TO MANY Anglicans, Lord Green’s 2014 report, Talent Management for Future Leaders, was couched in an alien language from the Evangelical and business worlds. It made too little effort at translation, but much of the criticism that it aroused was hopelessly oblivious of realities present and historical.
Did the Church of England not already have a “talent pool”, consisting of those on whom episcopal patronage has bestowed experience that qualifies them for preferment? Should a Church take no action to prepare those likely to hold senior appointments for the complexity that these involve? Will a managed, transparent system that must include clergy from minority groups not be preferable to the haphazard and exclusive nepotism that too often characterised what went before?
This Faith and Order Commission report, published with supporting essays, is a high-quality resource for better-informed reflection and debate on senior church leadership.
Its deep engagement with scripture is exemplary. The New Testament’s conscious avoidance of the most obvious words for “leader” is significant, but both word and concept are present. Writers adopted and adapted secular models, but were well aware of the dangers involved. Early Christian history is one of continual adaptation in the light of changing circumstances, involving negotiation between what is given and what is found in a particular setting.
Christians “sought to do justice to these different situations (locality) while remaining recognisable to those in other locales (catholicity) and faithful to what they had inherited (apostolicity) — and that required of them creative and flexible improvisation”. This pithy summary of each local Church’s task in balancing inculturation with faithfulness is of much wider application. A study of how to judge whether improvisation is faithfully Catholic and apostolic would be a helpful sequel.
The historical survey is similarly illuminating. It was in the 19th century that bishops became administrators and — despite traditional “paraphernalia” — much like leaders of voluntary organisations.
The Christian businesspeople who often lead modern Evangelical movements are “more at home with the language and operating methods of business ‘leadership’”, and they sometimes display “a relatively uncritical acceptance of secular hierarchy and power” — as “worldly” medieval bishops did. Suggestions that current developments conflict with a single, stable “inherited” model of leadership, or of “a simple opposition between Christian and secular ideas of leadership”, are unsustainable.
For the future, the report offers calm, spiritual wisdom. It points out that successful musical improvisation “depends on a deep training
in the tradition”. Far from hinder-ing innovation, immersion in tradition is necessary if it is to succeed.
Perhaps the problem with many of the Church of England’s new cadre of leaders is not their willingness to innovate, but their unfamiliarity with the tradition that should resource their improvisation.
Dr Colin Podmore is the Director of Forward in Faith.
Faithful Improvisation? Theological reflections on church leadership
Loveday Alexander and Mike Higton, editors
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