THE idea that future leaders of the Church of England should be
talent-spotted and groomed came in for sustained criticism at a
symposium in Oxford last Friday.
The title of the symposium was "Apostolic Leadership for an
Apostolic Church". It had been convened by the Dean of Christ
Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, in response
to the "literally hundreds" of letters and emails he had received
after his critique of the Green report, Talent Management for
Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A
new approach, was published in the Church
Times (Comment, 12
The report, composed by a group chaired by the former chairman
of HSBC, Lord Green, set up MBA-style training for bishops and
deans, and proposed the establishment of a small talent-pool for
those deemed to be future leaders.
His correspondents, Dean Percy said, felt bereft, because of the
lack of consultation, as though the head said to the rest of the
limbs, "We don't need you." The method and process of enforcing the
proposed changes had produced mistrust and demoralisation, he
The director of learning for discipleship and ministry in
Salisbury diocese, Canon Jane Charman, agreed that there was a
general unease across the Church. "I think it's highly significant
that the Church has such an instinct."
The Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, the Revd Dr
Sarah Coakley, identified three areas of concern triggered by both
the Green report and one of its sister reports, Resourcing
Ministerial Education (News, 23
The three areas were: the lack of accountability behind the
gestation and implementation of the Green report; the fact (she
said) that Lord Green had adopted a business model that was out of
date and discredited; and the questions raised by the two reports
about the theology of ministerial formation.
Two speakers in particular criticised the business model
proposed in the Green report, leading to a "mini-MBA"-style
training for bishops and deans in partnership with a business
school, at a cost of £2 million.
The author of Theonomics, the Revd Andrew Lightbown,
who lectured in a business school for five years before being
ordained, said: "There's no such thing as a 'mini-MBA," and,
furthermore, MBAs had been devised to teach the functions of
business. He quoted Henry Mintzberg: "Considered as education for
management, MBA programs train the wrong people in the wrong ways
with the wrong consequences."
The Green report was "shot through with one big and unchallenged
assumption", he said, "[that] leaders can be readily identified, in
the same way that success can be planned for. . . It's a fertile
fallacy held as a matter of faith by those who have arrived at the
top - one that erases the role of serendipity or Providence."
The Professor of Management at Cass Business School, Dr David
Sims, warned against business-school short courses. They were often
designed for executives with big egos, he said, who were given a
number of case studies to make them feel busy, and plenty of
positive feedback to make them feel important. He was sceptical
about the value of a mini programme: "You do not, by scaling down
an elephant, get a working mouse."
Not everyone was critical. The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd
Adrian Dorber, said that the intention was to encourage talent and
give people tools to deal with a world that was litigious and
regulatory. And the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said that
the present system was "a shambles".
"The rot set in", he said, when the Church moved to competitive
interviews for clerical posts. The virtue of the talent pool was
that it represented a move back towards episcopal patronage, and
away from self-promotion.
The Bishop of Southampton, Dr Jonathan Frost, reported that the
new process was "bringing people to the table who weren't there
Professor Coakley, however, criticised the fundamental
understanding of the Green report: "The very notion of 'leadership'
is flawed when applied to the theological realm." And she described
the idea of a talent pool as "deeply undermining to classic
Canon Charman said that it would "fan the flames of envy and
Dr Inge contributed to a discussion about apostolic leadership,
where "apostolic" meant "to be sent". Thus, "Christian leadership
should always be seen through the lens of service."
The Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, said that
a Catholic understanding of ministry had "all but disappeared". He
was critical of the way that the Green report was looking for
leaders who could "reimagine and reconceive" ministry, "as if the
ordained ministry were something merely functional, plastic, and
adaptable. But we don't reimagine it: we inhabit it, and it forms
A distinction was made between training and formation. The
Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, said that, just as the Church
was looking to business schools for a lead, business schools were
looking to the church Fathers, such as St Benedict, who taught that
the whole community was the school for the Lord's service.
Formation happened within the gathered people of God. The idea of a
messianic leader was "utterly destructive".
Contributors spoke about the speed at which the Reform and
Renewal programme was being introduced. Canon Judith Maltby spoke
of an "urgency", and the Dean of Bristol, the Very Revd Dr David
Hoyle, detected "huge impatience".
Professor Coakley said that there was a "sense of panic" in the
hierarchy, although, given the number of clergy due to retire, the
number needed to evangelise the country, and the shortage of money,
"it is not an unreasonable panic."
The Dean of St Edmundsbury, the Very Revd Dr Frances Ward,
another of the day's organisers, talked of "anxiety" that seemed to
stem from a lack of confidence in God's grace.
The trouble with such pace was that it militated against
consultation, Dean Percy suggested. Dissent was unwelcome, he said,
because it slowed things down; what was needed was not destructive
consent, but, rather, loyal and constructive dissent as part of a
general conversation to strengthen the Church's efforts to reform
The Revd Dr Andrew Davison, Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and
Natural Sciences at Cambridge and the third of the day's
organisers, expressed a desire to be forward-looking and helpful.
They agreed about the ends, he said, but disagreed about the
More letters in response to the Reform and Renewal