31.1.15

Leaders leading leaders: Senior leaders in the Church of England

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The Church of England has just published its report on Senior Leadership in the Church of England, calling it a Resource for Reflection. As I prepared for a sermon on the conversion of Paul for worship services, I reflected on this report with St Paul's leadership qualities in my mind.

St Paul is made fit by God. In his own strength he would have made a rather unfit vicar, if we might describe him that way:

I have never actually preached in one place for more than three years. Sometimes I have had to leave because my work caused riots and disturbances and I have spent time in jail on at least three or four occasions. My health is not as good as it might be but I still have energy. The churches I have preached in have been small, but located in large cities although I haven't always got on well with other religious leaders. In fact, some have threatened me and even attacked me physically. I am not that good at record-keeping, being known to forget who it is I have baptized. Hoping despite the above, you would give me an opportunity for the gospel. Grace and peace, Paul. 

What good would the Church of England have found in Paul if it had head-hunted him for senior leadership?

It would seem St Paul certainly had a preference for mentoring the upcoming generation. We look to Timothy and see Paul's guidance and care for this young man. The Report on Senior Leadership explores 'the relationship between the leadership of individuals and leadership distributed across an institution... Are leaders there to do the leading themselves, or do they enable leadership to emerge at various levels?' The church is keen that ceilings reached become other people's floors to launch from. As it describes later: 'one of the basic criteria for leadership: [is that] leaders respond to God’s call not merely to fulfil their own ministry but to build up the ministries of others.'

The report reflects on procedure and whether when 'leadership is collaborative, should such partnership be 'expressed in role descriptions and formal frameworks as well as in informal commitments and good intentions?' Best practice at Parish level advocates the drawing up of voluntary working agreements so that people are aware of expectations and are able to negotiate and renegotiate remits.

David Voas describes how ‘Growth is a product of good leadership (lay and ordained) working with a willing set of churchgoers in a favourable environment’. The missional God always wants his church to grow. Because of the all-sufficient God and despite Linda Woodhead's predictions, surely growth is still possible even when churchgoers are not willing and environments are not favourable.

The Senior Leadership in the Church of England Report describes what it laments about the church:

'...the failures of its communication with the wider world: the lack of evangelistic passion, the lack of compelling apologetic, the lack of moral leadership, the failure to speak truth to power.'

The report describes what is hoped for: '...those who will be capable of speaking powerfully on the church’s behalf in the world, and of working transformatively with others in the world.'

At the same time the Report acknowledges how ironic it is to explore success criteria for leadership against '... a leader who was abandoned by all his followers, who was stripped of all dignity and power, and whose ministry was in every measurable sense defeated – and where that failure was nevertheless the foundation stone of God’s mission.' The report asks 'If Christ is our primary model of leadership, what does that do to our perception of the role?'

The first interesting claims that the Report makes about Paul's ministry seen in Acts 20:17-35 is that he lives out what is described as  'a dual-focus picture of leadership, with one focus on the local congregations and the other on the apostolic networks that operate at trans-local level.' This is later described as 'spiritual leadership over distance and over time, maintaining and building up contacts over time and space. This trans-local dimension is reinforced through the greetings at the end of each
epistle, as well as through practical projects like the collection for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem, which absorbed so much of Paul’s energies in the latter years of his mission (2 Corinthians 8–9).'

It is interesting to read the Report's analysis of Paul's words for leadership: father (1 Thessalonians 2.11), nurse (1 Thessalonians 2.7), steward (1 Corinthians 4.1–5),  architect and gardener (1 Corinthians 3.5–10), marriage broker (2 Corinthians 11.2) and ambassador (2 Corinthians 5.20), shepherd or pastor (Ephesians 4.11). In being a steward of the mysteries of God, a right accounting for church practice is to the Lord of the Church who will require at the end of time something akin to an appraisal for attitudes and leading on earth.

Acts 6 explores how leaders are apostles sent out on mission. Deacons are set apart to serve tables. Prophets and teachers and elders build up the flock. All of these derive from the laos, the people of God and each expression of ministry has particularity to its context. The trans-local apostolic calling across churches and networks is Episcopal ministry as the church sees it.

The report advocates tans-local connections because this fosters catholicity, there is no room for a go-it-alone church - leaders must establish and nurture connections with the wider church. The local context must live up to its identity as the 'body of Christ' with any one of the congregation leading worship. There is a later caveat to this though, as the report summarises Luther's concept of the priesthood of all believers, Luther believed common priesthood to be shared by all believers but this didn't mandate all Christians to a public ministry. Problems can arise with participative ministry and there must be an intentional safe-guarding of the 'clarity of message (vv.6–12); the need to make the church a space where outsiders can recognise the presence of God (vv.20–25); and, crucially, the ‘building up’ of the whole church (vv.1–5; 27–33).'

Interestingly this plays itself out in a commitment to the 'insides and outside of the church.'

The report explores 4 ministry realms: Word, Worship, Work and Wider World.

Word is seen in a spiritual building-up and in disciplining through preaching, teaching and modelling. Worship in the maintaining of order as all participate. Work in care for others in practical ways, with pastoral care, alms-giving and administration  being the work of the whole church. Wider World asks that the church bring its voice to the public square and is seen in networking and evangelism.

Any call to leadership will be an 'intermeshing of divine and human agency.' Because a honing and refining of gifts is needed in those called to leadership, just as Paul instructs Timothy to stir up the gifts that he has been given, the Church of England seems to be working out in the current context how this can be done.  The Green Report was the first attempt in a long time to put some kind of proposal forward, although it has not been without its critics. The Senior Leadership in the Church of England report seems to shape something of a response to this criticism: 'New Testament writers show a constant readiness to adopt and adapt models from the secular world into the discourse of leadership – like the steward or household manager...[borrowing] language, ideas, practices and even forms of organisation from a wide variety of sources: the household, the estate, the empire and many other spheres of life... as they sought to discover how to be faithful in their changing contexts.' It is the case, though, that overly-worldly models built on the CEO and his paid employees can infiltrate the Ekklesia in negative ways. The Senior Leadership in the Church of England report reminds the church that apostles never act as agents of 'some global organisation called ‘the church plc’; they are ‘special agents’ sent by Jesus Christ to act and speak and suffer on his behalf as his witnesses in the world. And this means being constantly thrown back on the ethos of leadership set by Jesus himself.'

At chapter 4 of the Report, the history of the three-fold order of ministry is explored and its positive and negative ramifications for the local church assessed. Increasing clericalisation and gaps between the laos and the ordained is lamented. We are reminded that the Bishop's particular preserve is the teaching of the faith and a promotion of orthodoxy in the face of heresy and from the Oxford Movement an onus on a more sacramental ministry. This required a certain level of education: 'senior leaders who benefited from a classical education in rhetoric... had to be educated in order to engage... communicators who were also persuaders...bishops who were also politicians, like Ambrose, John Chrysostom and Athanasius; and bishops who were theologians before all else, like Augustine and
Gregory of Nyssa.'

The report explores how from the beginning of the twentieth century the language of ‘leadership’ evolves 'as a useful term for naming the many skills of negotiation, consultation and
organisation ... to help chart the church’s course in a time of shrinking membership, growing religious pluralism and ...legal responsibilities in terms of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.' It notes that 'influential evangelical leaders ... came out of ... trans-local networks operating above and behind the formal structures of parish and diocese,' as seen in the increasing number of types defined as ‘Executive Archpastor[s]’ (David Hilborn’s term) who operate less as 'pastor to individuals and more and more simply as supervisor and eventually the manager of a network of pastoral carers and other systems... what we mean by ‘pastor’ now is not identical to what we might have meant by ‘pastor’ fifty ... years ago.'

The report advises care over language and models: ‘traditional’ language and ideas can become a way of protecting ourselves against such necessary transformation ...language borrowed from the wider world can distract us... the triune God must remain at the centre of all our ideas and practices of leadership. We cannot hold a meaningful conversation about leadership except in the context of our understanding of the missio Dei... The one true leader of the church is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and true success is in God’s hands alone... management in the church exists only
for the sake of ministry and mission.'

This seems to act as a conclusion to the report:

'Tradition and innovation are not opposed, because deep immersion in tradition is not an awkward constraint upon improvisation but is its enabling condition. The more improvisation we want, the deeper the forms of education we will need – and the deeper those forms of education will need to take us into knowledge of the tradition and knowledge of the Scriptures... faithful improvisation will only emerge from communities and individuals who are brought by the Spirit, in the company of all the saints, to deeper and deeper knowledge of Christ, and him crucified.'

20.1.15

Coming out from hiding under fig trees

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This week particularly across the Anglican Church we think about our calling, each and every one of us, into a unity in Christ. 

It is the week for Christian Unity.

Unity in Christ is a very distinctive unity. 

A unity in Christ is a movement into the body and for the growth of the body – it is a call that is not always easy because it is often a very sacrificial call.

It is an invitation into Christ where he decides what it is that makes for peace, where his peace is the right reign of God – God's shalom. God's rule is a biblical peace.

Unity in Christ often calls people to tough decisions, to a putting of Christ and the growth of the body ahead of their own assumptions and agendas. It requires our submission to Christ's vision for the church which bears his name.

In our scriptures for the beginning of the week for Christian Unity we read of God's call to each one of us in our psalm, to Samuel in the Old Testament and to Philip and Nathanuel in the Gospel of John. Each of them are to bring in the Kingdom of God. Samuel will be called to a win his people back for God, tasked with anointing the future King David. Nathanuel and Philip will each take up their cross and be challenged significantly along the way.

The Christian life presents difficult questions and situations and it is a measure of our Christian maturity how we handle them. Some questions we struggle to give answers to, such as those regarding suffering and where God is when we are in the middle of it.

Our bible stories can cause us problems too when we are trying to explain them to one another. Learning that Eve had been formed from Adam's rib at a church youth group, one teen said to his mum later that week – 'I have a pain in my side, perhaps I am having a wife,' He was joking but profoundly demonstrating that it really is very important how we tell the stories of God to one another – to acknowledge that we can read the Bible badly and be left with lots of questions. 

This is why we don't get to be church or Christian on our own because it takes a whole community to discern carefully what God is saying.

In our scriptures for the Week of Christian Unity we begin with Nathanuel confused and rude! “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he protests. 

Nathanael has opinions and certainly assumptions. 

Do we ever make any assumptions? About what church should look like or not look like – about what Christianity should look like or not look like. We return then to the beginning of this circle of reasoning because the Scriptures teach us what Christianity should look like and this sets our standard. We must therefore read them together, no matter how hard we find them. We must discern together, reason together.

In the Anglican lectionary we will next turn to Acts and the conversion of Paul. The book of Acts is about the birth of the church and reveals to us afresh God's vision for his church. The book of Acts teaches us what the church should look like.

The Bible teaches us what discipleship should look like. 

God decides what God looks like. 

The I am who I am describes who he is – indescribable  - and so this is why it's not supposed to be easy. And Nathanuel is beginning to grasp this and laden with assumptions, he is being made ready for an encounter with the one who shapes reality. 
'Did anything good ever come out of Nazareth?' Jesus will melt all his assumptions away.

Nazareth, small-town, provincial, and unknown – could God really show up in a place such as Nazareth? This is the assumption that Nathanuel harbours in hiding. Similar assumptions are made today – the church down the road, so different to us – is that really God who is showing up there? And, of course, similarly others make assumptions in return.

People of faith, people like Nathanael, people like you and me, make assumptions everyday: about people and what we can expect, what they will do, how they will behave. We decide before we have heard – make our minds up before we have seen – fix people into shapes that are hard to break free from. We also fix ourselves into unrelenting shapes. In dwelling on our secrets, our difficulties and our past hurts we say with Nathanuel as he does about Nazareth – God, how could any good ever come out of this? 

But assumptions tie us up, hold us down, dwindle hope. 
Assumptions always act to cut short possibility. 
We live out of our assumptions rather than truth, when the Truth, of course, came to set us free. 
Assumptions limit love and life and the new. 
Assumptions restrict and reject and reduce. 
We think we know more than we really do.

Our faith is flattened: we box God in. 
We limit room for our God to do anything new.

And there Nathanuel sits under his fig tree.  
The fig tree Jesus curses because it does not produce fruit. 
With leaves from such branches Adam and Eve hide their shame and think they are protected when this isn't the case. 

In our assumptions we are hiding and we think we are protected – really it would be healthier for our assumptions to be exposed, for us to come out from beneath the tree and face what we're afraid of, the church down the road, the new ministries that might be calling us, the new people asking us to take notice of them, our hurts and addictions, our fears and our prejudices, those things holding us back from horizons so new.

But the great story, the good story, the God-story, of course, is that God sees us through Christ, his perfect Son, sees that version of us perfected through his work on the cross, sees the person being purified through his labour of love, sees us as the bride being made right for the Christ, God sees us shaped and configured for him. 

He sees us past, present and future – human beings, 'human becomers' – a you made right through his righteous Son. 

Because this is so – we're already naked before God and Christ has dealt with our shame – this then is really how we come before God – with secrets exposed, with assumptions forgiven, taken on a journey, and brought into the light, and so when God does meet us in our Nathanuel moments – he can surprise us out of our very assumptions.

Nazareth might be a blind spot but God opens blind eyes.

God manifests himself in the least and the lost.

God manifests himself in us, each one, through his Spirit, as he did in a baby refugee on the run to Egypt, as he did in a blood soaked man outside the city gates. 

God will not be limited by any of our assumptions. 

For every Nazareth-moment, He asks we “come see:" these words said by Philip so that Nathan meets his Saviour. 

Over and over our Saviour confronts our Nazareths, shows up with his love, calls us out from the tree.  

We're called out of our Nazareths, our blind spots and comfort zones so that we really might reach for unity and see our Samuels, our Elis, our Philips and Nathanuels with their challenging questions, each keen to explore. 

Our unity comes when we make room for the other and reflect on the uniqueness of each God-crafted call to come and see. Really see. "Come and see," say our scriptures to all our Nathanuels. Gaze on your Saviour so your assumptions can be melted. Forgiveness and joy are found where we thought nothing good could ever come. 

Come out from under the fig tree, give it space and a little water, step back and behold the blooms on the wonderful tree. 

The one who is very good comes with love and comes from Nazareth. 

Let's hear him call us on to follow where he leads.

When challenges are opportunities (Nicky Gumbel)

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As far as the east is from the west but what about North and South?

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We are reminded today that the See of Burnley will appoint London's Philip North.

Christian Today reports on this imminent event.

Philip North had turned down a previous appointment because of the theological integrity he holds in favour of an all-male priesthood. This would have been compromised by the previous see offered.

He said: 
"It was a great honour to be chosen for this role, and I had been very much looking forward to taking up the position. However, in the light of the recent vote in the General Synod, and having listened to the views of people in the Archdeaconry of Cleveland, I have concluded that it is not possible for me, at this difficult time for our Church, to be a focus for unity. I have therefore decided that it is better to step aside at this stage.

"I have reached this decision after a time of deep reflection and feel sure that it is for the best. I now look forward to refocusing my energies on the pastoral needs of my parish."
It is important that Bishops can hold together people of various theological persuasions and so this was an honourable and brave decision to have come to. 

It wasn't long afterwards that another see came his way. 

For his consecration as Bishop of Burnley, (a Bishop appointed for traditionalists) he will need the laying on of hands, a very biblical way of appointing someone into the role of overseer (Episcopoi). 
What that will mean, though, is that a lot of thought and consideration will need to be taken regarding the people chosen to perform such a prayerful act.

In fact, the whole process rather makes the mind boggle because it will require responses to many questions. Traditionalists will have to go through the kind of investigative system below to ensure the purity of those in oversight:


(1) - have you ever received communion from a woman?

(2) - were you confirmed by a female bishop?

(3) - were you confirmed by a male bishop who:-

(a) - was confirmed by a female bishop?

(b) - was ordained by a female bishop?

(c) - was ordained at a service where women were also being ordained?

(d) - was consecrated at a service where a female bishop was present or laying hands?

(e) - has ever received communion from a female priest or bishop?

(f) - has ever ordained a female priest?

(g) – has ever participated in the consecration of a female bishop?

(4) -If you answered 'no' to (3(a) to (3)(g)) above, repeat each step (a) to (g) in relation to:-

(i) the bishop who consecrated the bishop who confirmed you

(ii) the bishop who ordained the bishop who confirmed you

(iii) the bishop who confirmed the bishop who confirmed you

This was only half of the process, I got a bit lost after point 4, it's more thorough even than this! 

You can see why I say it rather makes the mind boggle!

I wonder what it means for Christians in the Church of England as they think through such a process. 

How does it impact their faith? 

Does it provide reassurances for those of a particular theological integrity? 

What does it say about the faith being modelled to a younger generation? Does this matter? 

What does it say about a church that is generous and lives with difference? 

How are we modelling 'living with difference' for the world that we live in, which finds its people so at odds with one another? 

Much to think about... 

Following on for me too after a time away where I learnt that indeed we can sit together, reason together and pray together for the advancement of the gospel, despite differences of opinion over secondary issues.

48 hours away with the reformed and refreshed CEEC (new website coming soon) proved that much can be achieved when we concentrate on the primary issues and really make room for one another (1 Cor 11:33). 

14.1.15

First drops

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Sitting under the Word of God in a conference centre not too far from here for a twenty-four hour away time, Hugh Palmer shared his reflections from Mark 10:32-45. The following is what I remember with a bit of my own turn of phrase thrown in.

Jesus Predicts His Death a Third Time
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

The Request of James and JohnThen James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”


Hugh puts it to us that we travel faster alone but further together. Together is advocated.

A servant-ministry is not doing necessarily what people want, though, and this is important. If Jesus had simply done what the people, his following wanted, he wouldn't have gone to the cross - this was not the rescue that they had been anticipating. Therefore in stepping forward in ministry there is a degree, more than a degree, of pain.

With the coverage of the Charlie Hebdo incident there are parallels that can be drawn. Perhaps it is more accurate to say 'I am of Jesus' than 'I am Jesus' - the latter perhaps speaks of a Messianic syndrome. The former reminds us that Jesus was accused of blasphemy, that Jesus didn't take life but gave his life and as he did so prayed 'Father forgive them, they know not what they do.' And here we have Jesus predicting his very death, and even a third time and it is still something that the disciples can not hear: this suffering, an unanticipated partner to Glory, like that couple in love who seem not quite to fit and yet they do.

Jesus isn't unaware of what lies ahead, this suffering, this stepping forward into pain. His repetition of what 'they will' do to him underlines the point and yet even with such frequent statement, it is yet to be grasped. Deaf to this then as we are today. If the death and the resurrection of Jesus are not central to our faith, then we are indeed deaf too. With Christmas having just passed, there is that desire indeed to stay with the tinsel for a little while, to rightly focus on the incarnation but the wood of a manger does indeed point us to the wood of the cross, if we do not handle our sinfulness as we travel Advent, we are not really able to comprehend our need of a Saviour. Jesus the examplar is indeed an insufficient Saviour, the Christ - a once sufficient sacrifice and oblation for the sins of the whole world is satisfactory indeed. The cross must always shape our heart attitudes.

To what are we deaf?

Can we hear about the cross?

And then the audacity, but we can be audacious too - James and John are after a favour and now, when He tells them of his imminent death!

They are taken over by dreams of glory whilst Jesus' mind is on Calvary.

Similarly we can muddle a belief in God for a belief in our agenda in God. We can fall into trusting the god of our agenda above the true God made known in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Glory and suffering really are inextricably together as sometimes odd couples inevitably are.

Jesus' answer:' Do you know what you are asking for?' He doesn't rebuke, he invites them into a deeper understanding - he wants them to think about what they are really asking. This baptism is also into death. This is Discipleship-road and they need to get real. These guys think they can drink the cup, complete their earthly lives in a blaze of Glory: the martyrs' death. Sometimes the glamour of this can appeal, just for a moment, the drama of the last drop of blood. Instead what is called for is the first drop and all the tiny drops after that. This is the stuff of heart-attitude.

When Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian nationalist, issued his proclamation before he embarked on a campaign to liberate Sicily (1860), he rallied the troops with

"I can find plenty of people who will give their last drop of blood. But not many who are so happy to give the first drop.

We are to be a 'first drops of blood people,' this is a metaphor for our heart-attitude, one little drop and many drops thereafter, this call to the difficulty of the journey.

The Glory is the promise but it is future not present, it is promise but unrealised yet in these in-between times. Glory and suffering are there in the pursuit of servant-hood. Glory comes through suffering.

Jesus reminds his disciple of the truth of discipleship. We are to rightly understand leadership - that authority is a means by which servanthood can be extended.

And why are James and John trying to get ahead, fixated on glory - because this is always the temptation. And why are the other disciples indignant? Perhaps because two amongst them were intent on getting ahead, purchasing tickets to the main event when they hadn't even known tickets were on sale yet!

There are no tickets.

There are so many cultural and worldly models for what leadership looks like. But rarely are they the way of the cross. The CEO has other things on his mind than waiting and suffering and the ekeing out of life, one drop at a time.

The worldly model doesn't talk of ransom. No payment we make can ever be enough we are reminded in Psalm 49. We share in Christ's suffering and then in His Glory because the ransom was one that he came to pay. And so perhaps the first thing we need to ask with those first drops of blood is not so much whether we are serving Christ but whether he is serving us - can we claim that righteousness that is ours in him that he secured through the cross for us - can we hear it and then claim it - have it be imputed?

In 33AD outside the city walls Jesus served you. He gave his very life so that you might have it eternally. In 1982 at All Saints, Cheadle Hulme and through the Prayer of Humble Access I accepted the Jesus who came to serve me, this Saviour dying on a cross for Rachel Marszalek who wasn't worthy even so much as to gather up the crumbs under his table and so it's a good thing my righteousness is in Him. The first drops of blood moments began.

To be continued... one drop at a time....

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.