Questions over episcopal leadership post Green and RME.

It has been interesting watching how ‘head office’ is reacting to critics of the raft of reports recently issued on behalf of the Church of England.

For many it feels as though conversion about, and participation in, decision making processes are simply not welcome.

Critics are all too quickly rebuffed: William Fittall, writing in the Church Times last week (1st May) was keen to dismiss Alister McGrath’s analysis of Resourcing Ministerial Education and, the Green Report. Mark Hart’s analysis of From Anecdote to Evidence was, in the previous edition, given short shift by those ‘in the know.’ 

Now it could be that all the recent reports are spot on in their analysis and, that those who wish to critique or participate in wider discussion are overly worried.

But, this in itself should not be a reason to close down conversation, for the real issue has now become the style of leadership to which the church is  becoming accustomed. 

In observing the way that decisions are currently being made in the Church of England it is possible offer two explanations:

The ‘senior leadership’ has arrived at a good (as in potentially effective) set of strategic decisions, but has done so in an inappropriate manner. We could term this the hypothesis.

Or, the ‘senior leadership,’ has arrived at a  bad (as in potentially ineffective or undermining) set of decisions, and has done so in an inappropriate manner. This could be what statisticians refer to as the null hypothesis.

In posting the hypothesis and null hypothesis it is only the first half of the propositions that have been altered. Both propositions maintain the inappropriate nature of the manner in which decisions are being made and, leadership exercised.


In making my claim I would draw on two different disciplines: the management sciences and, the wisdom of the Christian leadership tradition.

And this leads us into the field of irony. It is ironic that in reaching out to the management sciences (in the Green Report) the senior leadership has done so in a way that could portray them as preferring autocratic, non trusting, forms of leadership. It is also ironic that the theologically trained leaders should dismiss the wisdom offered through sources such as the Rule of Benedict.

Management theorists Hershey and Blanchard offer a decision making model which provides leaders with four options: telling, selling, participating and, delegating. The approach a leader (or leadership team takes) will be influenced by a) the maturity of the leader and b) the perceived maturity of other stakeholders.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt developed a model which depicted leaders as operating on a spectrum from authoritarian to empowering. Again,their model is contextual and takes into account time-frame alongside the personal characteristics of the leader and, the maturity of those effected by the decision.

So if we accept the legitimacy of these two models what conclusions might we draw? I suggest four:

  • Our leaders have decided that the presenting issues are so critical, and the reports so good, that there really is no time for any form of consultation, (unlikely)
  • The senior leadership perceives  itself to be mature, but that the other stakeholders don’t possess the necessary skills and insights to make valid criticisms or offer alternative insights (possible).
  • Those accepting the reports (uncritically) don’t possess sufficient self awareness to see the need to consult whist also believing that other stakeholders are likely to undermine their preferred options either wittingly or unwittingly (possible).
  • Our senior leaders haven’t really thought about how they should lead, in spite of the fact that leadership is their current pre-occupation (probable, ironic and paradoxical).

Yet, in spite of the above could it be that following the advice of St. Benedict might get those advocating the various reports out of the leadership mire many believe them to be in.

St. Benedict offers the following leadership wisdom:

When any business of importance is to be considered in the monastery, the abbot or abbess should summon the whole community together and personally explain to them the agenda that lies before them………..we have insisted that all the community should be summoned because it often happens that the Lord makes the best course clear to one of the younger members…………when questions of lesser importance arise in the concerns of the monastery, the abbot or abbess should consult with seniors alone. Such is the appropriate way to conform to that precept of Scripture: If you act always after hearing the counsel of others, you will avoid the need to repent of your decision afterwards (Sirach 32, 34).

So if we were to critique the unreserved acceptance of the various reports and,the lack of consultation against the standards laid down by Benedict what suggestions might we make?

  1. That the ‘senior leadership’ regard these reports as matters of ‘lesser importance,’ (unlikely).
  2. That there is a lack of trust in ‘younger members’ and, the role of the Holy Spirit in communicating through the voice of inexperience (likely).
  3. That the law of unintended consequences might mean that our leaders will need to ‘repent of their decisions afterwards’ (unfortunate)

If Church is is in some form of leadership mire, arrived at through the process of ‘non consultation’ where might we go from here?

I would like to see a period of grace -or a moratorium –  of six months to a year, during which all decisions regarding these reports are put on hold and no money is spent; all that I would ask for is a period of deep and honest self reflection and, listening to constructive criticism, then lets take stock.

Is it time that our leaders started a deliberate process of listening rather than telling? I for one think so!



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