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Are these the leaders that we really want?

12 December 2014

Martyn Percy voices his concerns about the Green report, which proposes a radical reform of training for senior church posts

THE Church of England is a complex and demanding institution, and good management, at all levels, will always be important. Some of the ideas listed in the training section of the Green report would seem to be sound. Managerial insights clearly have a place in the Church, and I readily affirm that.

There are serious problems with this report, however - not only within the text, but also the manner in which it was conceived.

In terms of process, there is a problem about the composition of the group who produced the report. Not one ordained woman was on the review group - and at a time when the Church is about to welcome women bishops. This is breathtaking. Nor was there a recognised theologian, or an academic specialising in continuing professional or vocational education. And, despite the fact that the report raises secular "MBA-style" programmes to a level of apotheosis, no recognised scholar with expertise in management or leadership from the academic world formed part of the core working party.

In the actual text of the Green report, there are a couple of serious issues to wrestle with. First, it 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. A total absence of ecclesiology flows from this. The report has little depth or immersion in educational literature.

A more notable absence is any self-awareness in the report: unaware of critiques of management, executive authority, and leadership which abound in academic literature, it is steeped in its own uncritical use of executive management-speak.

SECOND, a small "talent pool" of potential future leaders, we are told, will be selected and shaped by a handful of executive managers, and their selection and training facilitated by them. The criteria for joining the talent pool are controlled by these executive managers, who, in turn, have determined the vocation of the Church, its strategic priorities, its goals, and, to some extent, its identity. The report highlights "high", "outstanding", and "strong performance" as key indicators of leadership potential. An individual's potential will be measured against "growth factors".

Entry to this new talent pool will be strictly limited to about 150 people (so fewer than four potential leaders in each diocese), who have demonstrably built "healthy organisations, [are] leading for growth, contributing to the common good, [and] re-shaping ministry". (No prophets or pastors, then; and a final fond farewell to those tiresome theologians.)

Members of the talent pool will be allowed to be part of this elite group for up to five years. The report predicts that about 30 people will go into posts each year. "If there is a decline in measurable performance or potential, an individual will be asked to leave."

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.

ULTIMATELY, the report is coy about the problem it is actually trying to solve: ecclesiastical preferment. No definition of leadership is ever advanced in the text. The report shows no evidence of having solicited the views of the led. Or of former church leaders. The executive managers already know what they are looking for in preferment - folk like themselves.

There is no critique offered of the expectations placed on church leaders. The text focuses on training people for management tasks that the review group take as givens. No different models of leadership are discussed, such as servanthood, collaborative ministry, or pastoral care.

Although executive managers are patently not the leaders of the Church, they none the less aspire to be in charge. If this report is put into practice, they will be. A few administrative offices either side of the Thames, based in Church House, Westminster, or at the Wash House at Lambeth Palace - secretariats that once served the Church - will become sovereign.

THIS work on leadership in the Church really needs to begin in a different place with different people, starting with deep spiritual, intellectual, and theological interlocutors. They would produce something less presumptuous, with a clearer methodology and a cogent argument rather than a set of assertions.

Consultation on the report has been promised. But I have already received a summons, urging early booking on the new MBA-style programme for senior church leaders. Comments are welcome, it seems; but the agenda still forges ahead.

We appear to live in an age in which all bishops must now fit the "executive mission-minded-middle-manager" paradigm. Our executive managers who run the Church tell us that this is what is needed. Before ordination, Justin Welby was himself both a product and proponent of this executive-management culture. But, as an Archbishop, he should exercise far more caution when giving sweeping powers to unrepresentative task forces such as this.

Convening a group like this may initially look like appealing, dynamic leadership; but the tactic can quickly lead to demoralisation and alienation. For example, the task force reviewing ministerial education brazenly excluded any serving theological educators from the core group.

The Green report represents a straightforward bid for power from a small group of elite executive managers, who seek to reign over the selection, training, and oversight of church leadership. This needs challenging and resisting, and the proponents need reminding that their ministry is serving and supporting the Church, not leading and controlling it.

It is ironic that the Green report begins by quoting the Archbishop of Canterbury's first address to the General Synod in July 2013: "[We are] custodians of the gospel that transforms individuals and societies . . . called by God to respond radically and imaginatively to new contexts."

The inexorable rise in power of ecclesiastical executive-managers is just one of those challenging new contexts that the Church faces. It does indeed need some radical and imaginative responses. 

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy is Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

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