Kim's Blog

Thoughts on The Talent Pool

Sunday, December 14, 2014

There has been a flurry of comment over the last few days after the reporting of new plans by the CofE to train senior leadership for the challenges of the future. Much of the furore is inevitably focusing on the ‘commercial’ language used, which admittedly lacks nuance, but much of the criticism seems to emit from those ‘in the system’ who wanted to influence but haven’t been invited to shape it. The decision has, it seems to me, been deliberately taken out of the hands of the ‘group think’ of some of our CofE culture, and instead seeks fresh influences and to draw on the lessons that many large organisations have had to learn when reorganising to take account of future challenges and changes.

For all its lack of skill in communicating the change, I’m incredibly upbeat and pleased about it, as for the first time it seems to acknowledge publicly that ‘business as usual’ ie the continuing culture of hierarchy, academia and ancient pedagogical methods cannot continue and a good hard look at changes in culture, politics and educational development are long overdue. I am sure there are flaws with it, and of course it will be shaped and altered as it moves along, but for me this is a big encouragement for the future and I will pray for its flourishing. It also seems an inevitable result of the appointment of an Archbishop with nous and business acumen combined with a rigorous spirituality. But yes, I hope they learn how to explain and describe it better! It isn’t helped by its association with banking, which is not an industry we especially want influencing the church, and this association is allowing critics to focus on that and decry it. I think it should surely be understood that rigorous underpinning of spirituality and the importance of character and integrity are implicit in this.

I have to come clean and say that I am from an industry background; I trained and worked as an engineer and particularly in change management of a large multinational aerospace engineering company, and then in culture change in the charity and church sectors. I have to confess that the CofE has the most archaic culture I have ever seen. Much as I really love this Church and see so much good in it, I have feared it will not survive at all if it doesn’t get a grip on the changes in culture and face up to its patriarchal, hierarchical and bureaucratic tendencies and structures, and also sort out its crippling financial issues.

Yes it is the Church, but it is also a very large and complex organisation, and has many cultural habits overhanging from the 1970’s. If you’ve always been here, been raised in it and worked in it, maybe that is not possible to see. I am a recent convert to Anglicanism and so it still shocks me that I get written paper letters that arrive in the mail from MinDiv, on matters that are standard and not confidential, or that I get asked not to speak to a decision maker directly but to go up and through and torturous route of people ‘above’ me who will talk to people who will talk to people, and then I’ll never get an answer. In engineering I could see a managing director if I needed to without fuss or panic, talk through an idea and after some thought and dialogue with colleagues, implement it or trial it. Or that I am taught, usually by a white male academic, seated on three sides of a square with the teacher at the front, and no time allowed for questions or debate.

We, the CofE, still have the institutional feel of a nationalised industry from the 70’s, like Rolls Royce when it was paid by the government ‘cost – plus’ for everything it spent. Nowhere else works like this anymore – and there is nothing ‘spiritual’ or theological about ineffectiveness! The Bible has a huge amount to say about good stewardship, especially as money gets tighter it needs ot work harder and smarter – indeed we have a parable for this exact situation, aptly named the parable of The Talents.

People who are not in favour of the plan are saying “ooh would Jesus or St Peter make the cut for the talent pool?” There is an interesting question here about our models and metaphors; do we want or expect the Church to suddenly go back to a simple first century, or a Biblical, model for mission and ministry? Sending out the 72 with no belt or money? Or like Aidan,walking everywhere on foot and giving away his possessions to the poor? There is a part of me that would relish this – and I think it may be what eventually happens to the middle wedge of the Church. It would certainly cut out some of the hierarchy, and the jockeying for promotions and power that is driving some of the criticism of this plan by those who have effectively lost their next move. It has potentially leapfrogged a cohort who will now be extremely vocal in their opposition.

Yes, we are the Church. And yes, because of our history, we are also a large and very complex institution that is bound up with the machinery of state. This gives us as many opportunities as it does disadvantages, and what this plan is doing is ensuring we can capitalise on these in future, whilst keeping our historic buildings open for worship and community instead of facing bankruptcy. This is a both/and situation – not an either/or. We can be spiritual, ecclesial, theological AND entrepreneurial, culturally aware and good at governance.

We need to focus on what matters – proclaiming Jesus in sacrament, word and deed in all spheres, and doing it in a way that uses all the gifts at our disposal and that reaches people who have not heard, which these days is almost everyone. And we need to use all our assets wisely in the service of this end. This represents a step change, a paradigm change, with leaders being equipped to be more entrepreneurial and culturally savvy. Amen to that.

Here is the link to the Church Times’ sharing of elements of the report. I’ve highlighted the significant passages that seem like good news:

http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2014/12-december/news/uk/plan-to-groom-talent-for-high-office-in-c-of-e

The intention, it says, “is to develop clergy of exceptional leadership potential to make a significant impact in every area of the Church’s endeavour, and to be more open to the emergence of leaders from a wider variety of backgrounds and range of skills than is currently predictable. The Church must be more intentional about drawing in those with high potential who do not appear to ‘fit in’.” It identifies women and people from Black, Asian, and minority-ethnic communities as under-represented in senior church leadership. < the naysayers are complaining it will privilege one type of leader over another. I say it will leapfrog a generation coming up who may not get their expected promotions, and instead will look to other groups to bring fresh input and diversity, much more suited to the present and future, more agile and less interested in privileges.

“There is emerging an opportunity for senior leaders in the Church to be innovative and to initiate new forms of social and political capital. This will involve being daring enough to open conversations which politicians fear to start on their own.” < YES!!! At last. This needs preparation for and it is a landscape we need to begin to operate in more effectively.

“There will also be a new programme on Contributing to the Common Good (including digital-communications skills training and a deeper insight into cultural change). < again, yes! Not concentrating on the church’s good but serving.

“The programme should not be run primarily by internal trainers or theological colleges. The evaluation found that these providers failed to provide sufficient challenge for a senior Church cohort.”

< In the main and from my own experience I’m not sure the colleges are even providing sufficient challenge for a junior Church cohort. Pedagogy is still seated behind desks while teachers lecture, with very little time allowed for robust debate or challenge, the previous life experience of students before training is entirely ignored, hardly ever time for discussion about how this knowledge is applied, and not a lot about the world we are going out into and what it is like. New providers like St Mellitus, Westminster Theological College (although not accredited for ordination training yet) and CMS are offering a much more useful, nuanced, holistic and practical equipping, using new technology and a range of voices and materials and are all non residential, keeping the student engaged in real life and not a bizarre cultural bubble (personally I think abolishing residential training is a mandatory part of culture change in the CofE)

Below is a rather odd section, ‘contra-indicators’, explaining these are the factors that would make someone ineligible for the talent pool; here lies some of the least nuanced and thought out ideas. The notion that someone who is talented should be booted out of they have family issues or an unsupportive parish seems like short term thinking in the extreme, and unrealistic about the fact that gifted leaders are also humans and have real life to contend with like everyone else! This can’t be assumed to create super-humans who are not in touch with their hearts – quite the opposite. And the idea in the last paragraph that actually, not everyone has talent, is at odds with Scripture at best. Character and talent are both needed for senior leadership and this programme seems short on acknowledgment of the former – perhaps it is assumed. These areas of the report below seem odd and need further work / thought I believe:

Contra-indicators:

e.g. “a priest where personal charisma dominates rather than living out the gospel message, boundary-stretching to an extent that a community is left stressed and floundering, theological interpretation/exploration and little action, over attuned to empathy and a failure to confront issues, unable to work collaboratively”; too little support in the home parish so that the individual is too busy to learn; family issues that inhibit commitment to the intensive development programme.

Individuals will be required to hit an ‘absolute’ standard (very high objective standard which means the talent pool will always be small, up to a maximum membership of 150) rather than a ‘relative’ standard (assuming that everyone’s got talent, creating a misleadingly large talent pool).”

Here is Martyn Percy’s critique of the plan, below in the link. No doubt we’ll hear more as the weeks go by. But its hard to find much substance or alternative proposals, and he mainly calls for the increased influence of academics, theologians and scholars and theological colleges. The whole point of this plan is sidestep those; after all they have been in the ascendance a long while in the church and partly responsible for getting us to where we are. (Very little theology so far extends to the areas of good stewardship and governance or entrepreneurialism in mission – new organisations training people for ministry do however focus on this, CMS runs a Mission Entrepreneurship residential programme. )From the critics there is a somewhat black and white, binary type reporting that tries to portray it as in the hands of the ‘fat cats’ and the capitalists. If you read the report summary we have available, that not what I see coming through it at all. But it will be convenient for the opposition to portray it that way.

http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2014/12-december/comment/opinion/are-these-the-leaders-that-we-really-want

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