Do we have the right class of bishop?

by
07 February 2014

Leslie Francis has made a study of the psychological profile of Church of England bishops. He examines, from a scientific perspective, what the Church of England requires of bishops, and sees how the people match up

THE starting point from which to grasp the Church of England's understanding of episcopacy is the 1662 Ordinal for the consecration of bishops. Those called to the office of bishop are called to "Government in the Church", and "to the Administration". They are required to:

•instruct the people,

•banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine,

•maintain and set forward . . . quietness, love, and peace among all men; and such as be unquiet, disobedient, and criminous, within your diocese, correct and punish.

Psychological-type profiling recognises the qualities identified in 1662 as describing individuals who display the following preferences within the framework of psychological type theory: sensing (S), thinking (T), and judging (J).

At its core, psychological-type theory identifies four significant, deep-seated psychological differences. Each of these four differences is conceptualised as binary polar opposites (such as male and female).

The two orientations - extraversion (E), and introversion (I) - are concerned with the source of energy. Extraverts gain their energy from the outer world of people and things; introverts gain their energy from the inner world.

The two perceiving functions, sensing and intuition (N), are concerned with ways in which information is gathered: sensing types begin with the detailed information (facts), and build up to the bigger picture; intuitive types begin with the bigger picture (theories), and draw in the details.

The two judging functions, thinking and feeling (F), are concerned with ways in which information is evaluated. Thinking types base judgement in the head, using objective and logical analysis. Feeling types base judgement in the heart, giving weight to the human subjectivity within the situation.

The two attitudes, judging and perceiving (P), are concerned with the way in which the outer world is operated. Judging types employ their preferred judging function (thinking or feeling) in the outer world, and model a structured external environment; perceiving types employ their preferred perceiving function (sensing or intuition) in the outer world, and model a flexible external environment.

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Within this context the STJ profile provides a tight management structure in which precision is more important than vision, systems more important than people, and structure more important than flexibility.
 

THE more recent Ordinal for the consecration of bishops set out in Common Worship provides greater detail, and this detail reinforces the need for the STJ management style; but the added emphasis on the outgoing nature of the office promotes weighting in favour of extraverted leadership (ESTJ) over introverted leadership (INTJ).

The management style favouring J is understood by designations such as: principal ministers of word and sacrament; chief pastors.

The particular strengths of the SJ temperament are focused by requirements such as: be guardians of the faith; follow the rules; accept the discipline of this Church.

The particular strengths of the STJ style are drawn out by the following injunctions: offer to God your best powers of mind; teach the doctrine and refute error; confront injustice and work for righteousness.

The exclusive emphasis on the T disposition is, however, qualified in the Common Worship ordinal, and tempered by some appeal to F: be merciful but with firmness; minister discipline but with compassion; be gentle and merciful to those in need.

The distinctive strengths of the E disposition may be preferred to effect the following tasks: leading God's people in mission; knowing their people and being known by them; make your home a place of hospitality and welcome.
 

THE contemporary Ordinal of the Church of England describes an office that draws on the strengths of the ESTJ profile.

The Church of England currently selects its bishops from among its male priests. So it is worth asking how well represented the ESTJ profile is within that pool. In 2007, a group of us (with Bishop Michael Whinney) published a profile on 626 Church of England clergymen. Then, in 2010, we published a profile on another group of 622 clergy. Both profiles were uncannily similar.

While the desired profile for bishops is Extraversion, Sensing, and Thinking, the majority of clergymen are the opposite: introverts, intuitive types, and feeling types. Only in terms of Judging does the desired profile for bishops reflect the pool of clergymen.

In a paper published in the Journal of Beliefs and Values, in 2013, Bishop Michael Whinney, Dr Mandy Robbins, and I described our attempt to offer a psychological profile of Church of England bishops. We posted 258 questionnaires to serving and retired bishops, and got 168 back (a response rate of six per cent).

Our hypotheses were that the Church of England's selection process of bishops would be more likely to recognise the call of:

•extraverts;

•sensing types;

•thinking types;

•judging types.
 

Our first analysis compared all the bishops with our data on clergymen. Three of our hypotheses were confirmed. The proportions of extraverts, sensing types, and judging types were significantly higher among the sample of bishops than among the sample of clergymen. There was no significant difference, however, in the proportion of feeling types in the two groups.

Then we remembered that the Church of England has two primary types of bishops (diocesan and suffragan), and that different selection processes are involved. We divided our pool of bishops into two groups, and set these two types of bishops alongside the clergymen.

This time, the results were startling. Now we found that the poolof diocesan bishops contained a significantly higher proportion of thinking types than found among clergy in general. At the sametime, the pool of suffragan bishops contained a significantly lower proportion of thinking types than found among clergymen in gen-eral. This scientific study of episcopacy leads to three main conclusions, and a challenge.

The first conclusion concerns the power of psychological-type theory to illuminate the psychological characteristics associated with those called to the office of diocesan bishop. For this office, the Church is appointing clergymen who prefer extraversion, sensing, thinking, and judging. These are individuals noted for good skills in managing systems, and who will safeguard the traditions and structures. They may not be so good at handling people, envisioning innovative developments, or embracing change. They may represent "a steady pair of hands" rather than visionary leadership.

The second conclusion concerns the power of psychological-type theory to illuminate the difference in the psychological characteristics of suffragan bishop and diocesan bishop. The main difference is between appointing the system-centred head to the diocesan post, and the person-centred heart to the suffragan post.
 

IN MANAGEMENT terms, it makes sense to seek the different skills of complementary personality types within the episcopal office within a diocese. Unless this strategy is made explicit, however, the strategy may seem to be unfair to those suffragan bishops who see their appointment as a stepping stone to diocesan responsibilities, but then subsequently are never appointed as a diocesan bishop.

Made explicit, however, this becomes a structural opportunity within the Church, by emphasising a career trajectory for suffragan bishops outside the expectation of a diocesan post.

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The third conclusion concerns inviting the Church to consider accepting the routine application of psychological-type theory within its human resource strategy, and to do so for two reasons.

First, the present study (and the wider research literature on which it builds) makes it plain that certain aspects of personnel selection involve implicit criteria that map, in predictable ways, on to the constructs proposed by psychological-type theory. To acknowledge this practice would lead to the creation of greater transparency.

Second, if the Church were to have a clear view of the characteristics needed for effective ministry and mission at different levels of its structure, psychological assessments could aid in the selection process.

This study of the psychological-type profile of bishops may also challenge the Church of England to pose this question: "As the Church of England selects the next generation of diocesan bishops, will the Church be best served by continuing to place confidence in the STJ profile, with its strong emphasis on preserving the traditions of the organisation?"

Might the Church be better served (in some dioceses at least) by, say, the ENFP profile of bishops who are equipped to function confidently with public visibility, to shape a vision for the future, to motivate the hearts of men and women to catch that vision, and to respond to the changing contours of a vision-led Church?

Episcopal leadership of this nature would be neither scary nor unpredictable, if supported and complemented by an ISTJ/ESTJ team equipped to maintain the essential diocesan infrastructure, including diocesan secretary, archdeacon, cathedral dean, accountant, and chair of the board of finance.

The Revd Dr Leslie J. Francis is the Professor of Religions and Education at the University of Warwick, and Canon Treasurer and Canon Theologian at Bangor Cathedral.

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