A report from the Spectator
A new mood has taken hold of Lambeth Palace. Officials call it urgency; critics say it is panic. The Church of England, the thinking goes, is about to shrink rapidly, even vanish in some areas, unless urgent action is taken. This action, laid out in a flurry of high-level reports, amounts to the biggest institutional shake-up since the 1990s. Red tape is to be cut, processes streamlined, resources optimised. Targets have been set. The Church is ill — and business management is going to cure it.
Reformers say they are only removing obstacles that hinder the Church from growing. Opponents, appalled by the business-speak of some of the reports, object to what they see as a ruthless focus on filling pews.
According to the report two reforms in particular have generated headlines.
One is the plan to swipe £100 million from the Church’s investments to pay for more priests (target: a 50 per cent increase in trainee clergy by 2020).
The other is to give business-school training to bishops and deans and, more controversially, to identify a ‘talent pool’ of future leaders — in the official language, people ‘with exceptional strategic leadership potential for Gospel, Kingdom and Church impact’.
What can we say about all this from a movements perspective?
The Anglican church is right to be worried. All the signs are evident of institutional decline and decay. Even worse, they are lagging indicators of a demise that has been going on for a long time and there are no signs that it is going away.
On the not necessarily brighter side, religious institutions are incredibly resilient. Even if the trends show a terminal decline, life is more complicated than statistical predictions. The Anglican church is likely to be around for a very long time.
The Anglican church in Britain is not a movement. Movements risk what they have for a cause beyond themselves. Institutions protect what they have for their own survival.
By all means, cut red tape and rationalise resources. Sure this is good business practice, it’s also good family practice, good sporting club practice, good local school practice. Nothing wrong with that.
What about spending £100 million for a 50% increase trainee clergy by 2020?
More paid clergy does not equate to more and better leadership for the church of England. Dynamic movements are led by “lay” people unencumbered by traditional constrains. Yes, John Wesley was an ordained Anglican clergyman, but overwhelmingly the Methodist movement was led by ordinary people who did extraordinary things. They signed up for a cause, not a career.
The plan is to identify a talent pool of future leaders and develop people ‘with exceptional strategic leadership potential for Gospel, Kingdom and Church impact’. But what on earth does that mean?
So Jesus walks up to a bunch of ordinary fishermen mending their nets and says, ‘Lads, I’m looking for some people with exceptional strategic leadership potential for Gospel, Kingdom and Church impact.’ And they left everything and followed him.
Jesus didn’t commission any reports on the decline of God’s people. He didn’t have access to £100 million pounds to invest in future leaders. He wasn’t trying to save an institution. If there is any hope for new life in a declining institution it is by making an innovative return to tradition. Get back to first things—what did Jesus do? What did he train the Twelve to do? What did the risen Lord empower Paul and the early church to do in Acts and the Epistles? Get back to that heritage and ask, What does that look like today?
Mission is not about us, or saving our institutions. It is about God revealed in Jesus Christ. God’s mission is always advanced when his people obey his call and put their hope in the power of the Gospel — his dynamic Word, and the Spirit — his dynamic presence. Obedience to the Great Commission is just the beginning. God has not given up on Britain.