This week members of General Synod have been hotly debating the ‘Reform and Renewal’ proposals. It is fair to say that outside the halls and debating chambers of synod R n R also has its fair share of advocates and critics.
Advocacy and criticism alike seem, to this one step removed observer, to derive from an individual’s own mental models of what it means to be: a) church, b) a ‘church leader,’ and c) a ‘strategist.’ (At this stage I know that some will already be balking at the use of the words ‘leader’ and ‘strategist’ – stay with me!)
Placed into the language of theology we can see that discussions and debates are concerned with a) ecclesiology b) priesthood (ministerial and the priesthood of all believers) and c) mission and evangelism.
Advocates and critics alike have been keen to stress that any decisions arrived at must follow from a period of robust theological analysis (should I use the word analysis? is it overly managerial?) Surely this should be ‘beyond contestation?’ A church that forgets to do its theology would be a very strange beast, wouldn’t it?
As a former course director in a business school (I was responsible for Msc degrees in Finance and Accounting and in International Financial Services) I would like to suggest that the Church of England also needs to ensure, if it is to draw on the management sciences, that it selects from the broad range of approaches on offer. I would also suggest that the C of E can only do so having first agreed on the ecclesiological question: ‘what does it mean to be the Church of England today?’ Until any corporation, firm, institution, body and so forth fully understands its own DNA, as well as its ‘stakeholder map,’ it is almost bound to select the the wrong tools and theories from the management sciences.
One of the consequences of this (and this is my biggest fear in relation to the Green Report) is that the C of E may end up training the wrong people, in the wrong ways, towards the wrong ends. The irony is that many of the people trained in the wrong way towards the wrong ends may both enjoy and value the training they are receiving.
The ecclesiological question – what does it mean to be church – which is in itself a macro, intermediate and a micro question, applicable at the institutional / denominational, diocesan / deanery and benefice / parish levels – needs to be fully answered prior to the selection of any management theories. As Martyn Percy correctly warns:
‘It is far too easy to claim you are ‘cutting through red tape’; only to discover far too late that what you actually sliced through were crucial nerves and tissues in a delicate body-politic.’
It may be that the C of E has done the serious work of analysis, but if so its findings haven’t been articulated and until they are there can be little confidence in the institutions ability to select from the suite of approaches offered by the management sciences.
Mintzberg, Ahlstrand and Lampel in the introduction to the ‘Strategy Safari’ offer this warning, a warning that I believe that the C of E needs to hear and receive:
‘There is a terrible bias in today’s management literature towards the current, the latest, the hottest. This does a disservice, not only towards those wonderful old writers, but especially to the readers who are all too frequently offered the trivial new instead of the significant old.’
So here are some questions that I would like to see answered:
Could it be that the C of E has accepted the ‘trivial new’ in the choices it has made in relation to the management sciences?
Could it be that those responsible for initiatives such as the Green Report and Reform and Renewal have unwittingly purchased ‘the current,’ ‘the latest’ and ‘the hottest’ because they are unaware of the ‘wonderful old writers’ who may in fact offer a better management science-church fit?
Does the Church of England possess the skills and to critique and then select from the menu of choices on offer?
Clearly I think that ‘yes’ is the correct answer to the first two questions and, ‘not sure’ in relation to the third of the questions above.
So what can the C of E do? Well, that’s up to General Synod.
In my next article I will provide a brief overview of the options available from the menu of management approaches and explain why I think that the C of E is in danger of making (or has it already made?) some poor choices.