An open letter to advocates of the Green Report

The Dean of Liverpool and Archbishop Justin have now issued ‘responses to the responses’ on the Green Review.

I remained discouraged, extremely so.

I am pleased that the Dean of Liverpool stresses that the talent pool will include those serving in  a wide variety of contexts, however, the real concerns of many simply aren’t addressed.

The reason they aren’t is simple. The authors are never clear and up front about their own in-built, subjective assumptions; assumptions that simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. The assumptions on which any report rests need to be built on rock, the Green Review is built on sand.

The focus (with the exception of mission agencies) is on providing effective leadership for strategically important centralised locations in the Church: cathedrals, large churches, diocese and so forth.

Why? Is there a possibly misplaced view that large equals better? Could it be that the authors are wedded to a top down style of leadership, and the cult of the ‘charismatic leader,’ where ‘field operatives’ are mysteriously inspired by a remote and distant guru?

But, doesn’t the history of the Church tell us that reform and growth frequently, and usually, come from the margins? I would like to see the most effective leaders in the toughest of contexts; contexts which are resource poor. This means the rural church and churches in deprived areas.

I would also want to know whether future ‘leaders’ can cope with complexity. Complexity is a partly a function of plurality. Plurality is most commonly found in the multi-parish benefice or team structure. It is in the multi parish contexts that ministers are having to make some of the toughest choices: where to spend limited financial resources, how to deploy most effectively ministerial time, whether to keep open a particular church.

In the multi parish structure the ‘leader’ will possibly have to cope with the demands of different, and competing, styles of worship. And then there is the demands of establishing the most effective governance structure. None of these issues present in  the single ‘strategically important,’ ‘resource rich,’ ‘liturgically uniform’ church.

Large churches and cathedrals might benefit from outstanding ‘leaders’ but what they need above all else is competent manager-stewards.

So the Church, if it is serious about growth, needs distinguish between management and leadership and, it needs a far greater understanding of ‘human geography.’ It also needs to understand the power of story.

Which of the following vignettes is most likely to inspire a deacon or priest?

The story of a young man or women, identified at an early age for great things, and then given a five year leadership course before being sent into a ‘strategically important role’ in a big (resource rich) church, before then some five years later entering a cathedral as a canon, maybe even a Dean?

Or, the story of an apparently untalented person (a modern day Hilda or Cuthbert), sent to the periphery to make a real and lasting difference? The Church needs more  Hilda’s and Cuthbert’s and less MBA types. A failure to understand this is a failure to learn from history.

So if we want effective bishops lets make sure their vocation to leadership is tested in fire, not moulded in plastic.

The Oxford Diocese is currently seeking  new bishop. I hope that he or she has some interesting and inspiring stories to tell about communities built and, complexity handled. I would like to see someone who has led effectively in a resource poor context, someone whose potential has been shaped in the harshest of environments, someone who has supped from the cup of failure, and yet who has persevered, and won through in the end (but not necessarily in the five year period granted to find a new and senior position!)

I would like to respect our ‘Pastor in Chief’ as someone who has walked same country lanes as the majority of ministers in the Diocese. Sadly the Boddington Matrix might not allow for such an appointment.

The report stresses the importance of success measured against ‘absolute standards’ of performance (and in its pride believes that success can easily be attributed to a given individual, rather than being systemic). But, I want to see leaders who have tasted the fruit of failure. Our Lord was rejected by nine out of ten lepers, and the vast majority of His followers went AWOL at the end. ‘His’ Last Supper surely tasted bitter? He would have failed to achieve Lord Green’s ‘absolute standards,’ as would the man famously re-commissioned Simon Peter.

The Church needs to sit lightly to success and failure as understood by the ‘management sciences.’ Again, because our tradition indicates that we would be wise to do so. And, wisdom surely is a significant part of our epistemology?

I would also like to see a Church where Bishops, Priests and Deacons are freed up to be, Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

The Church is fortunate that the expectations in might legitimately place on its ministers are documented in and through the ordinal. And yet the Church seems to want to adapt and expand its requirements. Why?

Well, perhaps part of the answer is that a lot of what ministers are expected, asked, to do is just not sexy enough for the modern world. Never underestimate the ability of the Church to be evangelised by populist movements!

Yet the role of a minister, including Bishops, is in large part functional (and boring) – just look at the ordinal!

Boredom and functionality are ill regarded in modern organisations. After all, boredom and functionality of purpose won’t equip ministers to be agents of, or catalysts for, change. Will they?

Well maybe not according to the management sciences, but what about if we look back into church history and the wisdom of St. Benedict?

Benedict believed that boredom, functionality of purpose, commitment to a particular set of people in a given place, over the long-term, irrespective of short-term absolute performance indicators were the very ingredients of transformation. He was so sure about this that he insisted that his monks made a vow of stability, in the expectation that stability would lead to transformation. The Church however frequently fails to understand the transformational power of stability.

I have heard countless stories of priests being turned down for ‘bigger jobs’ because they had stayed in one place too long. The Church has purchased lock stock and barrel one of the fertile fallacies prevalent in the market place:

The idea that it is important to keep moving, without understanding that many ‘movers and shakers’ move in the full knowledge that ‘their’ short-term success is likely to be fully unclothed as long-term disaster. Of course neither the apparent success or ensuing failure is necessarily attributable to the ‘leader,’ whatever  ‘market wisdom’ suggests.

It is ironic that so many secular corporations are seeking to learn from the Church’s treasure box and yet, we in the Church want to offer our aspiring leaders modules in ‘managing growth.’

Any training initiatives that the Church puts in place must above all else equip ministers to fulfil the vows made at ordination. I suspect that some of the Green proposals make this far less likely because it radically alters what it means to be a Bishop.

So lets invest a significant part of the management training budget in the diocesan and deanery staff and not those called on to be Bishops, Priests and Deacons, freeing up ministers to be ministers.

Let’s drop the aggressive rhetoric of the business school, recapture the peripheries for Christ, and imagine what it might mean to be led by a set of modern day Hilda’s, Cuthbert’s and Benedict’s, all of whose stories are still being told. That is my hope for the Church.

Yours sincerely,

 

The Rev’d Andrew Lightbown

 

An open letter to Lord Green et al

Dear Lord Green and co-authors of the review group,

I read with interest, and a sinking heart, the Church Times coverage of your report this Friday. I also read Martyn Percy’s response, with which I am broadly in sympathy and subsequently, the report itself, on the Thinking Anglicans website.

Before offering some observations of my own I would like to stress that I am in no way anti business, or opposed to the Church learning from secular agencies, as I hope will be illustrated by reference to my resume below:

Before ordination I worked first in the asset management business and, secondly in a business school. I was a director of Old Mutual Asset Managers (U.K.) I have also been a director of an investment company listed on the Dublin Stock Exchange. I hold a M.B.A. and a numerous professional qualifications. I have been the programme director for two post graduate finance degrees and, taught M.B.A. students. I am passionately interested in the relationship between theology and economics. One of the results of this area of interest is a book I co-edited; ‘Theonomics.’

So why am I so concerned and, are my fears legitimate?

One of my biggest concerns is that whilst the report claims to recognise diversity in the Church, it then proposes a model which ignores diversity. For instance there is absolutely no mention of the rural church, the church in areas of deprivation or the complexity of multi-parish ministry. Why?

The inference is that skilled leadership is most required, and most likely to be discovered, in single Church structures. Talented leaders are to be sought for large churches but not, it seems, for large multi parish benefices. I would argue that leading a disparate group of churches is far more complex than leading a single church , especially where that church offers a distinctive ecclesiology.

The rural church, which in many and significant ways is the engine room of the Church of England, will, under your proposals, be further sidelined. There are few, if any bishops, currently in post with significant rural experience and, your proposals if adopted will further perpetuate this phenomena.  Bishops should be able to demonstrate a capacity to lead in multiple and diverse contexts?

The focus on ‘absolute standards,’ and ‘numerical growth,’ is dangerous because it disincentives individuals from pursuing their vocation in areas where success, can only measured incrementally, where every yard gained has to be fought for.

The Church of England already struggles to fill vacancies in the North of England. Compassionate and ‘good’ priests will always seek to pursue their vocation ‘a yard from the gates of hell,’ but lets not denigrate their lack of ‘relative’ success, compared to churches which flourish in softer (Southern?) climes.

The approach to field trips (both in terms of secular institutions and the Church is interesting). ‘Participants will be taken to growing churches’ and businesses that have successfully managed change. Why not take our best leaders to areas that struggle, really struggle, where morale is at rock bottom and then see what they are able to offer? I would like to see our best leaders in the most challenging contexts, not the softest ones. Areas where favourable  social and demographic  factors increase the odds of success can possibly manage with average leaders. Often average leaders look good for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their own capabilities, despite appearances.

So lets not vest too much of the success or failure, either in relative or absolute terms, in the ‘cult of the leader.’ The factors that contribute to success and failure in business, and other walks of life, are frequently systemic and have little to do with individual leaders (even though ‘leaders’ would encourage us to think otherwise). There is a real and present danger in romanticising leaders, and leadership, sometimes bordering on idolatry.

The danger with absolute standards is that the standards selected are reduced to the narrow range of activities, or outcomes, which can be absolutely measured. This is a statement of the obvious. The problem is that ultimately an institution, body or corporation becomes defined solely by that which it can measure, and you can only measure that which you can attribute.

Attribution analysis is difficult, so many organisations don’t even attempt to understand success or failure systematically, nor are they able to ‘account’ for randomness and luck (or what about the work of the Spirit in the Church) instead preferring to identify a single explanatory factor, such as ‘leadership.’ Ironically ‘leaders’ are often happy for success to be identified with their unique range of skills and capabilities, failure on the other hand is far more complicated!

The comment that ‘if there is a decline in measurable performance or potential the individual will be asked to leave’ is therefore extremely worrying, because it strongly implies that success will defined solely by reference to institutions measurement capability, which by definition is going to be fairly narrow and ‘unsystematic.’  Strange for any form of organisation, bizarre in the ‘mystical body.’

Let me provide an example: rightly the report suggests that ‘there is an emerging opportunity for senior leaders in the Church to be innovative and to initiate new forms of social and political capital. This will involve being daring enough to open conversations which politicians fear to start on their own.’ But, how can this be measured?

Innovating new forms of social, political and I would want to add economic and financial capital, doesn’t just happen. Innovation and initiative take a great deal of thought (and thought leadership – which is intangible), often over the course of many years. Are we to reward to individual with the most sound bites, the greatest number of press releases, the most appearances on the BBC or, the leader who makes one society changing contribution, but who for many years remains silent, or allows others to take the credit for his / her thoughtfulness and intelligence? Or what about the ‘lucky leader’ blessed with some excellent, possibly inherited rather than carefully selected, number twos and threes, people who have the ability to quietly play the hardest instrument in the orchestra, second fiddle?

Absolute standards of measurement (or indeed relative ones) do not, necessarily, apply in the field of innovation and initiative. The entrepreneurial skills we require of leaders transcend measurement and accounting techniques.

The focus on measurement could well deliver competent managers (no bad thing), but not innovative and ‘entrepreneurial’ leaders. And leadership, not management, is the topic the report seeks to address.

So, it seems that the review is actually hopelessly unclear in its objectives, confusing two overlapping but distinct sets of skills; management and leadership. Cathedral Deans are to be offered a mini-MBA. Just pause for a second and reflect on what the initials M.B.A. stand for: Master of Business Administration.

I also worry about the regard in which the report seems to hold business schools. It shouldn’t be forgotten that many of the examples ‘academics’ have presented as exemplars of success subsequently turned out to be failures! Good to Great (Jim Collins) and In Search of Excellence (Peters and Waterman) both testify to this. Business schools were also described as ‘authors of the apocalypse,’ because many of the strategic and financial tools that led to corporate failures were pioneered in business schools.

They were pioneered to a large extent because  business schools forgot that their mandate was to teach the techniques and skills required to exercise professional stewardship of a business over the long-term and, began focusing instead on the far sexier subject of leadership. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Shand’s endowment of the Harvard Business School was in response to the decline in ethical standards that led to the savings and loans crisis.

Strategies that lead to long-term decline are perfectly capable of robing in the vestments of  success in the short-term. Leading a single church to short-term success shouldn’t be too difficult for an aspiring leader! The problem is that short-term success often fuels long-term decline and, this brings me to my final concern.

The Church, whilst having to face current concerns, exists for the long-term, the very long-term. But, what is the average shelf-life of a corporate executive? (Answer: not very long). How long do most companies exist (same answer). Over what time period are most corporate executives incentivized (same answer)? So why do we, the Church, assume business and business schools have much to teach us about long-term sustainable success, when the very notion of long-term cannot be found in the DNA of the vast majority of corporations?

So these are some of my fears, fears which I believe to be legitimate. I hope that those invited to join the elite cadre of potential leaders will reflect on the nature of what they are being offered and the extent to which it can truly help shape their vocation.

Your sincerely,

The Rev’d Andrew Lightbown

 

 

 

 

 

Unity: ideal or idolatry? Now there’s a question

Unity; ideal or idolatry?

Last week I went to the last in  this year’s series of the Westminster Faith Debates.

The last two lectures in the series were, to my mind, the most interesting. The topics were how much diversity can the Church cope with and, what does the Church offer the next generation.(These are not the exact titles  but my paraphrased versions.)

In the very last seconds of the very last debate, perhaps the most interesting question – I think in some ways it was more of a statement – was raised from the floor:

Has unity become an idol?

As so often happens the real issue, the issue that everyone wanted to unwrap, to expose to the highest levels of scrutiny, emerged just as the speakers were preparing their concluding points.

I think that it in asking ‘the question’ our friendly provocateur revealed one of the problems the Church faces: the culture of nice. And, the problem with the ‘culture of nice’ is that it’s phony, inauthentic.

If I am really, really, honest I don’t agree with the views put forward, even if they are sincerely held, by the likes of Andrew Symes and Anglican Mainstream. In fact I would want to go further and say that some of their views on issues of human sexuality are just plain wrong and damaging. I think their theology is poor.

I also reject wholeheartedly, in fact I think this is by a considerable distance the weakest of the arguments put forward by the likes of Anglican Mainstream, the idea that issues of human sexuality are somehow second order issues, for me they are, like all ethical issues, first order.

But, Andrew Symes would probably say exactly the same thing about the likes of me.

It is very clear that we don’t, whatever the ‘culture of nice’ wants us to say respect each other’s position. We both think the other is just plain wrong. We both think the positions the other holds are are, in different ways, harmful. And yet the Church and its ‘leadership’ want us to pretend that we somehow respect and see integrity in each other’s positions. How can we in reality?

Andrew Symes was upfront about this, insisting (rightly) that there is, in reality only so much divergence that can be held with any form of organisation, even one that is loosely constructed, such as the Church of England. Andrew and I are as one, on this one point!

He also, again rightly, suggested that this is true even for the most liberal forms of institution. He is right because, despite conservative caricatures of liberalism, liberalism has always been, and remains committed to, not relativism, but to arriving at ‘good’ decisions through a particular form of reasoning. Liberalism, whatever else it might be, is a process of thinking about and doing theology, just as conservatism is.

So is unity an idol? Or, is it an ideal?

In a previous life, as a university lecturer (in organisational ethics) I used to advise students not to fall into the trap of coming down too firmly on one side or the other of an argument. I encouraged students to look for some form of synthesis, to examine the merits of various sets of thinkers (and their weaknesses too), to analyse where theorists may be guilty of overly constructing a particular line of argument (such as the argument that issues of gender and sexuality are second order issues) or where a thinker has a real, but as yet to be fully developed, nugget of an idea.

Now if this is the way I am going to engage with the question, to look for some form of synthesis, it could be argued that I am inherently on the side of unity. But, I am not sure that I am, in this case, at least not in the terms the Church (of England) currently understands unity.

I think I might be prepared to say that my provisional view is this: Unity is an ideal, but at the moment we are treating it as an idol. (Please note the caution in my language: think, provisional).

Because I reject the first order – second order discourse in relation to the big ethical issues around gender and sexuality(and because I want to be honest I would also suggest that those who are firmly on the other side of the argument also regard these as first order issues, even when they seek to  present them as second order issues),’good disagreement’ might involve freeing each  other to invoke the spirit of the Nunc Dimitus: now let you servant depart in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation.’ We could, presumably, do so in the prayerful expectation that we might one day come together again?

In the meantime we could journey with Peter to the shores of the Sea of Tiberius allow ourselves to be re-commissioned for loving ministry and hear Jesus tell us to stop worrying about his plans for ‘our rivals,’ for God’s favour (John 21, 21) which, despite being given the mandate to feed the flock, appears to be Peter’s primary concern, and maybe ours as well?

Jesus famously prayed for unity amongst all believers just before his trial and crucifixion (John 17, 21), and yet, he also said that he came ‘not to bring peace but a sword,’ (Matthew 10, 34). I think we need to hold these two verses in creative tension, because maybe this is the way we ultimately get to unity, rather than through a phony culture of niceness and pretence?  I suspect that in the interim it may be that we need to go our separate ways confident that in the end God will reconcile all people?

This does not necessarily mean one group having to leave the Church of England (although I suspect it would mean a reduction in the size of the Anglican Communion – perhaps no bad thing?)

‘Good disagreement,’ Archbishop Justin’s hope, could lead to a further loosening up of what is already a federated institution. Our focus of unity could be restricted to adherence to the Catholic Creeds and acts of social mission, the institutional (and diocesan?)  model might need changing, and episcopacy might need rethinking, under this scenario. But would this be a bad thing in a church where the cost of the episcopate appears to be ludicrously high and where a common complaint is that bishops are insufficiently pastoral?

Of this I feel certain: ‘good disagreement,’ needs to be built on honesty and integrity and not on a culture of niceness. Good disagreement need not imply unity at all costs, for this would be idolatry, but it should always hold unity as an ideal.

Good disagreement requires us to imagine different, perhaps radically different, futures. If we persist in sticking to the status quo, seeking unity at all costs, it might be because what we really want is institutional conformity with any form of unity being the idol that delivers it. If this is the case we would all be like the ‘rich caught in the imagination of their hearts;’ incapable of giving birth to Christ in this generation.

Good disagreement may involve the deliberate, and explicit, opening up of theological space between those with strongly held, and first-order disagreements , not in order to self harm, but in the belief that ‘fresh air is good for cuts.’ Maybe this is what Jesus did in with Peter and the Beloved Disciple on the shores of Tiberius? Maybe this is what God wants for the Church now?