Discipleship; ‘our’ destiny.

Are we, all of us, called to be disciples? I think so. if I am right we must continue to talk about disciples and discipleship, resisting all attempts to abandon the the term.

But, in the Church Times the notion of discipleship, or more precisely the idea that the Church’s primary responsibility, is to ‘make’ disciples has, for consecutive two weeks, been called into question.

Angela Tilby argues that the use of the ‘d’ word is a consequence of ‘the influence of American-derived Evangelicalism on the Church’s current leadership.’

Now, I would in no way, shape, or, form admit to being formed by American Evangelicalism.

If compelled to self-label I would say that I am a ‘liberalish’ (I was trained at Cuddesdon!) type of sacramental Christian, who doesn’t want the Church to enter into a futile (and false) liberal-conservative stand off around the concept of discipleship.

I don’t think it is accurate, biblically or historically, to say that discipleship is an evangelical invention, although evangelical churches, rightly, take discipleship very seriously. I can’t talk, with integrity, from an evangelical stance, so my thoughts are entirely derived from my own ‘liberalish-sacramental’ background.

Life in Christ, life in the Spirit is surely the essence of discipleship? if not, what else is it? In the churches where I minister we (me, and my Wescott trained liberally inclined incumbent) deliberately present confirmation as a rite sealing a commitment to a life of discipleship. We unapologetically consider discipleship to be of utmost importance. We expect transformation to take place through both word and sacrament (or in reality sacrament and word).

Now I understand the argument that discipleship is a strange sounding word to those outside, or making their first tentative steps, into the Church. But, many of our terms, phrases and practices must seem strange. I don’t know of many people who in ordinary day-to-day life use words like, ‘Saviour,’ ‘Eucharist,”Sermon” or ‘Intercession.’ Preaching in its ordinary use has negative connotations, ‘talk’ sounds demeaning and who on earth, outside the Church, knows what a homily is. Language is always problematic.

But, even if such terms sound strange, religious even, would it be right to throw away all the words that give Christianity it’s own distinct flavour?

That would be absurd.

Surely education is the key? Is learning Christian language really so different from learning a foreign or technical  language? You can’t get to the heart of something without learning and using its distinctive language. I am absolutely confident that my daughters love and appreciation of music is, in part, a consequence of their being able to read music!

Angela Tilby suggests that ‘followers of the way,’ ‘Life in the Spirit,’ and ‘Life in Christ,’ are better, ‘normative’, phrases, describing the reality of Christian Life.

My point is that ‘life in the Spirit’ and ‘life in Christ’ are outcomes, describing a new way of being, rather than the processes (discipleship) through which we will, one day, arrive at the destination. However, even if Angela Tilby is correct, I can’t easily see how such phrases are somehow less challenging, or easier to get our heads round. They still sound ever so slightly odd, just a little bit zany and religious!

One further ‘linguistic’ thought: all disciplines and practices require some propitiatory language in order to convey their sense of uniqueness. If the words such as disciple and discipleship are removed from the lexicon of Christianity we might find ourselves left with a linguistic black hole. Or worse still, without a universal language of faith, we run the risk of domesticating faith and, how would this fit with a belief in ‘one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?’

Christianity requires a set of common nouns and verbs which,in some ways,transcend ordinary every day use, in order to convey its unique and distinctive attributes.

So what of the notion that discipleship is not a major biblical motif?

As you may suspect I don’t buy it. In fact I would want to go back a stage and suggest that to be a disciple is a basic human instinct.

Let’s pause and consider what the word disciple actually means (one criticism of those seeking to dismiss the importance of the term disciple is that they never ‘state their terms,’ instead making the assumption that we all share a common understanding – this is equally true in other areas of contentious debate).

The O.E.D. defines a disciple as ‘a follower of a leader, teacher, philosophy etc.’ 

At the end of the day (and I know we all want to be leaders), to be a disciple is simply to be a follower, and we are all followers of someone or something.

The thesaurus offers the following alternatives: acolyte, adherent, admirer, follower, learner, proselyte, pupil, scholar, student, supporter. These all look like descriptions of what it means to be human, or at least to behave as a functioning human being.

St. Paul, I suggest, understood that discipleship and humanity are inextricably interwoven, with this being the rational behind 1 Corinthians Chapter 3.

The Corinthians are given a right royal (insert your own preference here) for acting as though they are disciples (followers) of Paul or Apollos:‘mere humans’. Paul, reminds both himself and readers that his basic role is to ensure that the Corinthians become followers of Christ, students of Christ,acolytes of Christ, supporters of Christ (and each other) and teachers of Christ.The correct technical term we, the Church, must continue to use to describe all of these functions is:

Disciples of Christ, because if we are not disciples of Christ as sure as eggs or eggs, we will become disciples / followers  of another leader, teacher or philosophy – for discipleship is our human destiny – and that would be very bad news indeed.

MBWA not MBA: the Church’s leadership mantra.

When I was a boy I often used to go with my Dad to one of his two offices which were situated on Coronation Road in High Wycombe and, the Cowley Road in Oxford. Dad (who died from an excessive lifestyle – make of that what you will – in 1985, at the tragically young age of 47, I was 19) was a very successful entrepreneur and, as I found out many years after his death, a mathematical genius. I learnt a lot about my preferred way of managing, or leading if you prefer (I don’t) from my dad. But, here’s the nub: He didn’t appear to work very hard at all!

An average day would look something like this: Leave home at 7:30, get to the office and have a cup of coffee, then have another cup of coffee with his secretary (he thought P.A. was a sound system), often made by Dad, followed by a walk around the factory floor for an hour and a half, longer if necessary, before more coffee, this time with one or two of his executives. Lunchtime would see him either taking a salesperson out for lunch, or playing darts on the factory floor. In the afternoon he would again walk the floors, before going back to his office for a cup of tea with his secretary. He would, finally, make the one, two or three phone calls to suppliers, customers or financiers that only he, as the owner of the business, could make. At six o’clock he would leave the office, getting home at seven (via the pub), before supper and a snooze in his chair.

I once challenged Dad about his approach to work, for it all seemed a bit easy! He quietly told me that work in fact left him exhausted. How could this be?

Well, all the time he was doing his rounds he was listening and sharing stories. He was in reality constantly giving of himself. He was gathering, packaging and sharing information and, he was putting himself in a position  where he could respond to a crisis.He told me that if he needed to be busy I could start worrying, because something would be very wrong in the business.

Dad put himself in a position, through his strategy of wandering around the factory floor, where he really knew what was going on in the business and, as importantly, in the lives of his employees. Through spending the majority of his day wandering about Dad was simultaneously strategic and, pastoral.

I remember a young woman bursting into tears as Dad approached her. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked. ‘My husband has thrown me and the kids out and we have nowhere to go.’ Well, for the next three weeks we had house guests and, every day the mother and her two children travelled with Dad (in his hazelnut brown Daimler) from Marlow to Oxford and back again, so the mother could go to work and, the kids to school.

Dad was practising a management technique called Management by Wandering Around, or MBWA.

MBWA was popularised by Hewlett Packard in the 1960’s and, in recent years, has disappeared off the radar somewhat. Why?

Perhaps because it is paradoxical (being both highly planned and highly informal), perhaps because it involves a giving away of control (you never quite know what you are going to encounter and asked to help resolve, as illustrated in the story above), or, perhaps, because it is a qualitative rather than quantitative approach to management.

I suspect that its qualitative orientation is the real reason for its demise. Approaches such as six sigma (yuk, yuk and yuk again) and ‘lean’ provide the reassurance of numbers (quantitative)  based mananegement approaches. Also (Lord Green et al sit up and pay attention please) MBWA stands in opposition to the notion of ‘absolute performance’ metrics. The logic of MBWA is staying in touch with what is really taking place and then acting if necessary. It is a flexible bottom up approach, rather than an impersonal, planned, top down method. The difference between approach and method should not be underestimated.

The Gospels seem to indicate that wandering about is pretty important. The 70 (or 72) were sent out on a good wander, never quite knowing who or what they were going to encounter. Thank goodness that Philip was out and about on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus’ average working day seems a bit random, if you don’t mind me saying so.

If we look into history some of  the real game changers seem to have been relentless wanderers; think of the Celtic Saints and, of Wesley. I am absolutely positive that the likes of Cuthbert, Hilda and Wesley were driven (compelled) to share the greatest of all love stories, but I am equally sure that they never really knew who they were going to encounter, or the stories of human need they were going to hear as they wandered the highways and byways, unencumbered by the need to achieve absolute performance standards.

As I have said before we need more Hilda’s and Cuthbert’s and fewer MBA’s leading the church. Bards not bureaucrats.

MBWA and not MBA should be our leadership mantra!

What is leadership? A short post Green reflection.

A certain ‘leader’ – Pilate-  once asked ‘what is truth?’ (John 18, 38).

In asking the question Pilate revealed his true character. Sadly, Pilate had become the ultimate pragmatist an appeaser prepared to act contrary to his better nature. A ‘leader’ weakened through the demands of office.

Leadership (and talent) are in vogue in Church circles. But, before we rush off and decide on the best way to spot talent and train leaders, we possibly need to ask a Pilot like question:

‘What is leadership?’

Different authors, scholars and theorists will, of course, have their own take; leadership (just like talent) is after all a slippery concept. One person’s idea of a great and visionary leader is another persons idea of a tyrant. Often it, sadly, comes down to how we fare under a particular leader.

I have seen all manner of folk prepared to forgive a ‘leader’ for his or her idiosyncrasies when they are on the positive side of the ‘leaders’ decision making. This in turn leads to an interesting reflection: our willingness to follow is often contingent on how a ‘leader’ makes us feel.

I ‘enjoyed’ the support of a colleague for a long period of time when I worked in the City. Support was withdrawn when I stopped being able to feed his career aspirations. I suspect many political (and faith?) ‘leaders’ are aware that their ‘leadership’ is contingent on their ability to promote others, to feed others ego needs.

So here is my stab at what it means to be an effective leader:

An effective leader is someone, who through the force of their character, and the words and artefacts they use to motivate others affects, for good or ill, hearts and minds.

At this stage I have deliberately focused on effective leadership, rather than good leadership. Let’s, for a moment, leave virtue to one side.

An effective leader is someone who can rally the troops to act in a given way, either by ‘praying on’ existing thought patterns, or by promoting an alternative and seemingly attractive narrative. (Story is one of the leaders key strategic tools). Most leaders intuitively know that they will have three types of followers:

The first type is a group that has an already established mindset and is looking for a person or small group of people who can act as a catalyst for action.

The second group comprises a cadre of momentum junkies; people who just want to do something, anything, in response to a given situation.

The third group comprises the thoughtful and open minded. The thoughtful and open minded want to hear competing narratives before deciding which narrative is the most attractive and transformational.

Sadly the history of leadership shows that the most effective short term strategy is to concentrate on the first two groups, often with dire long-term consequences. And this is why short-term absolute performance targets (sorry Lord Green) can be so dangerous.

A ‘good’ (i.e. virtuous) and potentially effective leader should, perhaps, be spending the greatest amount of time seeking to influence the thoughtful, reflective but currently undecided, for it is this group that are prepared to undertake the long and difficult process St Paul refers to as ‘renewal of the mind.’

But this group (lets give them biblical motif – Nicodemus) are hard to find; they prefer to operate under the cover of darkness. Maybe they are correct to do so. But, they are the type of people who are open to new, different and transformational stories. They know the stories they have been told aren’t quite delivering but they aren’t prepared to buy any old competing narrative.

So here’s a leadership challenge for the Church: can we go to into the cover of darkness, the periphery of life and find the modern day Nicodemus’ or are we so fixated on results that we cheapen our story,and in the process simply feed the ego needs of the powerful and the momentum junkie?

If we focus on the first two stereotypical groups are we really leaders, even if we are ‘successful’ when measured against absolute standards?

Church leaders need to be ‘good’, in the belief (faith and hope) that in the long-term the stories they tell, and the prayers they offer, will be effective. But character and virtue must always come before effect.

Is the way we (the Church) approach – and propose to approach – leadership more concerned with effect, or transformation? Now that’s my question?

(Person of prayer, person of story, person of thought and, person of virtue and character – four characteristics of leadership for the Church to consider?)

The Green Report: Fallen Angels and Slippery Slopes

So, the Green Report has been awarded the Financial Times ‘Fallen Angels’ Prize by Lucy Kellaway!

I doubt whether an internal Church of England report has ever before interested the lead writer on organizational life, for the world’s most prestigious business paper! Quite an achievement.

The supporters of the Green Report (who number very few) are keen to stress the radical nature of their recommendations.

But, the reality is that the Green Report is tepid, its solutions off the shelf, whilst the language employed – ‘absolute performance targets’ etc – is inappropriate, for the Body of Christ.

But my real beef is that the report is shot through with unchallenged  assumptions.

The authors appear either blind to their assumptions, or, have the mother and father of all logs in their eyes.

The report stresses the importance of ‘talent’ and ‘leadership’ and, believes that ‘talent’ and ‘leadership’ are required most of all in Cathedrals and Large Churches. Why?

I am not suggesting that large churches and cathedrals don’t require good leaders but, what on earth is the rationale for thinking that these relatively straightforward organisations require higher levels of strategic thinking, or dynamic leadership than suburban churches, or rural multi-parish teams and benefices?

The report catastrophically confuses size, and busyness, with complexity. It also over invests in the ‘cult of the leader,’ at the expense of what management scientists refer to as ‘systems thinking.’

Please let’s not make an idol out of leaders and leadership and, let’s be honest, much of the ‘secular’ world has had it up to their ears with ‘leaders,’ and the collateral damage that Alpha leaders frequently cause.

The report also pays scant regard to history and human geography. Real growth in the Church (and, truth be told, most large companies) tends to come not from the centre but, the periphery. So if we are serious about reclaiming this land for Christ lets equip the periphery, not the centre, with our best talent!

Inspiring leaders, the sort who we continue to talk about generations after their death are ‘refined through fire’ and not ‘modelled in plastic.’ The proposals of the Green Report will deliver to the Church ‘synthetic’ rather than ‘authentic’ leaders.

Is there anything inspiring about the story of a young cleric, identified for great things, sent on an MBA type training course, before ‘doing’ a few years in a large Church or Cathedral, prior to becoming a Bishop? Me thinks not. And when our talented young cleric eventually becomes a Dean or a Bishop what transformational, imagination capturing, stories will they have to tell? Not many, is the answer. We, as a Church, must never underestimate the power of story.

I want bards as Bishops, not accountants. 

In searching for a solution from the ‘management sciences,’ (and before ordination I was a ‘management scientist’) the authors have opted for one ‘centralised planning’ type model (an approach developed by the likes of Michael Porter).

Again why? I suspect that one of the greatest (still living) management thinkers Henri Mintzberg, the leading advocate of ’emergent strategy,’ would be tearing what’s left of his hair out!

I have no doubt that if the Green Report were submitted as a postgraduate dissertation aimed at solving the perceived leadership problems in the Church of England, Mintzberg and a whole load of other management academics would find it difficult to award it a pass. I would.

The report’s in-built negative rhetoric is staggering. The implication that the Church of England is bereft of good leaders is insulting. I have witnessed far more examples of good, nay heroic, leadership in the Church than I ever encountered in my seventeen years in The City!

The top down centralised approach, I suspect, is favoured by our ‘existing leaders’ because they have been promoted by such a system. In other words they have an inbuilt bias or subjectivity.

Lord Green knows how ‘talent’ is identified in organisations like HSBC; he knows where HSBC goes to find its ‘talent,’ (Russell Group Universities and competitor banks – quick pause for thought: if organisations such as HSBC are so good at identifying and developing talent why do they spend so much time and money recruiting people and teams from competitors?) and, he makes the assumption that ‘identifying and developing talent’ is a transferable skill. Again why?

For most of my adult life I have been exposed to the world of business schools. I have studied in them, taught in them and employed them in an advisory capacity. I know their strengths and weaknesses.

But, above all I understand their rationale, which is to train managers and leaders to achieve corporate goals through the use of the executive powers delegated to them by their owners, or, in the case of non-profit businesses, members and trustees.

So we need to be clear: business schools train individuals, and teams, to use to maximum effect (measurable over a given time period – often three years) delegated executive powers. That’s what they do!

‘Church leaders’ don’t, on the whole, have delegated  executive powers. So there is a mismatch. I don’t know of any leadership courses, in the secular market place, that aims to develop ‘powerless leaders.’

 

The Church must pay attention to the short-term, of course it must, but unlike business we must also pay significant attention to the (very) long-term.

The average life of a business is just seventeen years, and the average tenure of a corporate executive is 4.3 years. Most business leaders, in a moment of quiet candour, will admit that they are not particularly interested in the long-term business success or stability of employment. I wasn’t and neither were the majority of my peers.

Do we want a cadre of talented clergy who seek to move to their next ‘more senior’ post every 4.3 years ?

But, here is my biggest criticism:

The assumption that talent is easily identified and then easily trained for ‘success’.

Could it just be that talent and leadership emerge over time?

Could it just be that we cannot be sure of someone’s true metal until they have been tested by circumstance or had to look ‘failure’ squarely in the face?

Could it be that ‘failure’ builds character (didn’t St Paul suggest this?)

Could it be that, with its stress on absolute performance, the Green Report will look down on ‘failure’ and ‘failures’?

Could it be that the authors of the Green Report believe that ‘real leaders’ look just like themselves?

And, given that many of the contributors to the Green Report believe that there is a crisis of leadership in the Church of England, isn’t a bit odd to think that they (the leaders) are the ones best equipped to identify and nurture talent? It’s all a bit bizarre really.

No one is denying that the Church of England requires good leaders. But, the reality is that the strategy recommended by the Green Report won’t deliver.

If adopted the Green Report report will set the Church on a slippery slope to disaster.

My hope is that the report will be rejected. Those responsible for training and development can, and should do, better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty, flexibility, inclusivity and integrity. 4 resolutions for the Church.

So 2015 is here.

New Year is typically a time for making resolutions and expressing hopes for a better future.

The reality is that most of us who make resolutions don’t keep them. Resolutions require effort and commitment. Wishes, are somewhat easier! Do Christians often confuse resolutions with wishes? When we ask God to intervene are we accepting that we can’t act in our own strength in any given situation? Or, are we instead asking God to let us off the hook, relegating our prayer to a wish (not even a hope!).

Resolutions in a Christian sense can be thought of as hopes brought into reality through, yes our prayers, but also our commitment? Just a thought.

So what would be my resolutions for the Church, or at least the small bit of the Church, with which I am intimately involved this year?

I would choose four resolutions.

Stop, pause:

I need to be honest. I did not choose my resolutions unaided. I need to thank my daughter who I phoned before a debate in Oxford on ‘what the Church has to offer the next generation.’ So, thank you Lilly for offering: beauty, flexibility, inclusivity and integrity. Out of the mouth of (not babes) teenagers; whatever!

It strikes me that we need to rediscover beauty;  transcendent beauty, in a bland and plastic age. The ‘beauty of holiness’ opens us up to the transcendent taking us out of the realm of the ordinary and mundane, for a short period, before returning us there refreshed and changed.

May your Church this year be a place of beauty.

Churches like athletes, and like so many other ‘structures’ need to be flexible, otherwise they will crack! Churches, like all institutions, whose growth is built on a monochrome way of doing things or, worse, a uniform set of beliefs will crack in the long-term. Jurgen Moltmann puts it like this: ‘a foundation which demands uniformity is a foundation not for life but death.’ I hope that within each and every church diversity of thought is encouraged, flexibility of mind is facilitated, and authentic diversity is welcomed. This will require a new and far more flexible approach to ministry. In the absence of flexibility the best we can hope for is a cultic style of leadership and the worst excesses of ‘priestly behaviour.’

May your church be a school of flexibility.

I enjoyed having a ‘non Church goer’ staying with me before Christmas (he did come to a carol service). Now my friend has a profound understanding of the character of Jesus. His rationale for non attendance is simply this: Jesus was inclusive, the church isn’t. This is a stinging critique but is it true? I think in large part he is. There is of course an ongoing dialogue between flexibility and inclusivity, and real learning, I suspect, occurs where the two meet?

May your church be a hostel of inclusivity. 

Finally, integrity. Integrity is our ‘meta hope.’

Integrity incorporates the ‘beauty of holiness’,  ‘renewal of the mind’ and the welcoming of the ‘stranger in our midst.’ Integrity implies a church that is confident in its mission (the bringing in of the Kingdom of God), resolute in adhering to biblical standards (refusing to be impressed with, or subservient to,  earthly powers and idols) and a commitment to loving service and the pursuit of  justice.

May your church and mine be houses of integrity.

Amen