Thursday 18 December 2014

Finding Talent: The Pool and a Plea

So who's going to be in the 'Talent Pool' then?

The report tells us that the programme is to offered to 'a small number of outstanding individuals'. These will be people who have consistently delivered high quality stuff over a 'sustained' period of time. Time in the pool is limited (five years being cited as average duration) and staying in the pool will be determined by making the grades and fulfilling the potential that got them in.

This is not as bad as many are viewing it because there's no point in trying to polish a brick but there is plenty of point in polishing something that is gold. There is also the fact that whilst there are many clergy out there who are trying (and some are very trying) there are few who are consistently hitting the spot and producing the goods and where this is seen (hopefully regardless of school and university background) it will be acted upon with an offer of time in the pool!

This is going to be something of a high inertial load with regard to the loading of the programme and the report envisages that once running there will be around thirty people a year effectively graduating and these will form an 'alumni' who will mentor, coach and act as role models. Once in the pool the training will be tailored and include a degree of inductive learning (which these courses always have). I am intrigued to see how those selected will be able to spend time in the pool and continue their day job.

What this report is really saying is that we have a number of people in senior and influential roles within the Church of England who are effectively not fit for purpose and this 'finding talent' exercise is about replacing them with people who understand structures, organisations and management; and can bring them to bear in the organisation. This has to be good, especially when things like 'conduct meaningful MDRs' appears on the menu because effective, helpful and meaningful they are not (if those I talk with are being honest - and I suspect they are)! 

The continuing their day job elements leads me to think that many of those who are loaded onto the course will not be parish clergy. My thinking for this is that those who are hidden within the cathedrals and diocesan and national church roles are those who can step back without major impact; something that is not the case for a minister in a parish setting, especially when they are effectively already overworked or highly engaged such that they will be noticed! Here begins my concerns that 'elitist' and 'jobs for the boys' will begin to bite.

The problems I can see (as a bear of extremely limited brain) are:

i. The Church is only as effective as the people on the ground and this means equipping and releasing laity and those engaged with the people around them (i.e. parochial clergy) but what I am seeing is a 'top down' and hierarchical structure that would be the pride of any corporate entity I have worked in or with. What this reports appears to be seeking is a Lee Iacocca or Steve Jobs at the top who is surrounded by an inner guard of alumni. A visionary and bold explorer who will be the subject of conversations and songs of praise from the workforce as they sit around the fire. BUT we already have this in the person of Jesus, the Christ.

ii. Agents of change are found not in the corporate headquarters but on the ground where the money and workers are few and the need is at its greatest - but this is also where the weaknesses of the CofE are best seen - for the pointy hats and the diocesan hordes often don't have a scooby about the real needs. My fear is that this report, albeit well intended, will do nothing to change things and will merely breed a bunch of experts who know how to turn of the lights and pull the plug on the ventilator maintaining the life of many churches!

iii. Working in an Urban Priority setting of Church, although we are broke and struggle to win souls, we have seen many come to faith and progress towards lay and ordained ministry over the past few years. People who will probably never enter the 'training pool' or be elevated to senior office but many of them will be soul winners and life changers nonetheless; and it is the pastorally engaged and able rather than the managerially enhanced who will save the CofE from extinction! What makes it worse is that some of those who are able and would serve the Church well will never be in to comfortable position of being able to swim in the pool and minister to those around them - and so elitism and preferment and the reward of being a 'have' becomes a reality.

iv. Having been engaged in Industrial Engineering, change management and real life delivery of customer-facing teams (management and building) I am aware that knowledge of processes and procedures is helpful but, at the point of delivery, quite useless if the conditions on the ground are not fully understood. Take for instance a soldier who has operational tours and the Army under his belt and progresses through to what we used to call a 'late entry' commission. These people combine ability, experience and subsequent training to make them superb senior officers (as many who are now in 'one str' roles so ably demonstrate). This is what we need - not giving the privileged and able more whilst those ho have little are given less.

v. Noting use of the term 'absolute standards' I would have hoped that rather than refer to academic veracity the standards would be those required of us as Christians, for I fear that I have read little to make me think we will be building a spiritual house for the bishops to reside in at this rate. What we are looking at is the pursuit of excellence; a place where performance and knowledge is all but what we need is flatter structures where we perhaps have business managers to do the nuts and bolts and bishops and others engaged in pastoring the pastors, preaching the word and being people of God. For, and I quote from the same ordinal the report quotes:

'Bishops are ordained to be shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles, proclaiming the Gospel of God’s kingdom and leading his people in mission...With the Shepherd’s love, they are to be merciful, but with firmness; to minister discipline, but with compassion.' Bishops are called to exercise authority 'to heal, not to hurt; to build up, not to destroy.'

Bishops are not called to be regional managers but pastors proclaiming the Gospel and, by visibly living it, to proclaim it and set others on fire for, through and for it so that the Gospel might be seen to be authoritative, attractive and compelling. They are to maintain order and discipline with humility, understanding and compassion - to 'heal and not hurt' to 'build up and not destroy' and to 'draw on experience, not books alone, to advise and model'

Now what's so blesséd difficult about that? Why are we looking at entering the corporate when what we need it to proclaim the spiritual for goodness sakes?

Now I know that I am a cleric with a limited grasp of things and consider myself fortunate to be considered worthy to wear a dog collar and to shepherd people analog the road to the cross. I have no ambitions to enter the pool because I know I'd drown as soon as enter it for and I have no axe to grind because I'm a shepherd, not a woodcutter.

But as much as I applaud the 'Finding Talent' report for trying to address the woeful managerial, pastoral, organisational and (sadly) spiritual elements of those in senior ministry - I think we are in danger of exchanging our priestly birthright for a mess of management and business modelled pottage.

I submit this as my thinking with due respect for my senior clergy colleagues - for I am not trying to hit out at them - and in Christian love for the church of which I am privileged to serve.

It's rough and scribbled on the hoof - done between carol services, communions, Christingles and counselling - it's probably full of typos and grammatical collisions as edits conspire to add to the confusion that is me. But it is honest and hopeful;.

May God bless us all :-)


Trevor said...

Vic, I don't know you but I have found your reflections throughout the finding talent report to be challenging and quite courageous. You have inspired me by your willingness to make a balanced stand and I would like to thank you for all you have written.

I am so often encouraged by what you write and understand the 'average' is very much tongue-in-cheeck for that is something you obviously are not.


Anonymous said...

Bloody hell Vicar - you're not going to be very popular are you?

Think you can put your towel away!

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Thank you for the comments - Thankfully I never had the towel out :-)

I can but applaud the intent of the report's panel and change is something that is needed - so hopefully comments from the lowest echelons will reach some ears and herald modifications.