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



6 thoughts on “An open letter to advocates of the Green Report

  1. Dear Andrew,
    You are breath of fresh air! Thank you for your insight and wisdom in this matter. As an Anglican Cistercian, I was delighted that you (and the Dean of Durham) refer so skilfully to the wisdom and Rule of our Holy Father St Benedict. I hope and pray that our Church will listen to you, Hilda, Cuthbert and Benedict!
    Br Geoff+ OCist

  2. Anne Eyre, musician, consultant, counsellor and concerned ORDINARY but passionate lay woman.

    Alleluia I shall carry this in my pocket THANK you

  3. Dear Andrew,

    Thank you for your two insightful and helpful contributions to the Green Report. I hope that this report is never implemented in its current form and that a more relevant model of leadership training is developed for the church which helps foster the leadership it needs. I hope General Synod will throw it out.

    The whole aping of the MBA/Executive way of identifying and clasifying leadership strikes me as a 21C version of the old understanding of Bishops as members of the aristocracy (and often drawn exclusively from their ranks). I never thought we would go back to that model.


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