Why our leaders need good training

superboyOn today’s General Synod agenda, we were scheduled to discuss a report on ‘Nurturing and discerning senior leaders’. In the event, we ended up adding a debate on the EU Referendum and the consequences for our thinking about division in society, and the debate on leadership has been postponed (I am not entirely sure until when).

But the need for good leadership could hardly have been more clearly demonstrated by news today about the Diocese of Rochester. It covers the area I grew up on the London/north Kent border, and the diocese therefore sponsored me through ordination recommendation and training. But today it has effectively announced that it is on the verge of running out of cash.

In a letter to all clergy, church wardens and parochial church councils, the diocesan bishop and chair of the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF) explain:

As many of you are aware, it has become clear that for some years our Diocese has been spending more than it has received in income, but has been able to manage this problem by drawing from reserves built up over many years. The accounts for last year have now been finalised, and the deficit between spending and income was higher than previously, at £604,000. This means that our present position is worse than expected because, while this has also been funded from reserves, those general reserves are now almost exhausted. It is essential we move back to the situation where spending is no more than our income, but this is expected to take us more than one year even with the actions we describe below.

As a result, all discretionary spending is going to be halted, including maintenance of clergy housing beyond the essentials; salaries are going to be frozen; training halted; empty vicarages let out. This is a desperate situation to have reached, which no doubt needs our prayers. But it is also going to provoke some questions.

Looking back, it has to be asked why the Diocesan Synod accepted a deficit budget year upon year until the substantial diocesan reserves had been used up. There might be a question as to whether there was in fact complete transparency in this process, judging from the use of the phrase ‘it has become clear’. Empty vicarages are now to be let—but why hasn’t that been happening before? And what has been happening with a diocesan stewardship/giving campaign? The letter says that an increase of a mere 50p per week per electoral roll member would wipe out the deficit—so why is this being notified only now?

Peter Ould, who is in the adjacent diocese of Canterbury, comments:

If we take the letter at face value it seems to indicate that the diocese has consistently run a large deficit for a number of years with no serious attempt made until now to remedy that situation. To wait until the coffers are actually empty before you put in even the limited kind of cash flow management measures that the diocese say they have now implemented, strikes me as irresponsible. It’s certainly the kind of behaviour that might, in the commercial world, lead someone who was responsible to consider very carefully their position.

The real challenge here is that the measures that have been put in place look to me as though they will only make things worse. The situation must be demoralising for clergy, and many will feel that the mismanagement that has taken place undermines their trust, which raises questions about making more contributions to central funds—which is, after all, a voluntary rather than a legal obligation. Freezing stipends and reducing numbers in ministry will, according to all the church growth research, lead to decline and not growth in church attendance, and a further decline in giving. I was part of an educational institution which did something similar in responding to a deficit by cutting teaching staff, removing the very thing that would attract students; it did not end happily. For the Diocese of Rochester, it is not very clear what a viable way forward might be.

The situation here illustrates starkly a truth which applies equally to diocese, local churches, and any faith-based institution: you cannot reduce the organisation to a business, but you cannot afford to ignore its business-like dimensions. These include financial management, legal compliance, and good leadership. It has been all the more significant to read the report on the C of E’s senior leadership selection and training, and reflect on the experiences of those who have been through the process.

The development of the process did not start well. The report chaired by Lord Green, produced at the end of 2014, generated a storm of protest at what felt like reductionist management language with little or no theological insight. But around the same time, the Faith and Order Commission reflection on leadership, written by Mike Higton and Loveday Alexander, offered a sharp contrast by presenting some very interesting reflections on how the vocation of leaders relates to the vocation of the whole people of God. These two elements appear to have been much better integrated now, and whilst there are key parts of the training that draw on secular leadership expertise, this is integrated with theological reflection on leadership and personal development. These are the elements involved:

  1. Organisational leadership: Learning how to lead in complex environments and in collaboration with different personalities.
  2. Theological exploration: Engaging with leading theologians on issues facing the Church and society. Deepening your own theological reflection.
  3. Personal formation and spiritual development: Developing yourself to lead as a mature disciple of Christ; faithfully, prayerfully, and with emotional intelligence.
  4. Community transformation: Learning how to lead in the proclamation of the gospel in and for local communities. Challenging unjust structures in society.
  5. Re-imagining ministry: Looking afresh at what it means to be ordained to the office of priest in the Church of God.
  6. Growing the Church: Engaging with the challenges of growing the Church at a national and local level. Seeing churches grow in both spiritual maturity and numerically.

This all looks like exciting stuff. It is good to see the developments and the lessons learnt highlighted in the accompanying report. I was particularly encouraged to see the process of selection being handled well, with a commitment to support those who, for whatever reason, were not selected. There is awareness of the dangers of under-representation from particular groups in the Church, and steps have been taken to address this. And the issue of ‘management theory reductionism’ has been addressed explicitly:

  • Fears allayed about the uncritical use of so-called secular leadership models – at least 30% of those attending the programmes reported a level of scepticism prior to participating. However, they have reported that, having experienced the programmes, these fears have proved unfounded. They have expressed relief at the exploratory nature of the programmes and the lack of an imposed agenda.

There are still some things I would hope to see changed. Where is the reflection on a Christian and theological understanding of leadership, if leadership theory and theological exploration happen in separate units? Is there enough of a continuous thread focussing on personal growth in spirituality? And how much of the reflection is on leading volunteers, since this is what the Church is, in contrast to business organisations? I hope there will be continued development which engage with these issues, if they are not already there.

We need to pray for the people and leaders of the Diocese of Rochester, that together they might find a positive way forward out of the current situation. But we also need to pray that God will call, raise up and equip the next generation of leaders so that these kinds of problems do not recur in this form.

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13 thoughts on “Why our leaders need good training”

  1. A timely argument. The programme has allayed many fears and been a huge blessing. The teaching on ‘the rackets we tell ourselves and others’ would have been particularly pertinent in an organisation eating up its reserves and making wildly false assumptions on its income generation. The whole programme has been deeply Christian – unsurprisingly enough due to both the trainers and the participants background and commitments and theological expertise. I hope synod says a big thank you to the organisers and the archbishop (and that someone there feels able to make that case).

    • Thanks Richard. I have been struck by the way that others have echoed your comments. What do you think of my observations about areas that might need a little more attention? Was the theology of leadership connected with other perspectives?

  2. Perhaps more emphasis on the core “business”?

    Doubling the number of “members” will not require double the central/diocesan costs.

    Of course I would prefer to simply support the core “business” out of obedience to the founder. Lean and focused support for parishes.

    Leadership/management are things we can choose to do well – or badly by not choosing.

    A bit more of “what you know” and a bit less “who you know” might not go amiss when looking for leaders and senior managers.

    Some attention to career before ordination and better availability of appropriate trainIng after would also help. Let’s not start training people after the announcement from Downing Street. Massively unfair on the “victim”.

  3. Good stuff Ian.

    You are right to mention volunteers, but it’s worth saying that the language of volunteering can accidentally become a back door to ‘management reductionism’ too.

    There is a widespread and well-developed approach to volunteer management which is pretty effective in the charity sector. However, that model taken into the church would undermine many emerging ideas about lay leadership and discipleship, especially if pushed into a church that was pressured to cut costs.

    Given the battering that social care is currently taking, in fact it is the church’s emerging practical theology that should be resourcing the world, rather than the other way around – in volunteering and in other matters too.

  4. Thank you Ian… though, like you, I was ordained in Rochester and find their ‘news’ (though it barely qualifies for this description) distressing. I presume out of shared struggle no one will take more than the incumbents stipend whatever their ‘senior role’….

    Clearly giving is an ongoing discipleship challenge but I do think that nationally we need to get grip on central diocesan costs. I do ‘believe in the diocese’ as a helpful model but it sometimes looks as if maintaining the centre is the goal of the centre. The ‘ cost of a vicar’ often includes central items which the parishes dont need or don’t want.

    As a once and recent bigger church incumbent we had constant and depressing conversations with the centre. I encouraged our Team to pay its costs and more but there never seemed to be a plan/goal/ambition for every church to do the same. We felt like a milk cow. With overall reducing numbers the per capita share we paid went up constantly and, effectively, uncapped. It all came on to me as pressure to come up with the increasing cash. It’s a recipe for pulling out in those churches with separatism dispositions or rebellion in those where the congregation takes a dim view of funding where no mission seems to take place or where the Diocesan Bishop appears to disown evangelism.

    It doesn’t matter how well the parish leader is trained, motivated, successful… if the diocese is a sink hole for money at its end.

  5. No sympathy at all for Rochester diocese. The problem as usual is spiritual not financial.

    My father was a vicar, who worked abroad as a missionary. On his return he was refused a living by the diocese (Cambridge science graduate, evangelical persuasion and experience of the third world presumably all counting against him!)

    Despite the rejection he offered his services for holidays, sickness cover and interregnums for 40 years. In the parish where he lived he refused payment for all services as a matter of principle.

    Towards the end of his life the PCC offered him a plot in the graveyard as a gift in recognition of his service. A few years later the new PCC rescinded the offer – an extraordinary rebuff which my father accepted without complaint.

    When he died I asked the current vicar to approach the diocese to ask if they would honour the commitment as a mark of respect to my mother. ( I had plenty of money to pay but asked as a matter of courtesy to my mother)

    Not surprisingly the request was rejected ( they could not afford it!)

    Why would anyone be generous to a diocesan team who have so lost their way and treat their staff so appallingly.

  6. How depressing to hear of the situation at Rochester. You do have to wonder what on earth was going on among the senior leaders of the diocese – the bishop, the diocesan secretary, the chair of the DBF, the director of finance – to reach this point without remedial and constructive action being taken. Someone at the top needs to go, surely, and someone with a clear business mind needs to be among those who take things forward from here.

    I wonder if anyone at the Commissioners has looked at the finances of the dioceses to see which have been running similar deficit budgets year on year and taken the initiative in offering preemptive guidance and advice. We can’t afford for this to become a recurring trend.

  7. It’s fairly easy to research Rochester’s numerical decline in the 2014 Statistics for Mission and the year-on-year deficits from the Diocesan Budget Outturn 2015.

    What’s ironic is that the diocese secured and £15,000 of Mission Development Funding to pay for its Accounting Advisers: an investment which was to no avail.

    There appears to be no diocese-wide mission strategy. At the deanery level, Erith has shown strategic focus, by set up a Youth Trust with the express purpose of funding Youth and Children’s Support Worker. In 2014, Erith received £25,000 in Mission Development Funding (MDF) for this purpose.

    I’m sure that there were very good reasons prompting the change in 2015 from the Parish Share and Stipend payments to an ‘Offer’ system, but this has led to an even greater short-fall.

    Within the diocese, lay Christians are harnessing their motivation from the gospel without much recourse to any of the 194.5 (fte) Stipendiary clergy and 44 self-supporting clergy whom the dioces employs at a cost of £8.275 million.t

    For example,.Evergreen Care Trust was set up by Pete and Diane Kot, who are lay volunteers from Belvedere Baptist Church in Bexley Heath. The charity has neither the overheads, nor the staffing costs of a parish church. Evergreen provides voluntary services for the vulnerable and aged, such as Befrienders; Chaplaincy; Clean Team; Hand and Nail Care; Hospital-to-Home support.

    The registered charity’s income is generated from a mix of voluntary donations (£50k) and paid-for services, such as simple meals-on-wheels and respite home visits (£98k). Last year’s return showed an income of £260k against expenditure of £177k. The charity spent only £29k in administration, wages, rates and rent.

    Meanwhile, the £1.035 million spent on ‘other diocesan support services’ includes stewardship and provision of accounting and financial support to parishes: again to little avail.

    Ultimately, the challenge for the CofE and Rochester, in particular, is that people will contribute more to organizations, like Evergreen, which appear to be more directly and tangibly involved in harnessing the gospel to transform people lives for the better.

    Another such organization is Victory Outreach, which runs half-way house for recovering addicts.. Here’s the testimony of Laura Nicholson:

    “Two and a half years ago I knew my life really needed to change. I’d been a heroin addict for 17 years, on methadone for 13 and on all sort of anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs. I was taking uppers to wake up, downers to go to sleep and other stuff to get through the day. Things got so bad that I was in a mental hospital with drug-induced psychosis, and my parents were told I would spend the rest of my life in there.

    I was in and out of violent relationships and involved in all sorts of crime and theft to feed my drug habit. On top of all this, I’d lost my son when he was 16 months old because I couldn’t cope with being a mother at that point. Basically, my life was a mess. I got to the point where I got to thinking I only had three options – either kill myself, kill somebody else, or be killed.

    But it all changed one night – the night I heard about Jesus. I was at a Victory Outreach rally in Scotland and was hearing all these testimonies about how he had changed people’s lives. One person even testified to being healed from a personality disorder. That night I made up my mind. I went to the front and said, ‘If you can do it for these people, then please do it for me because I can’t live like this any more’.

    Within 12 hours I was on the Victory Outreach recovery programme – a rehab programme – where I spent the next 18 months getting my life sorted out. God has given me everything back that the Devil stole from me. He’s set me free from drugs, healed me several times over and reconciled me with my family. I’ve now got a good relationship with my parents and I’m starting to get to know my son.”

    This is where people are contributing their money these days.

    • Finances in Coventry are good. We’ve run a lean diocesan staff and taken a proactive and strategic approach to stewardship which has kept things in the black, especially in the last 10 years or so. Giving is currently running at a good level, though we have the usual challenges especially in rural areas.

    • “Within the diocese, lay Christians are harnessing their motivation from the gospel without much recourse to any of the 194.5 (fte) Stipendiary clergy and 44 self-supporting clergy whom the diocese employs at a cost of £8.275 million.”

      By definition, the self supporting clergy are not paid.

      • Yep, the total cost of £8.275m for stipendiary and self-supporting clergy employed by the diocese is incurred in paying for stipendiary clergy.

        The point is that, despite the cost incurred by the diocese, more and more lay Christians are putting their money elsewhere, or to paraphrase the Annie Lennox song, ‘Laity are doing it for themselves’!


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