Holiness and Management

“God has appointed in the church … administrative gifts …” 1 Corinthians 12:28

UPDATE 17/8 some typos corrected, apogologies to Fr Eddie Green for not noting his excellent contribution here, and also on the Thinking Anglicans page.

Fr Wealands Bell also blogs superbly on these matters here.

Ian Paul directed me to his post here on leadership training.

When I take up my new post on 1st September, it will be the first time for 18 years that I have not been on the Senior Leadership Team of a school. I am, no doubt, going to have to adjust to this new role in many ways. I’ve been preparing for that change by reflecting on my experience of leadership with my professional mentor, Spiritual Director and others. It has been fascinating at the same time to follow the discussion within the Church of England of the Renewal and Reform programme and the way in which the church (for which read CofE here) is addressing the situation it finds itself in.

This last weekend two articles were published which were particularly critical of the direction of travel. They sparked some debate on Facebook and blogs by Ian Paul and Fr Gary Waddington (all available from the Thinking Anglicans page linked above). Ian and Gary are both members of General Synod and Ian is also a member of the Archbishop’s Council, so they are very much commenting from inside while my thoughts are based mainly on my experience in another sector, education.

Ian quotes a comment I made on Facebook about the talk that is around about ‘managerialism’. I suppose if you add an ‘-ism’ to any word it turns it into a bad thing. Which is a shame.

A few years ago a typical question asked in teacher interviews when people were hoping to move from middle to senior leadership was, “Tell us about the difference between leadership and management”. Leadership, it was assumed, was about strategic direction, inspiration and community building; management was about systems and processes, resource allocation and measurable outcomes.

My reflections as I leave headship are more about the many things that I got wrong, or didn’t do well, than any successes or achievements. I do recognise, however, that I am a far more effective leader than I am a manager.The word that has been used most often to describe my headship has been ‘inspirational’ or ‘charismatic’. Excellent training for preaching at theological college has done a great deal for my ability to speak in public. Yet the key thing I have learnt as a Head is the huge significance and importance of effective management. Almost all the mistakes and errors I have made would have been avoided by better management. Almost all the successes that I’ve achieved have been reached by having an effective team of managers around me.

It struck me when reading Fr Gary’s blog that there are many similarities between education and the church. Not least for teachers and priests, in that we are attracted to and trained to do one thing (teach/be a priest) and yet as soon as we get into any kind of leadership (and for clergy that often means as soon as they leave their training post) we have to do a huge amount that seems to be something different.

In the late 1990’s (as Deputy Head of a primary school) I was among the first school leaders to undertake the NPQH, the National Professional Qualification for Headship. Just afterwards I did an MA at the Institute of Education in Evaluation and Assessment. Looking back on these I think I am most conscious that they didn’t so much prepare me for more senior positions as give me the resources, once I was in those positions, to reflect on my work and to know where to go, to read more. Of course they also, vitally, gave me a network of people to talk to about my work.

As Andrew Brown and Linda Woodhead make clear in their recent book, That Was The Church That Was, and as so many other studies show, the Church of England, if not already in crisis, is close to it. This past Sunday I celebrated Holy Communion (the only and main service) in a rural church. 13 people were present, 5 were my weekend guests, of the remaining 7 people, 5 were over 70. The one church warden is also the organist. This is in a benefice of 8 parishes where a similar situation exists in all but one of those churches. The current pattern can only have another 5 – 10 years in which to survive.

The criticisms of the current approach seem to focus on:

– Managerialism

– The dominance of one model of growth

– Justin Welby personally

– Centralisation

– The ‘talent pool’

Perhaps I don’t need to say much more about management except that I find it extraordinary that anyone would think this was a bad thing. Far from there being too much talk about management in the church I think there is far too little. I suspect there is sometimes a confusion between administration and management. I hate sitting at a desk, I loathe paperwork and filling in forms. But I don’t think either of those things are what constitutes a good manager. This is where management and leadership are inseparable. A good leader recognises what structures and processes are needed and which are unnecessary and sets up the processes, and people, to do them. Brown and Whitehead make an interesting comparison between the Scandinavian churches and the Church of England. At a constitutional-political level the similarities are obvious, beyond that I think they are less helpful. The church tax system ensures that those churches are far better resourced than the Church of England and have a far more highly developed infrastructure to assist the work of the church, clergy included. Fr Gary makes some important points about working with volunteers which is very different to working with employees. Brown and Whitehead suggest that one way forward for the church is to ordain far more self-supporting ministers, I would agree with this if the administrative work of the church were done by paid employees of appropriate calibre.

Much of the criticism of Renewal and Reform comes from the perceived dominance of evangelical-charismatic models of church growth and in particular the place of the HTB model. Some of this is close to personal criticism of Justin Welby whose faith development was in HTB.

I suppose, again, I am puzzled by this. This is a successful model of church growth and is bringing new life to places which needed it. As far as I can see there is nothing in Renewal and Reform to stop other models of growth being applied. Quite the opposite, the Church Commissioners have made substantial sums of money available for growth initiatives. I don’t know if these grants can be made to non-diocesan groups but even if they can’t, there is enormous potential for those with other models of growth to work nationally or regionally to propose other initiatives in collaboration with dioceses. The real problem is that there simply aren’t other models out there that are as well developed and structured as the HTB model.

As is well known I am strongly committed to an Anglo-Catholic expression of faith and to its renewal. I am not downhearted by the waxing and waning of movements within the Church of England. Anglo-Catholicism has been waning since the high point of the 1930’s, but I have no doubt that in God’s good time it will wax strong again. I don’t confuse the finger with the moon to which it is pointing. The point of Anglo-Catholicism is to bring people to Jesus. We have much to learn from HTB and charismatic models of Christian life – and much to offer. However, we are too tied up with Victorian cultural expressions; we have become too lax in the disciplined work of prayer and contemplation. Most of all we have been too divided and our energies used to negotiate these differences rather than evangelise the nation.

Around the criticisms of HTB and its model of growth are criticisms of Justin Welby himself. One of the things I know from leadership is that it is not a way of making friends. With my senior team I frequently used the phrase ‘every force has an equal and opposite reaction’. So the criticism of Justin is normal and to be expected; I am pretty sure that he knows this.

In many ways I might be expected not to warm to Justin’s leadership of the church. But on the contrary I think he is doing a rather amazing job. I don’t understand where some of the criticism comes from. He is far from being uncommitted to the spiritual life: he has established at the centre of the church as an organisation, the St Anselm Community as a praying heart at Lambeth Palace, this is a wonderful and extraordinary thing.

Far from being untheological in his thinking he seems profoundly so to me. When he spoke, after the revelations about his paternity, of ‘finding his true identity in Christ’ he said something which I have heard repeated by people far outside the church. It is something I personally, am still reflecting on.

I have only met the Archbishop once, when he came to my school to launch the national anti-homophobic bullying initiative, he spent a couple of hours with us and I was deeply impressed. His is not quick flare charisma but rather he has an ability to pay deep and profound attention to whoever he is with. For me paying attention to someone is almost a definition of love. At Trinity he did that not only with the children he met but also with the adults. I was impressed that he asked me how I maintained my prayer in the midst of my demanding job. What more could I hope for an Archbishop to ask me?

One definition of leadership that I often had written on the flip chart in my office seems to describe Justin Welby’s approach perfectly:

“To identify the change that is needed – and make it happen.”

Just as with the criticism of managerialism I think that far from too much centralisation there is far too little. Even just collecting simple information on what is happening around the dioceses is difficult. How many Diocesan Boards of Education have established their own Multi Academy Trusts? A simple question. But not one anyone can answer or is available in the public domain.

The unfortunately nick-named ‘talent pool’ has come in for particular criticism. Everyone I know that has been recommended for it is exactly the sort of person I think should be a senior leader in the church. It is an excellent idea. As NPQH worked for me, I trust the new Foundation for Education Leadership established by the church’s Education Office and the Church of England Professional Qualification for Headship, just about to begin, will work with its first cohort.

Some final thoughts and then, in good classroom speak, some ‘Even Better Ifs’.

Some of the criticism of current programmes is that they are based on leadership or management theories that are now outdated and no longer used in other sectors. Of course, in order to fuel the market there will constantly be new waves of management theory; new courses; new speakers of the moment. But leadership and management are not sciences. It is an art form; none of the theories or models does any more than give us a language to talk about the complex processes of human beings engaging with one another. This is why ancient models (Machiavelli, Shakespeare) can shed as much light as the latest MBA thesis.

One of the things I have come to realise in leadership is that a certain level of criticism is essential not only to make the leadership better but also to allow the institution to be healthy; negativity is a part of life and if it doesn’t have a healthy outlet it will find an unhealthy one. However, it does sometimes seem that there is a hermeneutic of suspicion operated by some in the church. A simple lack of faith and hope. Inducting staff at school I always said that there needed to be a suspension of disbelief if we were to make the school succeed for children. Yes, there may be other, different ways of doing just about everything but if we don’t just get on and do it together in the way agreed by due process we will never achieve anything.

I wonder to what extent the hermeneutic of suspicion is created by the lack of certain systems and processes in the church? At the beginning of each academic year I remind staff that they really must join a union/professional association. In all my dealings with union reps about individuals I have found them helpful and professional, an external voice that has made my work as a leader and employer much more straightforward. My own professional association (ASCL – the Association of School and College Leaders) have a help desk that I have rung frequently, over the seven years of my headship. It is hard to think that parish clergy have such resources available to them outside the structures of the diocese.

In addition to this resource I had a professional mentor, paid for by my Governing Body (and time to spend time with him) a Headteacher mentor in my first three years of headship (again paid for and time allocated) and, of course, a spiritual director.

Among some of the social media comments on this discussion has been a request for resources to develop a theology of good management. Among the suggestions made has been the Rule of Saint Benedict. I think this is an excellent suggestion. Not that the RB contains detailed guidelines for being a manager but that it is a document that has proved its endurance for more than 1500 years and its effectiveness in cultivating holiness. It is a document that shows that holiness is not to be found in great poetic movements but in the practicality of the practical day to day life of human beings living and working together, in setting up systems and processes that keep everyone safe, moderate charismatic leadership, ensure no punishment is too severe and that everyone gets enough to eat and time to sleep. The Manquehue Benedictine movement in education in Peru has been a source of much encouragement to me as an educator.

To the Rule of Saint Benedict I would add some books that have been helpful to me and my team as we have led the school:

Spiritual Leadership – Leonard Doohan

Teacher’s Way: Teaching and the Contemplative Life – Maria Lichtmann

Shambhala – Chogyam Trungpa

So, some final EBIs (Even Better If’s – believe me better classroom shorthand than the stomach churning ‘two stars and a wish’):

– I would like even more transparency; why not make the leadership programme a simple, open (via a website) application process, with a qualification at the end of it (National Qualification for Church of England Leadership) – there could be some overlapping material with the Education Office course and sharing of resources. Many people with NPQH don’t go on to headship; many on the leadership programme will not be bishops or deans but having the national qualification will be a clear indicator to parishes of their calibre.

– Mutual flourishing: a good phrase to describe the encouragement of diversity in the church. Working in a black majority school I was aware that there was never a moment when we didn’t have to work at being inclusive; of resisting the tendency we all have to be drawn to people who are like us. Every display board needs to be looked at to see if the ethnic diversity reflects the reality of the school; the pictures in the office; the YouTube clips used in worship; the worship speakers etc. In the same way every publication of the church needs to be checked for diversity not just of ethnicity and gender but of theological language too. The statement from the Archbishops calling for the Day of Prayer at Pentecost, with its referencing of novenas and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament alongside more evangelical language, did this perfectly.

God gives us our work as a means of sanctification; Catholic Christianity has always been deeply incarnational. We must continue to believe that Christ is present in good management; in the task of operating good processes, in exercising good stewardship of resources. Our prayer and contemplation must be expressed in our daily working lives, as the Rule of Saint Benedict would have it:

“We should consider the pots … as if they were the holy bowls of the altar”

(RB 31:10 see also Zechariah 14:20)


  1. Fabulous I will be passing this on As a chair of governors in one of the schools in the Lincoln Diocese MAT I also love the idea of a professional mentor and a spiritual director for headteachers A great way to combat isolation and the problem of retaining excellent heads. Thank you


  2. Loved your hopeful and positive critique of the direction of movement of our church at a national level. Your balanced wisdom as priest and experienced Head is much appreciated. Thank you. Looking forward to working with you in Liverpool.


    1. Roger it was good to pray alongside you the other day, thank you for your comment and, likewise, looking forward to working with you.


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