John Young examines the new cult of episcopal managerialism, and wonders if there is anything at all to be said for it.

THIS IS NOT A SERMON, but even so, I have a text on which these reflections are based, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” 1 Obviously it applies to all Christians; not just bishops but priests, deacons and laity alike.

Two things have produced these reflections. One of them is the devaluation of what one might call the traditional model of Anglican priesthood, although it dates back only to the late 19th century. Bishops have been heard to argue that Anglican priesthood needs a transformation along the same lines as those on which other professions have been transformed in the last few years, namely a more collaborative way of working as, for example, between doctors, nurses and patients. Two things irritate me about this. One is that bishops seem completely blind to the low morale that affects other professions as well as the clergy, to which the trend towards collaborative ways of working is largely irrelevant; and low morale is a worse problem than real or imaginary defects in the structures of the Church of England. The other is that bishops seem unaware of the transformation which episcopacy would also have to undergo to create a more truly collaborative way of working in the Church of England. You will realise that the reason for that lack of awareness is that the transformation of episcopacy on secular lines has already begun, but in quite a different direction, not collaborative ministry but a now-archaic version of management.

What is needed is a transformation of episcopacy on theological lines, a living up to the doctrine of episcopacy enshrined in the Ordinal.

The second stimulus to my thinking has been Robin Greenwood’s book “Transforming Priesthood” which was published in 1994, 2 and was briefly all the rage, at least among small coteries of Advisory Board of Ministry groupies at both diocesan and national level. Collaborative ministry is the thing, Robin Greenwood proclaims; let priests and people collaborate together, along the same lines as the Blessed Trinity does. Fine: I don’t see a problem with that, except the universal Christian problem of failing to match up in practice to our theology and our preaching. Robin Greenwood’s book is a bad book. I don’t say that because I fundamentally disagree with it, but because it is badly written. It contains dramatic inconsistencies, and strange gaps. Greenwood puts up an Aunt Sally of a case against a Catholic understanding of the Apostolic succession and against an understanding of priesthood which he thinks lost its hold about 1970.3 He then proceeds to demolish them. He never takes on board the development in the Catholic understanding of priesthood initiated by the Second Vatican Council, in its decree Presbyterum Ordinis and so fails to examine whether or not it has influenced the theory and practice of Catholic priesthood in the Church of England. That’s a rather strange gap.

The other strange gap is precisely that gap which I identified earlier: no awareness that the transformation of priesthood along collaborative lines also necessitates a transformation of episcopacy along collaborative lines. Robin Greenwood writes this; “A strategy will be required which removes the clergy from the supposed position of standing over against the laity, however gently, in an attitude of superiority of faith, knowledge, wisdom or love.” 4 (Do you think he means us, Fathers? I for one don’t recognise myself in this) Here we have no awareness of the possibility of bishops and archdeacons standing over against the rest of the clergy and the laity, not always gently, even though archdeacons are themselves priests, at least on paper.

This stems from another weakness of Robin Greenwood’s book, namely his abandonment of the Catholic understanding of the diocese as the local church; he has the Protestant understanding that the local church is the parish. If you have such an understanding of the local church, then the Bishop is bound to be over against the clergy and the laity, so we get the strange anomaly of collaborative ministry being pushed by bishops who have no sense of the value of collaboration in their own ministry, whose style is authoritarian, who have a feeble sense of sharing in some sort of common enterprise. It seems odd to replace “Father knows best” by “Bishop knows best”.

So there needs to be a sense of collaboration between “senior management” in a diocese and the rest of the Church, a sense that we are engaged in a common task, and a common discipleship, and this, it seems to me is where the managerial model of episcopacy is dangerous.

In passing, I’d better make it clear that I have no problem with management as such in the Church. The Church has personnel and buildings and money which have to be managed. What I am concerned about are firstly, the elevation of management into an ideology, often in practice replacing the Gospel; and secondly the way that the Church’s management, even when adopted as an ideology, so often seems amateurish, obsolete and narcissistic. Unless the Church’s life and work is theologically driven and ethically handled, then it has no right to be in business. There is a further problem that at least one bishop who affects the managerial style has also said that he has no particular theological position. I’d prefer a Sea of Faith bishop to one without any particular theological position. A miniscule degree of integrity is better than no integrity at all.

What is a manager? I can identify four characteristics, namely power, rationality, accountability and efficiency. Rationality seems fairly obvious. A manager has to be reasonable in the decisions he or she takes. The decisions have to make sense. It’s not a bit of use taking tough decisions, if at the end of the day those decisions are unwise, even stupid. There seems a lot of sense in the American proverb, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Any manager must ask himself or herself if decisions are taken on the basis of emotional considerations, to favour someone or out of spite against someone, or to present a certain image of oneself or to enact some sort of psychological drama. This is where the narcissism comes in. As I say, the important thing is not whether decisions are tough but whether they’re wise or not. We face a situation in which all management seems to give the church is executive games and office politics.

Secondly, efficiency, which is basically getting the job done well with an economy of time and material resources and with basic competence in overseeing one’s own office and the whole enterprise. It is not efficient to undermine or blight one’s staff. If you’re going to have a Working Party, then choose members for it who do know something about the subject. This is where my point about amateurishness comes in. As for my charge of obsoleteness, most of industry has long since moved away from the gung-ho, chainsaw, “If it ain’t broke, break it” approach to management, basically because it stirred up so much conflict and demoralisation that it proved inefficient. How strange that it should persist in the Church! But then the Church always was behind the times. What industry has found efficient is more supportive, more feminine management if you like, the use of emotional intelligence. Up-to-date management theorists argue along these lines, though their writings perhaps haven’t yet got as far as the bottom shelf in the far corner of the first floor of W.H. Smiths, whence so many management theories have been unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Or perhaps the Graduate School of a college up a dirt track thirty miles from Birmingham. Birmingham, Alabama, that is.

Thirdly, accountability. A manager is accountable to someone, usually the Chief Executive or Managing Director who is in turn accountable to the whole board of Directors and they in turn are accountable to their shareholders. The accountability of the clergy to the bishop has increased a great deal in recent years and this seems only right, since a priest receives a cure of souls which is both his and the Bishop’s. The preponderance of power is all on the side of the Bishop; for the Bishop cannot be meaningfully accountable to the clergy. But to whom is the Bishop accountable? To the Archbishop? Notionally, yes, but how confident can the Church as a whole feel about this when no-one has any way of knowing how cosy or not the relationship between Archbishop and Bishop might be? Accountable to the diocese? Well, this is interesting. I’m not sure what structures could be created to carry such an accountability into large-scale effect. But we may already have the germ of such a principle in two ways, one that we can ask questions at the Diocesan Synod, the other that the assent of the people is called for in the ASB rite for the Ordination of Bishops. There is in that sense a mandate from the diocese. Could such a mandate be withdrawn? If and when the Third Province comes into being, those who place themselves under the jurisdiction of the new Archbishop will by definition be withdrawing their mandate from their own diocesan.

Even if the Third Province does not come to pass, and we cannot in that way withdraw our mandate from our own diocesan, it is still possible to visualise accountability in another form. What I mean is the reform of the archaic procedures for choosing Bishops. Admittedly the creation of Vacancy in See committees was a step in the right direction, but even so at the end of the day, the diocese has to have who it’s given. The canons of the Cathedral all meet to elect the Crown’s nominee; which is farcical, since no other candidate’s name appears on the ballot and the nominee is the creature of Westminster wheeling and dealing, rather than genuinely the Crown’s nominee. (Odd that Anglican Bishops were among those opposing the proposed Closed List system of choosing members of the House of Lords.) I advocate a beefing up of the Vacancy in See Committee’s powers, along the lines of the Patronage Measure. So as the parish’s representatives can turn down the patron’s nominee, so should the diocesan representatives be able to turn down the Crown’s nominee if they decide that he doesn’t meet the diocese’s needs. That seems only right, bearing in mind that with a new appointment to a vacant diocese, so many people’s lives and well-being are placed in the balance. It seems only right that the Diocesan representatives should be given some idea of whether or not the nominee says his prayers and what his style of relating to the clergy is. The procedure we have at the moment merely infantilises the Cathedral Canons, the Vacancy in See Committee and the diocese as a whole.

Incidentally, I read that in the wake of the Nine O’clock Service imbroligio, it was decided to subject prospective ordinands to psychometric testing. Perhaps until all priests in the Church have gone through this procedure, candidates for episcopacy should also be tested. If this had been possible 15 or 20 years ago, we might have been spared some of the control freaks, perverts, poseurs and the publicity-crazed who have adorned the bench in that time.

Fourthly, power. A manager has power over the employees of the enterprise. Maybe we should soon end the fiction that the clergy are self-employed; certainly those who lack the freehold are employees. The Bishop has total control over their hiring and firing. I use the word “power” deliberately, in preference to “authority” which is what we normally think of Bishops as having.

Why power and not authority? Authority is not the same as power. Authority is power plus respect. It is perfectly possible for someone in power to lose authority because those under him or her lose respect for him. That applies whether or not that loss of respect is justified or not. So a Bishop can have legal authority and sacramental authority, but in every other respect be left with only power. Power knows no moral constraints. Power does whatever it can do. It knows no authority other than the desire of the one who wields it. In the Church, this is clearly dangerous, and so we can easily find ourselves in a situation where the objectives of senior management are furthered by methods which are not compatible with the Gospel, such as underhandedness, arbitrary power and intimidation. If a manager merely exercises his power only, and not the other characteristics of management, then he ceases to be a manager and instead becomes merely a control-freak.

We are beginning to see the results of this. In the last few years, MSF, the Manufacturing, Scientific and Finance Union has, I believe, recruited over three hundred priests and ministers to its special Clergy section. They are not all Anglican, of course. This is quite a dramatic rise; before the late ’80s, very few of the clergy belonged to a union. What has happened is the proletarianisation of the clergy by Bishops and other Church leaders who affect the managerial style; and if people feel themselves proletarianised, then no wonder they unionise. At one Diocesan Synod, a few years ago, during debate on the Hoare Report, the Synod voted a pay rise for the clergy. Exactly what happens in secular occupations when morale has been undermined. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.”

I conclude by returning to my earlier remarks on collaborative ministry. It strikes me that in principle, insofar as there is genuine collaborative ministry in the Church, it has been the result of people being transformed by the renewal of their minds, rather than being conformed to this world and following the lead of secular professions. There are more ways of doing collaborative ministry than the model of clergy and readers being joined together in a formal scheme, but maybe that’s the only form that’s going to be recognised by Bishops. But it is not the only possible form of collaborative ministry. To give an example from my last parish. The Standing Committee, after long deliberation, decided that we could not embark on a Parish Funding campaign just yet, because our target group is too small. So how do we increase it? A lay member proposed a parish magazine and the Standing Committee agreed. So did the whole PCC. A lot of effort went into writing it, collating it and delivering it. There was no formal scheme in this, but if that’s not collaborative ministry, I don’t know what is. On a Catholic understanding of the local church as the diocese, there is the basis of a truly collaborative ministry in the Church in which Bishops, clergy and people form one community and all pull together doing the work of Christ and in which there can be mutual love and give and take and support. But first episcopacy has to be transformed, though the need for episcopacy to be transformed should not get in the way of the rest of us also looking to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The only legitimate form of career development for any Christian minister to pursue whole-heartedly is to be more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ.


1. Romans 12 verse 2.
2.. R. Greenwood, Transforming Priesthood, SPCK London 1994.
3. ibid p.31. If clerical control remained a powerful factor through the decades 1900 to 1970, presumably it lost its power round about 1970, (because of the setting up of Synodical Government?) so why did it still need demolition in 1994? What filled the gap between 1970 and the publication of the ABM Occasional Paper no.22 in 19874. ibid p. 172?

John Young is a retired priest currently living in the diocese of Newcastle.