The first cites comments from the conclusion to a forthcoming book, which appears to express Martyn’s overall discontent.
One of Britain’s senior theologians has warned that the Church of England is in danger of becoming a narrow sect “driven by mission-minded middle managers” who are alienating clergy, congregations and the general public.
His concern appears to be in two directions: an intentional focus on mission as a goal; and the use of management techniques in the delivery of that goal. It’s worth pointing out that these two do not automatically go together; for many years evangelicals have complained about anyone who appears more concerned about management than about mission. And many who have focussed on mission have hardly been competent managers.
On mission, Martyn seems to be concerned that this is increasingly becoming a central focus—though this is quite difficult to disentangle from his worry that the Church has a focus at all.
According to Percy, the strategy is fundamentally flawed. “It will take more to save the Church of England than a blend of the latest management theory, secular sorcery with statistics and evangelical up-speak,” he writes. A cure for the ailing church “would require a much deeper ecclesial comprehension than the present leadership currently exhibit … There seems to be no sagacity, serious science or spiritual substance to the curatives being offered.”
Rather, he says, the church “is being slowly kettled into becoming a suburban sect, corralling its congregations, controlling its clergy and centralising its communication. Instead of being a local, dispersed, national institution, it is becoming a bureaucratic organisation, managing its ministry and mission – in a manner that is hierarchically scripted.”
Bishops are forced to operate like area managers, with targets set by headquarters rather than by spiritual pastors. He writes that the archbishop, a former oil industry executive, “has set about reforming and renewing the Church of England with a zeal and zest more usually associated with secular management consultants”.
It’s worth subjecting one or two of these criticisms to further scrutiny. What might ‘secular sorcery with statistics’ mean? One of the things that has dogged the C of E is lack of accurate information about what is happening, and we now have better information than ever. In what sense can this be described as ‘sorcery’?
Is the C of E becoming a ‘suburban sect’? Only one-fifth of the population lives in rural areas, but C of E attendance there represents two-fifths of the total. When a curate, I remember a rural minister bemoaning having only himself, a curate, three retired clergy and three readers to cover his nine villages. Population? 3,600. There was I, with my training incumbent, responsible for a parish of 10,000. Given that the ‘science’ shows that greater ministry resourcing typically leaders to greater numbers of church attendance, this was no surprise. To her credit, Harriet Sherwood includes in the second article a good number of answers to Martyn’s complaints in the first—largely from Ric Thorpe, recently appointed Bishop of Islington responsible for overseeing church planting.
Where the population is denser, there are fewer clergy around to reach those people. If we are an outward-facing church we need to position people where they’re most needed: 83% of people live in urban areas, but 83% of [church] finance doesn’t go there. But it should.
Is it better that the Church should be ‘local and dispersed’ in its ministry? One of the frustrations of many parish clergy is the time they waste on local administration (including maintaining churchyards!) that could be centralised—and I find it baffling to see 44 different dioceses replicating processes that could more easily done nationally. With tight diocesan budgets, centralising common processes becomes not just attractive, but essential.
So the more we look at Martyn’s complaints, the less support there is for them in the actual facts. So much for the appeal to ‘science.’
A much better, alternative view is offering in the recent report from the Centre for Theology and Community (not, Martyn please note, an evangelical organisation). It is anecdotal rather than systematic, in that it arises from interviews with church leaders across denominations rather than statistical analysis (sorcery!), and looks at ministry in the East End of London, including from some seriously deprived areas. It explores what these leaders understand by ‘growth’, and groups answers under three headings: numerical growth; growth in depth of commitment and discipleship; and growth in impact in the local community. It would be interesting to know which of these kinds of growth Martyn is opposed to.
One of the key findings is, perhaps, no surprise, though does offer a challenge to approaches like Martyn’s:
Although our sample is not statistically significant, it is interesting to note that there was a strong correlation between those who expressed a lack of interest in numerical growth and congregations which had not grown…In our sample, perhaps unsurprisingly, it does seem that the degree of intentionality behind growth is related to the likelihood of growth. (p 30)
In other words, if you don’t think growth matters, then it is less likely to happen. Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford (and not an evangelical) comments in response:
Instead of talking about bums on seats, let’s instead talk about disciples being made and hearts changed; or best of all, let’s talk about lives transformed. It seems to me that the best way of answering the question, what sort of growth do we need, is not to say shall it be numbers or shall it be impact, or even to say shall it be both, as if these things were different from each other, but to say let it be growth in transformation.
Martyn’s second major complaint is about ‘managerialism’. Although it is possible that he is concerned with one approach to management rather than another, his comments appear to object to the idea of drawing on management theory or insights at all. Again, it is worth asking what the alternative might look like. Rochester Diocese recently announced that it has run out of cash; would an answer to this be more deployment of good management, or less? What would a ‘non-management’ approach look like? The Church Commissioners’ spend last year on the C of E (they are separate organisations) was £220m. Is it better or worse that there is some serious, reflective, strategic thinking about how this might best be spent in assisting the Church’s mission? Ric Thorpe again:
What’s changed is that [the church] is now saying, we want this money to go towards growth – which, when it’s in decline, is a wise investment. In this new thinking, you’ve got to demonstrate that you’ve got a plan, that you’re putting [funding] to good use, that it’s not going to something that’s dying. There’s an urgency about this.
Richard Peers, newly appointed as Liverpool’s next Diocesan Director of Education, and not an evangelical, commented online:
For me, the deep suspicion of managerial good practice in the church is disturbing. Good management, good systems and good processes keep everyone safe. The CofE it seems to me is only just beginning this process, I really believe we need it and will benefit from it.
There was some negative reaction to an early part of the Renewal and Reform programme, the ‘Green’ report on developing future leaders. (This was chaired by Lord Stephen Green, and not Sir Philip Green, for the avoidance of confusion!). But this was acknowledged and addressed, and the programme now has very wide support, not least because criticism have been listened to and problems attended to. Martyn claims to be speaking for the ‘largely silent majority’, and yet, if it exists, it is so silent that the support for R and R in the latest vote in Synod was (as Harriet Sherwood points out), unanimous. One wonders what kind of ‘majority’ this is. Harriet does cite one or two critics. Rob Cotton was a member of Archbishops’ Council prior to my appointment:
Membership is not the language that I and those that live in the soggy middle of the CofE often use. Of course we want more people to come to church, but I don’t think of the church essentially as a membership organisation.
Eddie Green, not an evangelical but a charismatic Anglo-Catholic, responds:
I cannot see the church surviving without becoming a membership organisation with high levels of commitment to growth from all the members of the church. But I understand where Robert is coming from. The difficulty is real and it needs to be addressed. Yet the soggy middle of the CofE does not have a great track record when it comes to growth.
It might then be asked: what exactly is Martyn Percy’s alternative vision for the Church, and does it have any merit? When I asked this about the similar concerns of Linda Woodhead, Robin Ward (Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford, and not an evangelical) responded:
It would seem to me does have a constructive message: the ethos of the Scandinavian style Volkskirche is the model you need if you want (fairly lukewarm) mass participation in a very devolved set up. Clericalist, organisational/managerial models produce corrosive contracting groups of feuding keenies rampaging through institutions designed for a much lower temperature of national participation.
My response was: that is a very big ‘If’! It is tempting to ask, do we indeed want the C of E to resemble the National Trust, a collection places of historic interest, to which people visit on their days off, but which does not demand a very high level of commitment as long as people pay their subscription? It might be tempting for me (as an evangelical) to ask: is this the vision of Scripture for the church? But a more problematic question for Martyn Percy, and others like him, is to ask: what is there in the formularies of the Church of England itself which would support this vision? It is very hard to read even a page of the BCP and imagine that its vision is for a ‘much lower temperature of national participation’.
So I think that is a resounding ‘no’—not based on sorcery, or evangelical narrowness, but on the basis of the C of E’s own words.
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