Re-Reading the Green Report 3: Leadership

This is the third in my series of posts on the Green Report.  See the first (which explains just what I think I’m up to) and the second (which focuses on prayer and confidence).

The Green Report has a great deal to say about ‘Leadership’.  The words ‘lead’, ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ and their derivatives turn up on every page of the main report.  In this post, I want to suggest some ways in which we can receive that emphasis – and repair some of the ways in which the report presents it.

Leadership in the Body

In the FAOC report, we looked at the rise and rise of leadership language in the Church (§§18–23), and concluded

that this language is not going away any time soon. It has simply become too prevalent and too deeply embedded, and we acknowledge that this is in part because it can name important needs in the church’s life. Rather than arguing about whether we should stop using leadership language, therefore, we discuss how this language might be used well… (§10)


It can only be right to make ‘leadership’ a central idea in the life of the church if our ideas and practices of leadership (whether inherited from earlier generations of the church or borrowed from elsewhere) are subjected to ongoing critical questioning in the light of the church’s relation to its Lord. (§168)

We claimed that it is

impossible to sustain a simple opposition between Christian and secular ideas of leadership. Our tradition has always been in the business of assimilating and transforming material from the world around it. Ultimately, all the language we use about leadership – whether we say ‘bishop’ or ‘leader’, ‘shepherd’ or ‘counsellor’, ‘servant leader’ or ‘deacon’, ‘prince’ or ‘priest’ or ‘elder’ – is language that has been borrowed, assimilated and transformed. The only interesting questions are about the kind and depth of the transformation and assimilation involved, not about the fact of borrowing itself. (§164)

What, though, do we mean by ‘leadership’?  We offered an ‘initial, low-key definition’:

We might say that a leader is someone who assists others in the performance of a collective practice. Such a leader is not necessarily one who himself or herself excels in the practice, though he or she certainly has to be competent in it. Rather, he or she will be good at participating in that practice in such a way as to draw others deeper into it. (§39)

If that is where we start, however, we immediately have to reject any simplistic division of the Body of Christ into ‘leaders’ and ‘led’.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.’  We need each other; we are built up by each other; we assist each other in the growth and enactment of our faith.  Starting with the low-key definition of ‘leadership’ above, we would have to conclude (as a first move) that leadership is something in which we are all involved or called to be involved.

We shouldn’t have a division between leaders and led, but a complex ecology of multiple forms of assistance and encouragement, building up the whole body together.  (As we say in the FAOC report, ‘Even the ministry of oversight, of episkope, is first of all a ministry of all God’s people, who are called to exercise self-control and hold one another to account’ – §177.)  We can certainly recognise many forms of differentiation – different gifts, callings, talents distributed around the body – but they are all differentiations within a Body in which every member is called to minister.

The Green Report is focused on Bishops and Deans, but also talks about ‘heads of theological colleges, mission agencies, para-church networks or significant pilgrimage centres’ and leaders of ‘large churches with specially significant roles in national church life’ (§64).  If we start with the kind of vision of the Body of Christ sketched above, we won’t think of these people as ‘the leaders’ over against everyone else as ‘the led’.  We won’t think of them as people who have come out on top of some hierarchy of excellence or importance or value.  Rather, we will simply recognise that, in the midst of a Body in which every member is called to minister, some people have received a specific kind of calling which involves ministry to a large geographical area, or playing a significant role in relation to a large number of people, as well as (in some of those cases) playing specific sacramental roles and specific representative roles.  To be called into these roles is not promotion; it is not a form of elevation.  Even ‘seniority’ is potentially a very misleading word for it.  It is, rather, a call to occupy one specific niche in the overall ecology of the Church’s ministry.

Training specifically aimed at enabling the holders of these posts to develop in what they do will therefore need to strike a careful balance.  On the one hand, it does make sense, for some developmental purposes, to take them out of their contexts and bring them together as a cohort, in order for them to share the wisdom and experience they have gained in similar roles, and in order for them to receive appropriate training in how to face common challenges.  In the same way, we might bring together people involved in similar ministries in all sorts of other niches of the church’s ecology – there’s nothing specifically ‘senior’ about this idea.

On the other hand, we should guard against any sense that those being brought together are a breed apart, or even an elite, separating off into their own exclusive club.  They are brought together as a cohort for the sake of their distinctive contribution to the overall weave of ministry that they share with others, and in order to energise and refresh them for deeper engagement with those around them, wider collaboration, and a fuller sharing of the tasks of ministry.  The design of the programme of development, and of the patterns of prayer woven in with it, will need to work hard to protect against any sense of isolation or exclusivity.

Minding our Language

In the light of all this, there are elements of the Green Report’s language that do, I think, call for repair.

First, from time to time, the language it uses to discuss leadership can indeed suggest that readers are a race apart.  Take that word ‘cadre’, for instance, in the statement of purpose (§32).  The dictionary definition, ‘a small group of people specially trained for a particular purpose’, is not itself problematic, but it sounds to my ears all too like a group defined over against their surroundings (the group of army officers who have their own mess; the closed communist cell that is working against the surrounding bourgeois society).

Second, and more pervasively, the Report uses language that moves away from a simple differentiation of ministries and towards a hierarchy of value.  We are, it seems, looking for ‘exceptional individuals’ (§6), ‘candidates with exceptional potential’ (§10), ‘exceptional potential leaders from among the clergy’ (§12); people who demonstrate ‘exceptional performance’ (§49) – and so on.  It is hard not to read this as suggesting that we are looking for people who are better than others – the talent, over against the untalented mass.  It makes it sound like we are indeed talking about promotion, about climbing a hierarchy with the best and brightest at the top.

It is not just this language that needs changing, however – it is the whole tempting mind-set that it can encourage and express.  Yes, of course we are looking out for people who are exceptionally well suited for the specific ministries that we have in mind – but only in the sense that we might also look for people who are exceptionally well suited to be a welcomer at the church door, or who are exceptionally well suited to do staff the night shift at the homeless shelter, or who are exceptionally well suited to clean the church hall loos.  That is, we’re trying to discern together to what roles, to what forms of ministry, God is calling each person; where each person best fits in the activity of the body, in ways that will do most justice to the specific gifts – the specific talents – that God has given to each person.

That is why the Green Report rightly says that a Bishop or a Dean will be someone who ‘Recognises and develops unique gifts’ and who is ‘a creative steward of lay and ordained talent’ (§32); someone who will give priority to ‘Supporting the formation and development of individuals in the full range of their ministry’ (§10).  The Bishop or Dean is one minister in a whole church of ministers, a person with one peculiar set of talents amongst the talents of all those who make up the church.

That is also why the Green Report only makes sense as one report amongst many.  This one deals with some specific issues surrounding this particular kind of ministry; others deal with aspects of Continuing Ministerial Development, or with developing the ministries of all the baptised.  This isn’t the top of the pyramid; it is one small piece of the patchwork.


In my next post, I’m going to delve more deeply in to what the Report has to say about the processes of discernment and development by which we identify and train people for these peculiar roles.

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