Getting the leverage into R&R

Who could argue with Renewal and Reform’s stated purpose: ‘the re-evangelisation of England?’

The Church ought to be passionately interested in evangelisation, Jesus did after all mandate His followers to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28, 19). According to St. Matthew these were Jesus’ last words to his apostles.

It is fit, right and proper, to paraphrase from Poldark (t’aint fit, t’aint right, t’aint proper), that Renewal and Reform seeks to honour the Great Commission. And, yes, R &R is also correct in stressing that this will require having the right resources, both human and financial, in the right places in order to achieve the stated aim, the re-evangelisation of England; that is all of England.

In order to (re) evangelize England in its entirety the C of E needs to take seriously the claims of geography, both physical and human and, demography. It needs to reach into every nook, cranny and, hidden corner in this land we call England.

The Bishop of Burnley, correctly, stressed this point in an excellent article by Madeleine Davies (‘Funding decision sharpens debate about the vision’) in last week’s Church Times arguing that: ‘We need to think very carefully about what a healthy state church is.’

I would want to suggest, once again, that a healthy state church is one that reaches into every nook, cranny and, hidden corner in this land we call England!

Strategic development finance will be made available from the Church Commissioners to dioceses on the basis of successful bids. Now, it is true that every patch of land in England is part of a diocese but, this does not mean that the diocese is able to reach each and every person in England.

So I have a nagging concern: are diocesan bids the best way to ensure that all nooks, crannies and hidden corners are accessed? Can our prison ministry, our ministry to the armed services, to the terminally ill or those in residential education be best served through the process of diocesan bids? If not, is it too late to re engineer or modify the process in some way, so the Church of England can really re-evangelize all of England?

The Church of England also needs to develop new ways of assessing projects building in a several guiding concepts or, ‘evangelistic virtues.’

Projects should be only invested in on the basis that they are generative, that is to say they are capable of giving birth to other new initiatives, thereby maximizing the Return on Resources Employed. Projects that are only ever capable of being successful on a standalone basis should be rejected, however glossy they look and feel; only those initiatives which contribute to the meta purpose (the re-evangelisation of all of England) should be considered.

Those charged with assessing bids need to make sure that they are capable of discerning between the shiny and stand alone and, the dull yet generative. Does the C of E have these skills?

Projects should also be capable of replication. Arun Arora the C of E’s Director of Communications made precisely this point, again in Madeleine Davies’s article:

‘However, for every project, we would expect there to be either evidence that it has worked in another setting, or, if it is more innovative, a logical and well thought through rationale for how the proposed project or activity will deliver the anticipated outcomes.

Projects that are both generative and capable of replication possess that mystical quality called leverage. It is through leverage that maximum returns, in accordance with the stated purpose, may be achieved.

So the panel of assessors (does such a thing exist – if not should it?) should always seek to identify whether an individual proposal possesses what we might think of as ‘structural leverage.’ If it doesn’t all the project can ever be is successful, on a standalone basis, and therefore of limited real value to R&R’s overall stated purpose.

I would also like to encourage those charged with assessing bids to consider the project in isolation from its leadership.

Now, I fully accept the need for good leadership but, if a project is only capable of succeeding because of its leadership then it may be highly unlikely that the project will meet the requirements to be both generative and replicable because, too much of the anticipated return  is invested in the individual and, insufficient in the project itself.

Strong, decisive, alpha leadership can, in the short-term, make a project or initiative look good and, can achieve short-term results that exceed the real project potential. It is therefore vitally important that projects are judged on their own merits.

Leadership can always be deployed to manage projects and initiatives that meet the requirements for investment if required, as frequently occurs in the world of venture capital (which is R&R’s world!) but,  as already stated, ‘leader lead projects’ are best avoided. By definition they lack the level of leverage required to contribute to R&R’s meta purpose.

We mustn’t, in the C of E, allow ourselves to be seduced by the notion of the charismatic leader-led initiative; the temptation will be there! Buyer be warned! In the world of investment management, my old business, significant amounts of money have been lost in backing charismatic, high profile, leaders in the mistaken belief that they possess the midas touch, and are capable of turning every project into a pot of gold. Even if they do succeed such leaders tend not to be very good at sprinkling others with gold dust and distributing more widely the spoils of ‘their’ success.

Finally we need to be realistic. Not every project will succeed. However, every project is there to be learnt from. In business the phrase ‘first user advantage’ is often used. The reality is, however, that is frequently better to be the second, or even third , participant to enter into a market. Why? Because, the ‘first mover,’ by necessity bears the full cost of innovation. Sometimes the first mover ‘lucks out,’ but not normally. The basic idea, concept or product was often good but the operational difficulties of bringing the product or service to market weren’t fully realized or anticipated. The second mover has the opportunity to watch and learn from the mistakes of the so-called first mover. The good news for the C of E is that it isn’t in the competition business and, therefore can genuinely learn from and improve upon earlier projects and initiatives, in fact it will need to develop the systems to do so in order to succeed in its objective; the re-evangelisation of England!

So if R&R is to succeed it needs to ensure that all of the projects it invests in have real, missional, leverage. For a project to have leverage it must be both generative and replicable. In a learning culture it is accepted that the first mover may fail, but, may also lay fertile ground for those following. Those assessing bids must differentiate between project and leader lead initiatives and,  methods must be found to ensure that those who reside outside normal diocesan structures are not simply ignoredFinally the success of R&R will be contingent on accepting that a healthy state church is one that reaches into every nook, cranny and, hidden corner in this land we call England! 







Management, Leadership, Renewal & Reform

Let me be upfront and honest: I believe that Church of England can, and should, draw on insights from the management sciences – with the stress on sciences (the genuinely and demonstrably tried and tested)- through the Renewal and Reform initiative. It should do so with reference to the component of the initiative which deals with mission and evangelism and, it should do so in relation to the training of ‘senior leaders.’ There: I have said it!

In fact I haven’t just said it I have written about it, in the Church Times. In my article ‘One Church’s Mission, but many opportunities,’  published on 23rd September I argued that the C of E needed to ‘craft’ its own unique approach to identifying and funding mission projects through blending insights offered by three management thinkers: Michael Porter, Henry Mintzberg and, J.B. Quinn. I argued that adopting one approach would lead to a sub optimal outcome.

I further argued that unwittingly the Church of England was likely, in the absence of other theoretical points of reference, to select a top down generic approach which by itself would not be capable of producing significant, epoch changing, returns. The desire for epoch changing returns, let us not forget, is the catalyst for R&R.

So yes, in the sphere of strategy I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the C of E can learn from the management sciences, but that in doing so it must sort out the wheat from the chaff and, must not be blinded by current, and obvious, possibilities; HTB style plants for example. Yes, carry on with such initiatives but let’s not render them ‘the strategy.’ That would be an act of lazy thinking and reckless folly.

The C of E must also look for emerging possibilities and, interesting opportunities on the periphery of the Church. In doing so it should make sure it understands the insights offered by Mintzberg and Quinn who ask for a high degree of sophistication from strategic thinkers. Strategy development is hard work and requires leaders to develop both peripheral vision and, the ability to identify, early on, emerging opportunities.

Strategy and strategy development is of course only one area that the Management Sciences can add value to the Church of England.

The C of E can, and again, should, follow best practice in the fields of governance and finance. In my view – and I know others will disagree – Cathedral Deans, Heads of Theological Colleges, Directors of Mission Agencies and, Diocesan Secretaries should have highly developed skills in the fields of finance and governance. The good news is that there is no need to send them on a ‘Mini MBA’ (NOT THAT SUCH A THING EXISTS & whoever though up the term for the purposes of branding needs taking outside and…… ever so gently put right!). A couple of short, three day, courses with a body like the I.O.D. would do the trick, at a very competitive price!

There are some folk, misguided I think, who suggest that painting a broad picture (vision) of where to take the church and, the hard task of nuts and bolts financial management are somehow opposed. I don’t accept this view.

Vision without the content of financial management and the wrap around of strong governance is in reality just a dream; a pipe dream. We don’t want, or deserve, leaders in the C of E who are, in the words of Supertramp, ‘nothing but a dreamer,’ (I used to play this song in my MBA lectures!) But strategy, vision, finance and governance alone won’t secure R&R’s aims. For R&R to really succeed effective leadership is also required.

I would want, at the outset, to stress that the Church of England, should very selectively draw from the myriad leadership theories, and theorists, at its disposal. Leadership is a relatively new area of study and much of what is offered is pretty unscientific in nature. There is a real tendency to over value what is currently in vogue; forgetting that today’s success is frequently tomorrow’s failure.

For example the businesses and business leaders cited by the likes of Tom Peters and Jim Collins in their blockbuster popular management offerings (In Search of Excellence and From Good to Great) appeared to be on top of their game, when promoted as examples of best practice, and then……..? And, then it all went horribly wrong! Such businesses and individual business leaders proved to be neither excellent or great!

Mintzberg, one of the most sophisticated management thinkers of contemporary times (his books include the Strategy Safari and Managers Not MBA’s – he refuses to each on MIT’s MBA – surely food for thought?)  has written that: ‘There is a terrible bias in today’s management literature toward the current, the latest, the hottest. This does a disservice, not only to those wonderful old writers, but especially to the readers who are offered the trivial new instead of the significant old.’

So here is a question to ponder: ‘how would we know when we are being seduced by the trivial new?’  Would those agreeing the curriculum know, would those identified for, or already in, training know? After all being seduced is, I presume, enjoyable? Seduction tickles the ego. Harsh as it sounds and,as Martyn Percy has commented, I am not sure that student feedback is a particularly good metric of value; not that I would wish participants to sit through hours of misery!

C.S. Lewis also warned about being too quick to run with the latest and hottest. This is what he wrote:

‘Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But, if he must only read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old……every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We, all therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And, that means the old books……..Not of course that there is any magic in the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But, not the same mistakes……Two heads are better than one, not because one is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.’ 

I would want to gently suggest that a lesson we humans seem determined not to learn from is our propensity to be seduced by the ‘trivial new.’ It is a mistake the Church of England should seek to avoid.

It is also worth considering that the average length of tenure for the CEO of a Fortune 500 business is less than five years. In the U.K. the figure is even worse, with Chief Executives remaining in post for a dismal 3.7 years. The average life span of a company quoted on the US stock market is just eighteen years. In the U.K. the FTSE 100 has recently hit a new high and yet less than half of the businesses that were in the FTSE 100 in 1999, its previous high, are still members of the ‘big boys club.’

The point is this: businesses and individual business leaders  do not have a history of producing a never ceasing pattern of long-term returns. Far from it. Failure, fragmentation and reorientation are the norm. In a business reorientation, changing the core product offering, selling out to a potential buyer and other exit strategies are all viable alternatives; in the church they are not!

So we need to exercise caution when borrowing from the management sciences and, especially when considering leadership.

But, I hear you argue, we can also learn a lot about leadership (and strategy development) from executives working in the public and not for profit sectors. Yes, we can. BUT, we should also recognise that longevity is not a feature of leadership in the not for profit sector. So what I would say to the C of E is simply this: ‘buyer beware.’ 

And,we should also be realistic about our own strengths. Having worked worked in the private sector at a senior, executive, level then in a business school and, finally in the Church of England I would want to stress that the management and leadership of the Church of England is at least as good as anything found ‘out there,’ in business and, the not for profit sector. But, for some reason we, in the C of E, seemed determined to believe otherwise; I have no idea why because in fact our leadership is in many ways it is better both in terms of its effectiveness and the level of virtue involved in the leadership process.

Having said that I do hope that Brown, Trevino and Harrison’s 2005 work on good, effective and, ethical leadership is on the curriculum for those identified for senior leadership positions in the Church of England! Go on, Google it!

Accepting the notion that leadership in the C of E is at least as good (where good leadership refers to the combination of effectiveness in delivery of outcome and, virtue in the process of engagement) as anything found in the secular sphere does not, of course, mean that we, in the C of E, shouldn’t seek to continually up our skills (the Japanese have a management theory for this – it is called Kaizen). Nor does it mean we should operate in our own bubble refuting all insights from other disciplines but it does mean we should be careful, and I would add, just a little bit more confident, in ourselves as we seek to develop our leaders of the future.

In developing our own bespoke curriculum we should draw extensively on our own leadership tradition whilst also considering the most suitable insights from the ‘secular’ world (I have suggested four management theorists in this piece, and one concept.) We should also partner with the most appropriate training partners (I have suggested the IOD as well as business schools).

The C of E needs to craft its own distinct approach to both strategy development and, leadership training. The epoch changing aims of R&R demand nothing less.



One Church’s mission but many opportunities

The article below is a piece I was asked to write for the Church Times on Renewal and Reform’s investment programme. It was published on 23rd September 2016

FIRST, a confession: I have been unfairly critical of recent initiatives that may be considered “managerial”, such as Renewal and Reform (R&R). R&R is a wide-ranging initiative, which includes the Church of England’s multi-million-pound programme, over several years, of investment in mission initiatives. Half of it — £24 million per annum — is ring-fenced for mission in low-income areas; and half for strategic-development opportunities.The Church Commissioners will allocate funds for strategic development or growth opportunities on the basis of diocesan bids — which in itself presents some interesting challenges. The Church and its dioceses need to consider how to invest the money, as the funding cycle starts in 2017, and will last for a minimum of three years.Despite current high levels of managerially induced anxiety, the relationship between faith and management has a long history. The Rule of St Benedict provides a charter for how Christian bodies may be ef-
fectively managed. St Benedict suggests that management is a necessary precondition for mission.My interest in how the Church manages its assets stems from my pre-ordination careers in investment-management, and then in a business school, where I lectured on finance, and ethics and governance. I am conditioned to analyse R&R through the lenses of portfolio- and strategic-management theories, as there is no such thing as a single strategic-management theory: there are, instead, competing theories.The Church needs to craft its approach, blending different theories, to achieve R&R’s stated purpose: “To make sure we have the right people and resources to help us re-evangelise England and grow in the life of the Kingdom of God.”MY CRITICISM of R&R was that it looked as though the initiative — or, more accurately, the continuing conversation; for that is what R&R is — was based on a specific set of assumptions: big is best; Evangelicalism is where it’s at; urban is thriving; rural is dead. The examples of investments made in the Church Commissioners’ 2015 Annual Report lends weight to this critique.I still believe these to be the prevailing assumptions, but I no longer think that they are as dominant, and domineering, as has been suggested. R&R is capable of recognising myriad different opportunities, but it needs critical friends to be on the tour bus, where the conversations are happening. It is no use standing at the bus stop, yelling loudly.Initially, R&R’s approach to investment appears to be top-down and centrally planned: a product of an approach popularised by Harvard Business School and its guru Michael Porter. This suggests that the job of senior managers is analysis of the environment, the selection of a generic strategy, and the allocation of resources to implement it.If the outcome of R&R were to be that strategic finance was limited to investment in church-plants in the style of Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), for instance, then it could follow that the Church had been entirely guided by one management theory, betting all its “mission portfolio” on one form of dhurch, one ecclesiology, in one — urban — context. This would be both foolish and antithetical to what it means to be the national Church.Ceasing to invest in HTB-style plants would, however, be akin to selling shares in Microsoft, after its share price had risen by 100 per cent, thereby foregoing the subsequent 10,000-per-cent return. So a reasonably high level of continued investment should continue. And yet a prudent strategy is never limited to investing in one form of opportunity.HENRY MINTZBERG, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that top-down, highly planned, generic strategies alone cannot deliver an enduring pattern of returns. Dr Mintzberg asks strategists to scan the environment constantly, looking for emerging themes in which to invest.One example of an emerging theme which the Church should take seriously is the number of people who identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. Resources, intellectual and financial, could be deployed to understand and access this, and also other “emerging market segments”.In portfolio-management terms, this would be akin to investing early in a sector that subsequently produced stellar returns: IT in the early 1990s, for example. Investment-management businesses often employ “sector specialists”. The Church of England needs to find its own such specialists.J. B. Quinn, who was Professor of Management at the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, in Hanover, New Hampshire, developed an approach known as Logical Incrementalism, arguing that rational planning ultimately became a substitute for control, stifling real entrepreneurial activity.Professor Quinn suggests that successful organisations experiment, learning from the success and failure of incremental investments in “interesting” initiatives. The strategic challenge is in identifying interesting initiatives, because incremental opportunities are often found on the periphery, away from the “core business” and obvious success stories.An example of logical incrementalism would be Nokian Tyres’ decision to invest a small amount of capital to create a distribution business to sell rubber off-cuts to manufacturers of the cables used in the mobile-phone industry. Several conversations later, the result was Nokia.The Church’s strategists, whether they are located in “head office”, or regionally in the dioceses, need to develop their peripheral vision, seeking out potentially transformative mission opportunities. They are out there, they need only finding.I WOULD like to see three outcomes from R&R’s investment programme:• continued investment in initiatives that are currently bearing fruit, such as the HTB-style plants;• a commitment to invest in emerging thematic opportunities: “spiritual but not religious” people, for instance;• an active programme of investing incremental amounts in interesting “peripheral” growth opportunities.The result would be a well-crafted, prudently diversified portfolio of mission initiatives, capable of generating sustainable growth “in the life of the Kingdom of God”.The Revd Andrew Lightbown is the Rector of Winslow, in the diocese of Oxford.

Goodwill: R&R’s most important asset?

‘For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good,’ (Psalm 122,9).

For the last few weeks the notion of ‘goodwill’ has been on my mind, and dare I say it, my heart. Goodwill is, of course, one of those vague and wonderfully ill-defined terms. We know by intuition when it is in the ether and, we also know when it’s not.

We all know people who are agents of goodwill just as we all know folk whose first, and sadly ongoing, response to any initiative is cynicism. Goodwill produces hope and optimism. It is healthily contagious. Cynicism, left unchecked, is viral and results in destructive behavior. Goodwill enhances returns whilst cynicism depreciates the value of an idea, or material investment.  Goodwill, like trust, is a generative and re-productive intangible asset.

I have a feeling that the Church of England requires its members to exercise goodwill on an unprecedented scale if it is to achieve the aims of Renewal and Reform. I have long liked Marshall Field’s suggestion that:

‘Goodwill is the only asset that competition cannot undersell or destroy.’

Fortunately the Church of England isn’t in the business of competition, or is it?

Perhaps we all need to be ever so slightly honest and accept that we can become a little too tribal at times? Sometimes such tribalism results in a sense of triumphalism or its inverse victim-hood. Goodwill, authentically deployed, is not only an agent of hope and optimism but, also the eraser of tribalism.

If R&R is to be effective we need to reduce the level of tribalism prevalent across the Church of England; slowly rubbing it away. This doesn’t mean foregoing our own sense of identity or ecclesiology, it doesn’t mean ignoring various geographies, it doesn’t imply some form of passive and stoical acceptance of perceived inevitability but, it does mean caring about the whole of one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in England.

Goodwill invites us to throw off our own protective clothing and, to make sure that whatever our own individual preferences we refuse to allow ourselves the luxury of hunkering down, and carrying on in splendid isolation. Goodwill demands that we extend and relate.

We need to remember that although R&R will invest in individual mission initiatives it will only do so for the good of the entire Church of England, for its purpose is to re-evangelize England through the thoughtful deployment of resources, both human and financial. In the words of Charles Fletcher Dole we are asked to recognise that ‘goodwill is the mightiest practical force in the universe.’ Goodwill isn’t just about being nice, it’s about getting the job (of re-evangelizing England) done!

The hope must always be that the ‘success’ of any single initiative is visible beyond its immediate boundary or context. Projects are interesting only to the extent to which they contribute to the whole.

Earlier this week my good friend Lucy Edhouse Dallas, the Vicar of St. Nicholas Elstree, wrote a highly moving open letter to the Church (not the House of Bishops, simply the Church) in which, drawing on her story, she described how, for her own spiritual health, she needed to remain in communion with conservatives, liberals, progressives, evangelicals, charismatics and, mystics alike, for the simple reason that they all add to the vibrancy and mission of the Church of England. If you would like to read her letter its available through her blog:

I found Lucy’s letter both moving but also haunting. I am not sure I feel her sense of need. I understand cognitively where she is coming from, but perhaps not, as yet, emotionally and spirituality. I am just a little too tribal for my own liking, as yet ill-equipped to assert with the Psalmist ‘for the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.’ Yet, I know this is where I must get to, not out of a sense of niceness, but for the sake of the House of the Lord our God,’ and for the sake of the re-evangelization of England! And, the only way I can see that this might become possible is through the purposeful exercise of goodwill.

Goodwill is, I have come to believe, as hard as teak and as supple as ply. It is also something that has to be worked at, in the absence of natural inclinations and sympathies. Good will is about looking for the good in people and ways of doing things that fall outside of our natural and innate preferences, groups, tribes, cliques, ecclesiologies and geographies and, then willing them; willing them through prayer and, practical support. Goodwill looks beyond imperfection – real and perceived –  for the good. Goodwill asks us to ‘take the log out of our own eye’, so that all we see in the other is a speck of imperfection, amidst a greater sea of goodness. Goodwill calls us to humility and realism. Goodwill asks us to see beyond narrow boundaries and, behind the edifice of style, forms and patterns of worship and, ‘being church.’ No easy task!

Goodwill, is a duty and an obligation, it is a job of work; hard and committed work. My hope is that as I get better at exercising goodwill my need for others will grow, that I will grow into Lucy’s maturity, that I will become an agent of hope and optimism and a net contributor to the aims and aspirations behind R&R and that with the Psalmist I will be able to look at difference and say:

‘For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.’


Aidan: the patron saint of R&R?

Today, Wednesday, the Church of England remembered Aidan. Aidan was the Bishop of Lindisfarne and a missionary. Aidan was also involved with the training of priests. He died in the year 651 (at least according to Exciting Holiness).

Maybe in the conversations around Renewal and Reform there is something really important to learn from Aidan’s story? Maybe his concerns are our concerns? Maybe his story, should inform our story? 

Aidan was a passionate evangelist. He was, according to the collect, ‘sent to proclaim the gospel in this land,’ and, it seems as though he was successful. Who knows if he was a great orator capable of preaching to the heart? Who knows whether his mode of presiding at the Eucharist made it clear that the ‘Lord, is here?’

But what we do know is this: that his passion was making disciples and baptizing new believers ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ We also know that those who encouraged Aidan, King Oswald of Northumbria for instance, were inspired by the same purpose driving the conversations around R&R: ‘making sure that we have the right people and resources to help us (re) evangelise England and grow in the life of the Kingdom of God.’ Hence the establishment of the island monastery at Lindisfarne as a plant of Melrose Abbey.

What else do we know about Aidan? Not much to be honest! However, the introductory blurb in ‘Exciting Holiness,’ makes it clear that any missionary initiatives he undertook were rooted in prayer, ‘from the island of Lindisfarne he was able to combine a monastic lifestyle with missionary journeys to the mainland, where through his concern for the poor, and enthusiasm for preaching, he won popular support.’ Every missionary journey, or endeavor, that we, the Church of England, undertake must also be a natural extension of prayer; or do I mean a supernatural extension? We must be rooted in prayer, and routed from prayer.

It strikes me that Aidan could be the Patron Saint of R&R for he managed to combine a real and enduring concern for the poor, with a desire to see the Church grow.

And guess what R&R is concerned for the poor: half of its funds are pledged for investment in areas of poverty and, the other half in growth, opportunities.

One final thought: Aidan and his contemporaries worked from the outside in, from the periphery into middle England. The Church of England must, likewise, as part of its mission strategy, continually look to its periphery for signs of new life. The re-evangelisation of England and growth in the life of the Kingdom of God might just depend on it.


Relaxed about R & R

There has been a lot of heat generated about R &R (Reform and Renewal, or is it Renewal and Reform – it’s different wherever I look); some love it, others loathe it.

Some appear to love and loathe characters on either side of the debate, as I say there is a lot of heat around the place.

So, I must say I feel strangely ambivalent about it. I understand all of the very real concerns, and am especially sympathetic to concerns about the ongoing quality of theological education and, the perceived negative impact on the rural church.

I also take it as a truism that you can’t manage your way to success (whatever metrics are used to define this slippery little word) but, equally the Church does need to manage both its assets and its affairs well. Good and decent management is necessary, but not sufficient. 

But, the real reason behind my ambivalence is that history and experience both show that grand initiatives never end up working out quite as their authors think they should. As Professor Mintzberg has consistently pointed out the best strategies are those that ’emerge’ over the course of time.

Good planners, leaders, managers, strategists are aware of this, and they adapt or modify their plans in the light of new, possibly unforeseen, information. Often in the corporate world the supposed winning strategies tend to end up being loosing strategies, but the good news is that they are frequently compensated for by successes that come seemingly out of nowhere. If anyone is interested in a recent example of this just consider Nokia, who made the bizarre, yet miraculous, transition from manufacturer of arctic forestry tires to technology company.

This transition allowed them to move from sustainability at best, to growth. You could argue, and Martyn Percy has, that the C of E, unlike a company can’t simply change its core offering, and he is correct. Analogies between the world of business and the Church are limited at best, but they can be highly illustrative.

But, the fact that growth often comes as if out of nowhere doesn’t mean that we (that is the Church of England – because at least for the moment we remain a we) should stop investing in approaches that are currently working. No, we should instead invest in them (but without regarding them as a Utopian solution that will work forever and ever, Amen;  again the Corporate World is full of small and medium companies who were yesterdays big companies and we should at the least beware that big can become bloated, before it is forced to slim down.)

As someone with no personal desire to worship in a HTB style church it would be a bit churlish to deny that many, many folk have come to faith through their mission initiatives.

To back away from investing in these types of initiatives would be akin to selling shares in Microsoft a year or two after it floated. In order to bank the 100% return, you risk losing the 10,000% return.

My own view on Church plants, just out of interest, changed when I read the history of my own church (St Laurence Winslow) and found that it had been planted, circa 1350, by St Albans Cathedral, as a minister to serve the local villages. Nearly 700 years later we still have a vibrant worshiping community and a church that serves the whole parish. Maybe we should (re) create many more minsters as part of our rural strategy?

Another reason that I am sanguine is that grand initiatives are operationally hard to implement. They meet road blocks, or more positively checks and balances, en route. They always tend to get watered down. That’s just reality. We know this from our own experiences.

So what do I think the Church of England could, or if its not too arrogant should, do from a management science perspective, in order to achieve its stated aims of ‘making sure we have the right people and resources to help us to re-evangelise England and grow in the life of the Kingdom of God?’

I would suggest that what it absolutely needs to do is build a portfolio of responses by:

  • Investing in strategies that are demonstrably working at present, whilst accepting that such strategies may not continue working forever (Microsoft’s growth did slow down! So might HTB’s!)
  • Investing in a range of smaller scale initiatives in the knowledge that future growth often comes from the periphery (this is known in the management sciences as Logical Incrementalism, its chief theorist was J.B. Quinn.)
  • Making sure that we keep scanning the external environment for new and emerging investment possibilities (such as the group that self-define as ‘spiritual but not religious,’ as recommended by Woodhead and Brown. Mintzberg is the theorist in chief of the emergent school of strategy, and in my opinion, and it is only opinion, the greatest living management theorist.)
  • Engaging in a healthy dose of central planning (Michael Porter.) without expect the plan to role out as expected; it won’t!

My criticism of the C of E is that appears ‘all Porter’ and, insufficiently Mintzberg and Quinn. Purposefully add in a little of the emergent (Mintzberg) and incremental (Quinn) and there is a chance that R & R might just help the C of E achieve its stated aims.

I hope I haven’t added to much heat to the debate!





In response to the group of 72

The letter from the group of 72 to the College of Bishops makes interesting reading. The letter can be read in full on the Thinking Anglicans website:

The signatories suggest that the Church of England provides more time and space for the studying of Scripture so that the C of E can  ‘make theologically informed decisions about human anthropology and sexuality.’ 

In particular the signatories stress that we all, collectively, need to understand what it means to ‘honour God with your bodies’ (1 Corinthians 6:20, NIV).

This would be fine and dandy if the signatories were committed to a process of open inquiry, during which they discarded all of their own prior subjectivities. But, they are not.

The fact that they are not is clear from their letter:

‘As you prepare to meet in the College and House of Bishops, we urge you not to consider any proposals that fly in the face of the historic understanding of the church as expressed in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ (1991) and Lambeth Resolution 1.10. To do so – however loud the apparent voice for change – could set the Church of England adrift from her apostolic inheritance. It would also undermine our ability as members of General Synod to offer support and lead to a fracture within both the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.’

The letter is in reality a declaration that the status quo must be preserved; nothing must change.

Of course this is dressed up in the language of unity, nothing must be done that allows different parts of the Church of England (or the Anglican Communion) to pursue different modes of practice, derived from different hermeneutics of the Gospel. Sexual practice has been, elevated to a first order issue and, the notion of subsidiarity is not to be countenanced.

The letter suggests that those who support the opening up of pastoral rites for same-sex couples don’t take Scripture seriously, or have a high view of Scripture. This is deeply patronizing.

Most ‘progressives’ have wrestled with Scripture and seek to live a life informed by Scripture. Most progressives take it is a basic fact that all are made in the image of God. Most progressives have spent many years wrestling with the interplay between Scripture, reason, tradition and experience, often at some personal cost. And, they have come to the conclusion that God, truth be told, is interested in justice, equality, dignity, inclusivity and, love. In fact these are among the very attributes and characteristics of God. So, if we are to look at Scripture, yet again, let’s focus on these virtues as well as the very few individual texts specifically concerned with notions of homosexuality.

Most progressives, and especially LGBTI Christians I would suggest, take the injunction to honour God with their bodies extremely seriously. To suggest otherwise, as I have already suggested, is deeply patronizing. Drawing on my own experience I have no reason to believe that my LGBTI friends, and family members, take virtues such as love, fidelity,monogamy  any less seriously than my heterosexual friends. LGBTI folk are just as capable of cherishing a sexual partner as straight folk. The fruits of their relationship can be equally spectacular. As Archbishop Justin reflected in March 2013:You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship.” 

The implied threat to withdraw support (what does this mean? Are we talking about financial support?) must be treated with caution. Maybe it is a statement of the obvious but most LGBTI Christians, and their ‘allies,’ don’t really experience ‘support’ in any meaningful and concrete sense from the arch conservative group in the Church of England, in any case.

You can’t withdraw what you aren’t perceived to be providing!

However, if the implied threat is the withdrawal of financial support then maybe the C of E should simply accept its lot as a ‘poor Church?’ It may find itself both wealthier and healthier in the long run.

The suggestion that ‘we are committed to building a church that is genuinely welcoming to all people, irrespective of the pattern of sexual attraction that they experience. We would welcome initiatives to help local churches do this in a way that is affirming of and consistent with Scripture, and would hope to support suggestions you might wish to bring to Synod to that effect,’ must therefore be received with some suspicion.

The small print needs to be read carefully, for terms and conditions surely apply. Same sex attraction is allowed (how could it not be), but active same-sex relationships, it would seem, are not.

The letter, I hope will be politely acknowledged, but not acted on. It is time for the Church of England to move on. The Church of England, as the established church, must be a church that is there in real and concrete ways for all people.