Friday, 12 December 2014

'These are not the leaders you're looking for' - talent pools, management & the C of E

“I alone must write on flesh. Not even
The congenial face of my Baptist cousin,
My crooked affinity Judas, who understands,
Men who would give me accurately to the unborn
As if I were something simple, like bread.
But Pete, with his headband stuffed with fishhooks,
His gift for rushing in where angels wouldn’t,
Tom, for whom metaphor is anathema,
And James and John, who want the room at the top—
These numskulls are my medium. I called them.

I am tattooing God on their makeshift lives.
My Keystone Cops of disciples, always,
Running absurdly away, or lying ineptly,
Cutting off ears and falling into the water,
These Sancho Panzas must tread my Quixote life,
Dying ridiculous and undignified,
Flayed and stoned and crucified upside down.
They are the dear, the human, the dense, for whom
My message is. That might, had I not touched them,
Have died decent respectable upright deaths in bed.”

The above is taken from U.A. Fanthorpe’s poem, Getting It Across. It’s well worth checking out in full, vocalizing in Fanthorpe’s inimitable style Jesus’ exasperation with the fools he’s forced to work with.

When I read the Church Times’ article on The Green Report – which advises the Church to effectively adopt a business-shaped approach to developing its ‘talent pool’ for leadership positions – this poem came to mind. Fanthorpe’s poem reminds us of what we all know – that God, in the shape of Christ, is seeking to 'tattoo' glory on our makeshift lives. Her poem goes to the heart of the ironic, perhaps paradoxical glory of God and how it might be embodied in the church: how God does not necessarily choose the brilliant, the talented or even the especially virtuous for service. He almost perversely has a fondness for Keystone Cops and Sancho Panzas. God works with and calls the human, the dense and the foolish for ministry as much as the Augustines and the Pauls. And while the Anselms and Aquinas are called along with the clowns, it is not clear that they are the ones who are called to lead.

It is hard to argue that the C of E qua institution has been pretty poor at looking beyond patronage and ‘old school tie’ as a means of filling ‘senior’ posts. In one sense, the Green Report's desire to find ways of identifying clergy for those posts from a wider range of backgrounds than have hitherto been found is fair enough. As a friend pointed out on FB, in an hierarchical institution that is male-dominated, middle-class and so on, it makes sense to build the confidence of candidates from non-'trad' backgrounds.

However, one of the abiding questions concerns the extent to which the church should be driven by institutional rather than kingdom/God concerns. From an institutional point of view, demonstrable ‘success’ in achieving goals ‘x’, ‘y’, ‘z’ is a fundamental concern. Unilever or HSBC (for which Lord Green worked) will want managers to show how they have ‘added value’ to the institution for the sake of making that institution ever more successful in the world (in both cases, by delivering profits for the shareholders, one assumes). Leader-managers will model the values of the institution, managing risk and reward, and producing results. If they don’t they will lose their jobs or be demoted or be retrained. Growth will be the driver. If profit is not achieved, they may have to get rid of employees or find other means of rationalization. It is not the managers’ role to ask whether his/her institution is questionable or part of a system that might be open to question. 

I overstate for rhetorical effect, but I wonder: should the Church, insofar as it is committed to living for God and the Kingdom, be like the above? 

All I am certain of is that the figure at the centre of what the early Christians called The Way, Jesus Christ, modelled an odd, questionable and dodgy form of 'leadership'. Sacrifice, loss, and woundedness were not alien to him. His leadership was defined by grace and servanthood, not by extending the reach and (gulp!) penetration of an institution into the market-place.

And, yes, I know he never had to deal with the anxieties and challenges of being a bishop, a dean or an archdeacon. Jesus is precisely the kind of poltroon no institution, business or organisation is likely to want.

But he disturbs and inspires me because he seemed interested in the Kingdom and in God rather than delivering success according to an organization’s values. Maybe that’s what God is about. That's why he's so damn outrageous and infuriating.  For he dares us to make fools of ourselves for the sake of a ridiculous Love rather than living the respectable, upright lives - managed, costed, demonstrably growing - the institution adores.


  1. Beautifully articulated. I visited someone to talk about our new training course for children and youth workers under common awards, what he was most interested in is do we have the sort of students who are willing to wash dishes...

  2. " I am tatooing God on their makeshift lives" Love this. The church modelled itself upon the Roman Empire structures when it became 'official" that was perhaps, it's first mistake? Modelling itself on the power/profit/targets structures of the big business empire feels like another..

  3. Rachel, thank you for writing this - I love the poem and the imagery you use throughout the post. My biggest worry is that a group of this nature could develop a consensus that works against diversity and those who challenge the status quo could find themselves locked out. To echo the Dean of Durham, I would hope to see an increased emphasis on testing vocation above and beyond entry to the priesthood and that those who are the gatekeepers to this group value discernment above natural judgement.

  4. I find myself, from a business background, identifying with your post and with the reported comments of the dean of Durham. Yes we are called by God to take risks, but always risks that weigh the cost and benefit in terms of the values not simply of the institution but even more so of the kingdom. Part of our problem is that we never truly identify the values of the Kingdom as they are worked out in the institution - we are still too focused on numerical change, which is the measure that is recorded. we lose sight of the transformational nature of kingdom living, and of the incarnation.

    The sooner we test vocations based n wider criteria and looking at the whole range of vocations not just priesthood the sooner we will be recognising the call of God in the lives of many of our congregations.