The Church of England is making radical changes to its leadership structure. Talented clergy are to be taken aside and trained to rise straight to the top. While changes are not necessarily a bad thing, what seems to be on offer is an ecclesiastical version of The Apprentice.
The shake up is coming on the recommendation of a report compiled by Stephen Green, an ordained priest, former government minister and erstwhile chairman of HSBC. The report proposes a project to groom talent for high offices in the Church of England. The recommendation has already been accepted and the hunt for leaders is on.
Candidates for the leadership development programme will be plucked from a select group of clergy who will be identified as “having talent”. They will go through rigorous training in management skills. Depending on their performance at the talent pool stage, they will progress to occupy higher offices or, presumably, be shown the door.
Just as in Alan Sugar’s boardroom, the muck will be ruthlessly separated from the brass. Candidates are either deposited right at the top of the ladder or discarded.
Using management skills to enable priests to become better leaders is not necessarily a bad thing. It could perhaps help them to be faithful ministers of the Gospel and to effectively reconcile the broken community. But in its soul searching, the church is looking for help from a sector that has proved time and time again to be morally vacuous.
Talent scouting and leadership development are core principles in the corporate world but they have become the means through which the church proposes to produce custodians of the Gospel. These are people who are supposed to transform individuals, nations and societies.
The banking sector is just one example of ethical ineptitude. “Talent” there, and all over the corporate world, is measured by one’s success, regardless of whether that success comes at the expense of others. Selfish “talent” is often rewarded, perpetuating performance-based leadership. If you don’t show profit, you’re fired.
The church is already succumbing to similar values as attendance continues to decline. There is an increasing pressure to demonstrate numbers to justify its existence, fuelled by an obsession with growth found in the more evangelical sections of the church.
The very idea of changing the vocation of priests to train as managerial leaders is not a solution to this problem. It is the last thing the church needs. Martyn Percy, the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford has warned that this project has little theological, academic or spiritual basis – and he’s right.
Leaders are made by the people they lead, not exclusively by their own merit. Leaders will lose their authenticity, even if they are in the select talent pool, if they lose touch with the people they are called to serve. The Apprentice model on offer here is a recipe for entrenching an elitist, Bullingdon Club style management structure on the church.
The leadership programme is being billed as the solution to getting a more diverse group of people into senior positions in the church. The intention is therefore honourable, but that doesn’t make the method any less questionable.
In their boardroom, we could start to see clergy displaying their talent for attracting members, growing congregations and tenacity, rather than being servants, stewards and shepherds.
If this proposed process goes ahead, the result would be well managed mega churches, not a strong and faithful community of followers of Christ in their local contexts. By rushing to remedy the leadership malaise in the CofE, it runs the risk of being governed by well groomed priestocrats.