WHEN Prebendary the Lord Green was commissioned to come up with an overhaul of the way bishops, deans, and other senior clerics received additional training in the Church of England, he may not have realised that it would quickly become the most contentious part of the Renewal and Reform programme.
Causing a furore when it was leaked to the Church Times in December 2014 (News, 12 December 2014), one month before the rest of the initial Renewal and Reform reports were published, Talent Management for Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A New Approach — more commonly known as the Green report — continued to get a mixed press.
It proposed creating an entirely new programme of residential training courses on leadership and management strategy for bishops and deans, to be taught by business professors from the University of Cambridge and elsewhere. But it also proposed a “talent pool” — later renamed the Strategic Leadership Development Programme or “Learning Community” — of priests who were expected to receive such preferment in the future.
Those selected to join the Community would also be sent on training weekends over the course of five years in the hope that by the time they were chosen to join the College of Bishops or serve as a cathedral dean they would already be prepared.
After a first wave of training was complete, the programme was to be expanded beyond bishops, deans, and the Learning Community to also include archdeacons, incumbents of large churches, and the heads of mission societies.
CRITICS of the report objected to its language and how it spoke of “talent management”, “alumni networks”, and “senior leadership development”.
Others accused it of lacking any theological depth and instead being an uncritical swallowing of secular management jargon.
Still more decried the way in which it seemed to have been prepared in secret, and, because the £2.4 million needed to launch the project came directly from the Church Commissioners, did not seek or require the approval of the General Synod.
Despite the criticism, the Archbishops pushed on, and, while protests against the proposals continued, the training went ahead.
So far, separate groups of diocesan bishops, suffragan bishops, cathedral deans, and the first two cohorts of the Learning Community have all begun the new programmes.
By the end of this year, about 70 per cent of the bishops in the C of E will have taken part in the training: 18 suffragans have finished, and a further 30 will begin in December, while 27 diocesans are two-thirds of the way through.
Sixteen deans and ten leaders of the “greater churches” attended the first series of sessions in 2015, and a further 20 joined in 2016.
Some 162 clergy have also taken part in the discernment process to join the Learning Community, 119 going on to participate in the training. The first module was delivered in 2015, and, by the end of the 2016, a further four will have been taught.
In total, the project has spent under its budget of £2.4 million for the first three years (2014 to 2017) by about £100,000.
Smaller projects to boost the representation of ethnic minorities, women, traditional Catholics, and conservative Evangelicals have also been set up or folded into the training programme.
Bishops, deans, archdeacons, and priests from each cohort have spoken to the Church Times about their experience as pathfinders and trailblazers for the new project.
THE bishops’ training has been given a ringing endorsement: “It was very high-level, quality input,” the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, said. “I think it’s absolutely first-class.
“Some of the best training I have been on,” the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, agreed.
“All the speakers were of a very high standard. I would rate every single one,” the Bishop of Ludlow, the Rt Revd Alistair Magowan, said.
Beyond the praise, the Bishops spoke of a course that combined a series of lectures, workshops, speeches, and discussions.
The sessions were led by specialists from the world of business, as well as leaders in other fields such as chief constables, politicians, and sociologists.
The Green report emphasised that the training must be from external providers, not theological colleges or anyone inside the Church, and the Bishops said that this had been helpful.
“We have had some of the top theorists in management and leadership in the world,” Dr Innes said. For him, one of the best sessions had been run by someone who focused on comparing evolutionary biology with the world of finance.
Bishop Thornton, who helped draw up the plans as part of Lord Green’s review group and now chairs the Development and Appointments Group, which is implementing the programme, said that the teachers and lecturers had opened their eyes to understanding everything from strategy and organisational structure to teamwork.
“From the beginning, we knew that what we wanted to do was to disrupt people in their thinking, and that is certainly what we have done,” he said. It would be “strange”, he suggested, of the Church to refuse to engage with some of the latest thinking on leadership around the world.
Bishop Magowan said that his cohort had engaged in a dialogue with the secular teaching they were receiving. “Was it academic theology? The answer is no. Is it simply what you might do in a business school? The answer is no. I think it was probably a two-way learning process.”
Dr Innes agreed: at every session, he and his colleagues had questioned how it interacted with the Church. But, ultimately, “we weren’t wanting just more church input, but what is the best of the outside world.”
When asked what insights he had already taken back to his diocese, Bishop Thornton said that had begun to ask himself constantly whether he was “adding value” or “destroying value” in what he did.
Some of the discussion had been personally challenging, he said. He mentioned a session in which they talked about what they found difficult about one another.
Dr Innes said that for him, a relatively new bishop, the training had been foundational. He already had a vision for his ministry, but could now put some flesh on the bones of “how I do bishoping”. What he had taken away from the first two weekends was the importance of what the episcopate did: “The C of E is on our watch, and we should take that responsibility seriously and be courageous.”
All three bishops also said that simply gathering bishops into one place for a long weekend had been hugely valuable. It had created a wonderful esprit de corps, Bishop Magowan said.
Bishop Thornton recalled how one of his fellow diocesans had said that it was probably the first time in 20 years that he had been with so many other bishops with time to reflect on their ministry and its “particular pressures”.
Dr Innes agreed: “People, and myself, have this vision of the House of Bishops as being a dysfunctional organisation with large egos. It could hardly be more different. This is one of the most functional clergy groups I have ever been in.”
DEANS who had attended the first two modules of their training, which has been called a “mini-MBA”, have given similarly high praise.
The Dean of Durham, the Very Revd Andrew Tremlett, said that after each session he went away thinking “That’s very useful.”
The Dean of Chelmsford, the Very Revd Nicholas Henshall, agreed. “I have been 29 years in this business and been exposed to training and development of different quality. These are the best I have had,” he said.
Besides teaching on strategy and leadership, the Deans’ course also focused on more technical skills, such as understanding the finances of a cathedral, and how to create a marketing strategy.
Deans used to be asked to run what were medium-sized enterprises with a global reach without any resources and training, Dean Tremlett remarked.
Dean Henshall agreed: proper, detailed training needed to become the “life-breath” of the Church, and a way in which it “honoured its ministers”. He also had no qualms about taking lessons from outsiders or the business world.
“We know, as Anglicans, we don’t have all the wisdom, and the world has a lot to teach us,” he said. Yes, deans were not simply secular managers, but “Why as deans would we want to be ignorant?” he asked.
Those running the mini-MBA had been open about their lack of theological expertise, Dean Tremlett said, but this had not perturbed him. Instead, he had taken away some “useful tools” for his ministry, most notably how to understand a balance sheet to see long-term trends.
For Dean Henshall, as well as the “excellent” teaching on how to read the accounts, the best session had been on tourism. If you replaced the word “tourism” with “evangelism”, it could have been a talk on outreach at any Christian conference, he said. “He was talking our language deeply without knowing it.”
While both deans were emphatic in their praise of the courses, they still saw room for improvement.
At first, the weekends had not included any time for prayer, which the first cohort of deans strongly objected to until the agenda was altered to include morning and evening prayer.
Nevertheless, it had been an essential grounding in the basic skills required to run a cathedral, the pair agreed. “The Green report is actually rather a modest thing,” Dean Henshall said. It didn’t expect deans to become management gurus, but to be in “critical dialogue” with some of the key skills for running an institution of the size and complexity of a cathedral.
In fact, all sorts of priests needed this kind of teaching, he suggested. He recalled how, when he had been a parish priest in Newcastle diocese, he had been the city’s largest voluntary-sector employer.
WHILE existing bishops and deans were being sent away on their weekend courses, a different set of clergy have been taking their first steps towards joining them. The Learning Community has taken in two cohorts so far, and another two are planned by 2019.
Each diocese has been invited to nominate up to three priests to apply to join the Community. Then, each nominee has to fill in an application form and undergo testing, including psychometric evaluation. Finally, successful applicants must attend an interview with a bishop, other clerics, and lay people.
For those who get through this process, a series of residential weekend training sessions awaits. Canon Rosemarie Mallett, a vicar in South London and member of the General Synod, admitted that talk of “talent pools” and the “brightest and the best” had made her approach the Learning Community with some trepidation.
“It felt a bit weird — like you were taken into some kind of MI6 activity where you couldn’t say what you were doing to your colleagues because it might build some expectations like you’re leaving,” she explained. “It was a bit cloak-and-dagger.”
But once those early hurdles were surmounted, she said that she had found the programme enriching and helpful. Having teaching from national and even international experts had been refreshing, and, even though it was coming from the world of business, often it was still useful, she said.
This sentiment was echoed by the Archdeacon of Lancaster, the Ven. Michael Everitt, who was also among the early cohort in the Community. “It is a tremendous privilege to sit at the feet of those gifted leaders and teachers and also to sit with the people who are becoming friends.”
He likened the experience to stereo sound versus mono sound: “If you do anything just concentrating on theology, you might get a tremendous sound but you lose a lot of depth. Having the insights from other areas, whether it is business structures, sociology, history, psychology, as well as theology, can only add.”
Both emphasised how helpful spending time in the melting-pot of clergy in the Community had been. Despite fears that the programme had been set up to fast-track “young, thrusting alpha males to take over from a particular tradition”, that had not been the case, Canon Mallett said.
Nevertheless, the group had seemed to be lacking in women and members of ethnic minorities, she reported; but she believed that this was being addressed for future cohorts.
FIGURES released by the C of E show that in the first cohort, 60 men and 19 women applied to join, of which 43 men and 12 women were successful — meaning that 78 per cent of the group were men.
The second cohort was nearer to gender parity: 39 men and 25 women (61 per cent male) took part. The average age of both cohorts was around 45. Ten per cent were from an ethnic-minority background.
The data also shows that most traditions in the Church have found some representation in the Learning Community: of both cohorts, 30 per cent describe themselves as Open Evangelicals, 24 per cent say they are Modern Catholics, 15 per cent claim a “Central” tradition, and14 per cent “Other”. Ten per cent are Charismatic and seven per cent are either conservative Evangelicals or traditional Catholics.
Besides realising that “leadership” did not have to be a dirty word in the Church, Canon Mallett emphasised that taking part in the programme had encouraged her to believe in herself.
“I have found I am much more confident to reflect more widely [with my head] above the parapet,” she said. “I do feel like I will be at some level of leadership, because clearly I have got the capacity; otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”
For Archdeacon Everitt the future was less clear, as many of those in the Learning Community will be expected to become archdeacons, a post that he has already held for five years. Nevertheless, he said that he was “humbled” to be given the training.
As someone from a comprehensive school, he said, he lacked the connections in the “Establishment” to navigate the often murky preferment system that the C of E used to rely on for appointments. This new and more open process should build greater diversity into the upper echelons of the Church, he suggested.
ARE the critics of the Green report appeased by this chorus of affirmation from the first cohort? Most, it would seem, are not.
Canon Jane Charman, the director of learning for discipleship and ministry in the diocese of Salisbury, led much of the opposition to the report in the General Synod.
Last week, she said that the participants in the training were bound to praise the sessions: “It’s very flattering to be singled out in this way, and they are doing a premium piece of training for free,” she said. “The deeper question is: how is this serving the Church?”
Spending £2.3 million on a few hundred people was a disproportionate use of money, she maintained. In Salisbury, the diocese aimed not to select a handful of the brightest and best, but to invest in everyone.
That said, it was good that outside experts were being brought it in, as it was unquestionable that the Church had much to learn from other walks of life, she said.
But to other critics, such as the Rector of Winslow, the Revd Andrew Lightbown, discovering in greater detail what the training was had only confirmed his original reservations.
“Having taught on an MBA, it’s not immediately apparent to me that an MBA syllabus speaks loudly and clearly into the sort of leadership we have in the Church,” he said. Businesses ultimately sought to maximise a return, normally profit, to outside stakeholders; the Church was totally different.
This critique was echoed by the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, who instigated much of the criticism of the Green report last year.
He said that even public-sector leaders such as police chief constables were exercising leadership very differently from bishops or deans. “The money could have been better spent if the [Green] group had spent time considering the nature of ecclesial leadership or the nature of the Church. That’s the conversation to have.”
He was encouraged that the participants had been enjoying their training, but this was to be expected. “It’s unsurprising: [the speakers] are bound to be interesting; but is it a good use of money? No.”
Mr Lightbown, who had taught on MBA courses before his ordination, was scathing in his assessment of what the “management sciences” had to teach the Church. “Business models have not got a track record of promoting success over the long term,” he said.
The Church was in danger of throwing away its own insight, which, ironically, many businesses were now turning to instead of conventional management theories, he suggested. For instance, the leadership of John Lewis had recently been taught about the Rule of St Benedict as a better model of leadership.
IT is clear that the Archbishops and others who have steered the training and development project from its inception will be heartened by the almost universal praise from those who have taken part.
By next year, about two-thirds of the bishops and almost all of the deans in the C of E will have taken part in the training programme, with hundreds of other clergy who are expected to take up more senior positions over the next decade.
In short, within six months or so, almost all the clerics who are currently running the Church and those who will take over in the future will have been trained in a new way of thinking about leadership.
What impact will this have on the C of E? For some of the Green report’s trenchant opponents, disaster beckons.
Dean Percy believes that an increasing reliance on external business-focused teaching will lead the Church down a road to “managerial populism”. For Canon Charman, the very act of creating a talent pool in the Learning Community is “sub-Christian”.
“Nobody is saying we shouldn’t invest in leadership development. Neither is anyone saying that the training being delivered is not good training. But the underlying question is: is this how we think of ourselves?” she asked. “What does discipleship and vocation mean in the Church? I don’t think it has a robust underpinning theology.”
This is the heart of the disagreements between critics and participants. Critics argue that the Church is a fundamentally different organisation from anything addressed by conventional management and leadership training.
But to the bishops, deans, and clergy — and clearly those who have fashioned the training programmes — the Church is not so unlike a commercial company and has much to learn from the business world.
“I can learn good insights from someone who manages a John Lewis,” Dean Henshall said. “I always work on the principle that you can learn all sorts of tricks from other people.”
Cathedrals were in some senses “small-to-medium-sized enterprises”, Dean Tremlett argued, and as such could benefit from the type of teaching found on MBAs.
Canon Mallett agreed: “A parish is a small-to-medium enterprise as well. You have to have the mindset that these are the elements that go into running any large institution, but then take them into an institution called Church.”
Beyond the nature of the Church, the disagreement also extends to what it means to be a leader. For Dean Percy, the seeds of how to lead as a senior cleric are sown during formation and ordination.
The skills that senior leaders in the C of E need are “essentially the same” as those required by any parish priest, he argues. “There is a fundamental foundation of skills and virtues and charisms — listening attentively, empathy and compassion, noticing the detail. . .”
You can outsource the necessary financial or marketing skills to experts, but a bishop or dean cannot outsource pastoral care. “A bishop who’s very good at the books but not people is a useless bishop,” he said.
Bishop Thornton disagrees, naturally enough. “If we don’t put proper resources into those who are leading our organisations then they will lag behind,” he said. These new resources were not a one-off either, as about £785,000 was committed in the budget for each year after 2017 to continue the programme. “My job is not to have another 20-year gap before we have to do a massive catch-up again,” Bishop Thornton concluded.
Dr Innes could not see how his episcopal colleagues had managed without such teaching in the past. “I feel deeply privileged to be given it, because I know how expensive this is. I regularly toast the Church Commissioners and their investment performance because it enables them to be able to sponsor this kind of learning.
“Being a diocesan bishop is a tough job, and we need the best kind of education. One can only regret it hasn’t been available before.”