 

AS THE the Bishop of Tewkesbury, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, argues in his booklet Mission Partnerships (Grove Pastoral, 2013), if our Lord could say "I can do nothing on my own" (John 5.30), partnership must be an essential ingredient of both spiritual formation and training for ministry.

There are a fund of skills and opportunities to develop the spiritual gifts that St Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12. Less attention, however, has been given to the leadership that is needed to enable these gifts to flourish.

For those who have been in parish ministry for many years, the change can appear threatening. SSMs or Readers may be better than the incumbent at preaching and at drawing parallels with the people with whom they are involved all week, or they may have gifts of prophecy or healing. Many will also have received training in verbal and written communications - skills not given priority in clergy training.

SSMs have experienced problems when their skills have not been used effectively, as the Revd Dr Teresa Morgan has noted (Comment, 1 February 2013). Similarly, the improved training for lay ministries can raise awareness of their being undervalued.

The confidence engendered by their training, and the experience of work that ministers (lay and ordained) bring to a parish team, mean that they may not be happy with the idea of simply following directions from an incumbent. They will usually be familiar with decisions that are made in a more collegiate fashion. This can be hard for incumbents to cope with.

I heard an incumbent of some 25 years' experience say at a deanery consultation recently: "Bishop, you talked about the importance of teamwork, but I have had no training in this." Incumbents who are not used to having their methods questioned may find such approaches irritating - even threatening - but, for many SSMs and Readers, these are normal ways of working.

Congregations can also see such changes as alarming. Some may classify the priest as idle, because lay people now do things that they have always expected of the incumbent. Where incumbents have several parishes, each may feel that the others receive more than their fair share of attention, especially when their vicarage is unoccupied. In new formations in urban areas, where people might not be familiar with split responsibility, these resentments can also be strong. 

THE question is where such leadership training is to come from. Many of those who found themselves in parish groupings 20 or 30 years ago have not experienced models on which they can build.

In the past, team rectors were appointed on the basis of age and years in ministry, not on management experience. They were supposed to manage two or three team vicars in their team, but, with no training, they fell back on treating them like assistant curates. This is an observation I have heard from several people, including bishops.

There are few people who are able to provide team-development training in dioceses. One of the resources for church trainers to learn from business, which existed through the Regional Church Training Groups, was abolished by the Board of Education in the 1980s, as a way of cutting costs.

One rector - a team-leader for nearly 15 years - told me that his teamwork abilities derived from his time in industry: he had had no support in this area from the Church. There are many in the same situation.


As I have already mentioned, when giving management training for clergy, hands are often raised in holier-than-thou horror at the thought of such evil influences as business using the Church. So it might surprise some to know that some of the most successful examples of collaborative leadership used in business have a distinctively Christian provenance.

When the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to America, their aim was to help establish the Kingdom of heaven on earth. They rejected the traditional class leadership of British society: from the outset, the emphasis was on the importance of mechanical and managerial skills, and a bottom-up approach.

Over the following centuries, such ideas were carried through to the way that many businesses were run in the United States. By the 1950s, however, such notions as "classical management" and the figure of the chief executive officer (someone with a higher degree, but no hands-on experience) brought in a top-down approach. This led to disastrous results for many US corporations.

Paradoxically, it was Americans who took the collaborative model of leadership (developed by Dr Edward Deming, a statistician) to Japan, to help reconstruction after the Second World War, and this enabled Japan to become dominant in world trade.

Many of the attachments in cars today (such as rain-activated windscreen wipers, and automatic safety locks) came from a shop-floor apprentice or engineer saying "Why not?", and being encouraged to look for improvement at every turn. This is now normal practice in many successful British companies, such as Rolls-Royce, where the newest apprentice can make a suggestion for the production of a jet engine. 

Before he was Archbishop, Justin Welby drew a number of parallels between business practice and the Church. Training is available in those aspects that are appropriate and useful for Christians. For example, a recent paper from the East Midlands Modem Group, Metanoia and Transformation: Holy power in godly organisation with servant leaders explores the interplay between Deming's work and the biblical tradition (www.modem-uk.org/Other_pubs.html).

Other resources are available, too. A number are in education section of the C of E website ( www.churchofengland.org/education/adult-education-lay-discipleship-and-shared-ministry.aspx). One of these, for example, is a paper by the National Adviser for Lay Discipleship and Shared Ministry, Joanna Cox, on the theological and practical justifications for collaborative ministry, with recommendations on training.

The Church Pastoral Aid Society will deliver team training, as part of diocesan CME programmes, or by working with local groups. There are other groups that specialise in church work, such as 3D Coaching (www.3dcoaching.com). There are also a number of Christians in business schools, and in industry more widely, who are often only too eager to assist. They form a tremendous but neglected asset.

It is vital that the Church engage with this question. Unless such a collaborative culture can be established, people with skills will continue to be under-used, to the detriment of all. 

The Revd Brian Cranwell is a former management consultant, and the author of From the Diaries of an Urban Rev: Faith and functions, vicarages and vandalism (New Generation Publishing, 2013). among other books.

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