One Church’s mission but many opportunities

The article below is a piece I was asked to write for the Church Times on Renewal and Reform’s investment programme. It was published on 23rd September 2016

FIRST, a confession: I have been unfairly critical of recent initiatives that may be considered “managerial”, such as Renewal and Reform (R&R). R&R is a wide-ranging initiative, which includes the Church of England’s multi-million-pound programme, over several years, of investment in mission initiatives. Half of it — £24 million per annum — is ring-fenced for mission in low-income areas; and half for strategic-development opportunities.The Church Commissioners will allocate funds for strategic development or growth opportunities on the basis of diocesan bids — which in itself presents some interesting challenges. The Church and its dioceses need to consider how to invest the money, as the funding cycle starts in 2017, and will last for a minimum of three years.Despite current high levels of managerially induced anxiety, the relationship between faith and management has a long history. The Rule of St Benedict provides a charter for how Christian bodies may be ef-
fectively managed. St Benedict suggests that management is a necessary precondition for mission.My interest in how the Church manages its assets stems from my pre-ordination careers in investment-management, and then in a business school, where I lectured on finance, and ethics and governance. I am conditioned to analyse R&R through the lenses of portfolio- and strategic-management theories, as there is no such thing as a single strategic-management theory: there are, instead, competing theories.The Church needs to craft its approach, blending different theories, to achieve R&R’s stated purpose: “To make sure we have the right people and resources to help us re-evangelise England and grow in the life of the Kingdom of God.”MY CRITICISM of R&R was that it looked as though the initiative — or, more accurately, the continuing conversation; for that is what R&R is — was based on a specific set of assumptions: big is best; Evangelicalism is where it’s at; urban is thriving; rural is dead. The examples of investments made in the Church Commissioners’ 2015 Annual Report lends weight to this critique.I still believe these to be the prevailing assumptions, but I no longer think that they are as dominant, and domineering, as has been suggested. R&R is capable of recognising myriad different opportunities, but it needs critical friends to be on the tour bus, where the conversations are happening. It is no use standing at the bus stop, yelling loudly.Initially, R&R’s approach to investment appears to be top-down and centrally planned: a product of an approach popularised by Harvard Business School and its guru Michael Porter. This suggests that the job of senior managers is analysis of the environment, the selection of a generic strategy, and the allocation of resources to implement it.If the outcome of R&R were to be that strategic finance was limited to investment in church-plants in the style of Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), for instance, then it could follow that the Church had been entirely guided by one management theory, betting all its “mission portfolio” on one form of dhurch, one ecclesiology, in one — urban — context. This would be both foolish and antithetical to what it means to be the national Church.Ceasing to invest in HTB-style plants would, however, be akin to selling shares in Microsoft, after its share price had risen by 100 per cent, thereby foregoing the subsequent 10,000-per-cent return. So a reasonably high level of continued investment should continue. And yet a prudent strategy is never limited to investing in one form of opportunity.HENRY MINTZBERG, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that top-down, highly planned, generic strategies alone cannot deliver an enduring pattern of returns. Dr Mintzberg asks strategists to scan the environment constantly, looking for emerging themes in which to invest.One example of an emerging theme which the Church should take seriously is the number of people who identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. Resources, intellectual and financial, could be deployed to understand and access this, and also other “emerging market segments”.In portfolio-management terms, this would be akin to investing early in a sector that subsequently produced stellar returns: IT in the early 1990s, for example. Investment-management businesses often employ “sector specialists”. The Church of England needs to find its own such specialists.J. B. Quinn, who was Professor of Management at the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, in Hanover, New Hampshire, developed an approach known as Logical Incrementalism, arguing that rational planning ultimately became a substitute for control, stifling real entrepreneurial activity.Professor Quinn suggests that successful organisations experiment, learning from the success and failure of incremental investments in “interesting” initiatives. The strategic challenge is in identifying interesting initiatives, because incremental opportunities are often found on the periphery, away from the “core business” and obvious success stories.An example of logical incrementalism would be Nokian Tyres’ decision to invest a small amount of capital to create a distribution business to sell rubber off-cuts to manufacturers of the cables used in the mobile-phone industry. Several conversations later, the result was Nokia.The Church’s strategists, whether they are located in “head office”, or regionally in the dioceses, need to develop their peripheral vision, seeking out potentially transformative mission opportunities. They are out there, they need only finding.I WOULD like to see three outcomes from R&R’s investment programme:• continued investment in initiatives that are currently bearing fruit, such as the HTB-style plants;• a commitment to invest in emerging thematic opportunities: “spiritual but not religious” people, for instance;• an active programme of investing incremental amounts in interesting “peripheral” growth opportunities.The result would be a well-crafted, prudently diversified portfolio of mission initiatives, capable of generating sustainable growth “in the life of the Kingdom of God”.The Revd Andrew Lightbown is the Rector of Winslow, in the diocese of Oxford.

Goodwill: R&R’s most important asset?

‘For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good,’ (Psalm 122,9).

For the last few weeks the notion of ‘goodwill’ has been on my mind, and dare I say it, my heart. Goodwill is, of course, one of those vague and wonderfully ill-defined terms. We know by intuition when it is in the ether and, we also know when it’s not.

We all know people who are agents of goodwill just as we all know folk whose first, and sadly ongoing, response to any initiative is cynicism. Goodwill produces hope and optimism. It is healthily contagious. Cynicism, left unchecked, is viral and results in destructive behavior. Goodwill enhances returns whilst cynicism depreciates the value of an idea, or material investment.  Goodwill, like trust, is a generative and re-productive intangible asset.

I have a feeling that the Church of England requires its members to exercise goodwill on an unprecedented scale if it is to achieve the aims of Renewal and Reform. I have long liked Marshall Field’s suggestion that:

‘Goodwill is the only asset that competition cannot undersell or destroy.’

Fortunately the Church of England isn’t in the business of competition, or is it?

Perhaps we all need to be ever so slightly honest and accept that we can become a little too tribal at times? Sometimes such tribalism results in a sense of triumphalism or its inverse victim-hood. Goodwill, authentically deployed, is not only an agent of hope and optimism but, also the eraser of tribalism.

If R&R is to be effective we need to reduce the level of tribalism prevalent across the Church of England; slowly rubbing it away. This doesn’t mean foregoing our own sense of identity or ecclesiology, it doesn’t mean ignoring various geographies, it doesn’t imply some form of passive and stoical acceptance of perceived inevitability but, it does mean caring about the whole of one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in England.

Goodwill invites us to throw off our own protective clothing and, to make sure that whatever our own individual preferences we refuse to allow ourselves the luxury of hunkering down, and carrying on in splendid isolation. Goodwill demands that we extend and relate.

We need to remember that although R&R will invest in individual mission initiatives it will only do so for the good of the entire Church of England, for its purpose is to re-evangelize England through the thoughtful deployment of resources, both human and financial. In the words of Charles Fletcher Dole we are asked to recognise that ‘goodwill is the mightiest practical force in the universe.’ Goodwill isn’t just about being nice, it’s about getting the job (of re-evangelizing England) done!

The hope must always be that the ‘success’ of any single initiative is visible beyond its immediate boundary or context. Projects are interesting only to the extent to which they contribute to the whole.

Earlier this week my good friend Lucy Edhouse Dallas, the Vicar of St. Nicholas Elstree, wrote a highly moving open letter to the Church (not the House of Bishops, simply the Church) in which, drawing on her story, she described how, for her own spiritual health, she needed to remain in communion with conservatives, liberals, progressives, evangelicals, charismatics and, mystics alike, for the simple reason that they all add to the vibrancy and mission of the Church of England. If you would like to read her letter its available through her blog:

I found Lucy’s letter both moving but also haunting. I am not sure I feel her sense of need. I understand cognitively where she is coming from, but perhaps not, as yet, emotionally and spirituality. I am just a little too tribal for my own liking, as yet ill-equipped to assert with the Psalmist ‘for the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.’ Yet, I know this is where I must get to, not out of a sense of niceness, but for the sake of the House of the Lord our God,’ and for the sake of the re-evangelization of England! And, the only way I can see that this might become possible is through the purposeful exercise of goodwill.

Goodwill is, I have come to believe, as hard as teak and as supple as ply. It is also something that has to be worked at, in the absence of natural inclinations and sympathies. Good will is about looking for the good in people and ways of doing things that fall outside of our natural and innate preferences, groups, tribes, cliques, ecclesiologies and geographies and, then willing them; willing them through prayer and, practical support. Goodwill looks beyond imperfection – real and perceived –  for the good. Goodwill asks us to ‘take the log out of our own eye’, so that all we see in the other is a speck of imperfection, amidst a greater sea of goodness. Goodwill calls us to humility and realism. Goodwill asks us to see beyond narrow boundaries and, behind the edifice of style, forms and patterns of worship and, ‘being church.’ No easy task!

Goodwill, is a duty and an obligation, it is a job of work; hard and committed work. My hope is that as I get better at exercising goodwill my need for others will grow, that I will grow into Lucy’s maturity, that I will become an agent of hope and optimism and a net contributor to the aims and aspirations behind R&R and that with the Psalmist I will be able to look at difference and say:

‘For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.’