Paul Richardson reflects on a Church which takes on the world’s standards and values

Just over six months ago the British Superbrands Council, an organization created to promote and analyze brands sold in the UK, decided to include the Church of England in its survey of how the public ranks leading brands. The Church scored better than the Government or the Royal Family for trustworthiness and reliability though not as well as American Express or the Yellow Pages. But when it came to vision the Church scraped in towards the bottom of the list, still ahead of the Royal Family but behind Siemens, Castrol, or Lyra.

Brands are the new Religion

Shortly after the survey was published, Young and Rubicam, one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies, announced that ‘brands are the new religion’. People turn to brands to establish their identity and help them find a meaning in life. Instead of going to church on Sunday, people flock to Ikea. According to Young and Rubicam, the brands that are successful are those with ‘strong beliefs and original ideas’. They also have the ‘passion and energy to change the world and to convert the world to their way of thinking through outstanding communications’.

In the opinion of many management gurus, businesses succeed not by being better than their rivals but being different from them. Ideas are what count. You need to be able to package your product in such a way as to give it an emotional dimension with which people can identify.

The people who matter in a big company are those who have the bright ideas. Saatchi and Saatchi has dropped ‘advertising’ from its title and started selling itself as the ‘Ideas Company’. Nike, the sports shoe company, actually has no manufacturing capacity of its own. It makes money by coming up with ideas and marketing them. Failing brands like Marks and Spencer are those that lose touch with their customers and fail produce ideas that capture the public imagination.

Joined-up government

The Church of England at the present time places great stress on management. The Archbishops’ Council is seen as a way of bringing to the church the kind of ‘joined up government’ New Labour is trying to deploy in running the country. The Church has happily embraced such elements of the managerial culture as job descriptions, work evaluation, and various forms of assessment. What it does not seem to have realized is that many managers in the private sector would argue that such policies alone are not the key to success. In the traditional language employed by the Church, there also has to be an emphasis on the Gospel and on finding imaginative ways to relate the message of Christ to contemporary society.

Church leaders themselves have spoken out against the ‘top down management structure’ of the Church of England. Archbishop David Hope (who, it should be remembered, is co-chairman of the Archbishops’ Council) in a sermon in Cambridge in January attacked the centralized management of the church, the plethora of committees and paperwork, the labyrinthine bureaucracy, and the institutional arrangements that have become ends in themselves. The Bishop of Liverpool has voiced similar criticisms.

Journeys and destinations

Malcolm Brown, former Director of the William Temple Institute, has made the shrewd observation that the contemporary Church of England offers a good example of what Alasdair MacIntyre had in mind when he singled out the manager as one of the figures who typify the emptiness of liberal modernity. Managers facilitate journeys; they do not identify destinations. They are concerned with process, not with vision. Secular management gurus may have moved on from this model of management but it still exercises a grip on the Church of England.

Perhaps this should not surprise us if Stephen Pattison is correct in tracing many modern ideas about management back to the growth of Arminian revivalism in North America. In his study The Faith of the Managers he shows how many managerial attitudes were pioneered by ‘can do’ nineteenth century American Evangelicals anxious to make as many converts as possible in a religious free market. The liberal or ‘open’ evangelicals who are the dominant group in today’s Church of England have much in common with that tradition.

Pattison questions whether practices frequently deployed in the private sector are appropriate in pastoral work. Quality audits or targets are often too crude to be of use in such a setting. Similar objections are being raised by workers in the health service and other branches of the public service faced with the prospect of seeing jobs contracted out to the private sector. Instead of relying on targets and the profit motive, would we not do better to stress the value of public service and build up the dedication and commitment of professionals?


‘Any individual of genuine integrity,’ writes Professor Richard Roberts, ‘will know that the performative appraisal of provider-customer relationships in health and education, never mind religion, inevitably creates a troubling tension in professionals who retain a sense of responsibility to their clients.’

Roberts is not alone in making this point. A major theme of The Witch Doctors, a sharp-eyed assessment of management gurus by John Micklethwaite and Adrian Woodridge, is that management techniques devised for one particular area (such as the public service) cannot simply be transferred to another (such as the Church or a university).

The irony is that some of the reservations being voiced by dissident academics or traditionalist Church leaders are actually in line with what some management gurus are saying. Peter Drucker, who can lay claim to being the doyen of modern management theorist, now stresses ‘delayering’ and the empowerment of workers. He argues that managers need to be responsive and friendly to ideas emerging from below, to be ready to delegate and trust their staff, and to be careful to involve them in planning and decision making so that they are able to own the company’s vision and strategy.

Senior appointments

Efficient management is clearly important. There are occasions when good administration equals good pastoral care. Despite the current emphasis on management skills there are still to many times when the Church fails to function efficiently. People suffer when jobs do not get done, forms are not signed, or grant applications are not filed on time. But the Church needs to look beyond targets, audits and quality assessments to find renewal for mission. An urgent priority should be to recruit more young clergy of ability. In choosing clergy for senior appointments as bishops or archdeacons questions need to be asked about their theological ability as well as their skill at communicating the gospel and motivating commitment. What vision do they have for the mission of the church in secular society? Can they retell the Christian story with power and conviction?

Instead of making lay people feel inadequate because they are not ordained, we need to work at spreading a vision of baptized lay people, men and women in the consecrated life, and ordained clergy all cooperating and having a role to play in advancing the kingdom of God. Without falling into the danger of clericalism, we need to enable priests to have a true sense of their calling to stand in persona Christi, charged with the prophetic task of proclaiming the Word of God and the priestly and pastoral task of being instruments of Christ’s redeeming love.

Learning from mavericks

In the Church we may well be able to learn from management theorists, although we must be careful not to repeat our usual mistake of jumping on yesterday’s bandwagon. But we should not allow management fads to blunt our prophetic witness or blind us to the riches of our own history. Giants of the past like Gregory the Great and St Benedict have more to teach us than Charles Handy or Peter Drucker. Instead of creating a Church that conforms to the latest management school blueprint or echoes New Labour’s latest Big Idea, we should listen to tradition and even try to learn from our own mavericks.

Paul Richardson is Assistant Bishop of Newcastle.