Paul Perkin on the new demands of leadership

Seventy-seven years old Alvin Toffler is the world’s most famous futurologist. Thirty-six years ago he published his first bestseller Future Shock, and a decade later The Third Wave. His latest book Revolutionary Wealth prompted management consultants Accenture to list him as the third most influential voice among business leaders, behind Bill Gates and the late Peter Drucker.

Toffler writes: “The revolutionary system is all about de-centralization, niches, flexibility and devolution to networked and distributed power.’ Toffler is referring specifically to the revolution he perceives

we are undergoing in the First World’s wealth system. Similarly, Ken Costa, chairman of UBS Investment Banking: “The old system was top-down, management by command and control. The new system is relational and distributive.’

The same transformation applies to other systems than wealth systems. Authority structures of all sorts are going through the same revolution – even in the Church. Those who go with the grain of change are in many cases experiencing health and growth. Others, in denial and resistant to change, are stagnating in the new leadership climate. Consider the four features of the current revolution as analysed by Toffler.

De-centralization. The CofE is largely and inescapably trapped in its traditionally centralized framework of thought and operation. Where life thrives, it does so because, on the one hand, it has rejected the route of separation and schism, but on the other hand it has come to realize that dependence on, and control by, the centre (bishops, the Central Board of Finance, cathedrals, dioceses, the Church Commissioners, etc) is simply outmoded.

Niches. The traditional CofE has worked on the principle of ‘one size fits all’. The problem with this approach has been the tendency to reduce ministry to a lowest common denominator, whilst demanding of the officers of the organization a Jack-of-all-trades certificate. Growth tends to be found where a USP distinguishes pockets of excellence.

Flexibility. In no century before this one – and it is still only seven years old – has the Church flirted with more doctrinal innovations. But ironically, flexibility in doctrine has combined with inflexibility over methods, mission and ministry. As a general rule, by comparison with the example and missionary method of the apostle Paul in the first century, the CofE in the twenty-first has become flexible where it should be inflexible, and inflexible where it should be flexible.

Devolution. The new model of power and authority is networked authority, because it is intensely relational. The power is a distributive power because the

franchise is the model, which delivers growth in an age of mass communication – fuelled by a post-modern suspicion of directive command-and-control. The CofE is largely unaware of the transformation that has taken place in the way in which authority now works – and indeed of how the authority of the Holy Spirit is working out in today’s Church.

Bob Jackson in his helpful analysis, Road to Growth, has drawn accurate attention to four of what he calls the ‘self-inflicted wounds of the Church of England’. No doubt the failure of some team ministries, the short duration of incumbencies, the age of incumbents, and the length of vacancies have contributed to some of the problems that we face. But as soon as one asks the question, ‘Do we think that if team ministries were to be phased out, incumbents to be younger, stay longer in post, and be replaced more swiftly, revival would break out in the church?’ it is obvious that these are not the major factors!

His eight positive indicators towards growth point to constructive patterns of hopeful ministry: planting new congregations with fresh formats or targeted at specific groups; less formal worship services with modern music, offered alongside more traditional formats; better provision for children and young people; improving welcome and integration for new comers; more focus on small groups and pastoral care; use of evangelism courses as part of a wider mission strategy; more lay involvement in leadership; improvements in buildings.