2.1.14

Conflict splats


An interesting discussion is taking place in one of my on-line forums about compatibility and accountability, about harmony and conflict. There really is a very delicate path to be walked when trying to articulate that thing that happens when human beings come together and things just do not feel right.

There have been heaps of books written to guide leaders. In my context, which is church leadership, such books as Simon P Walker's 'Leading Out of Who You Are,' has proven useful. Another book I came across recently, with a rather arresting title also made a lot of sense. It is called 'Never Call Them Jerks: Healthy Responses to Difficult Behaviour' by Arthur Paul Boers
As Walker points out, we are all exercising leadership in some way or another and so this issue of human relating affects us all at some point.
Leadership is merely the execution of power, the use of influence, in taking responsibility for another. As such, all of us ‘offer leadership’ on a daily basis. The mother at the road crossing, the nurse administering a drug, the administrator producing a better project plan- all are acts of passing leadership.
Church involves people called to leadership, negotiating together how to set vision for a church with its people, under God. There is the hope that the laity and leadership will facilitate the vision God has for them. The members of the church are to develop their own approaches to situations, whilst learning from the approach taken by the leader. The leader learns from the people. Over time there us development and key relationships change.

It's not that we learn how to do and how not to do 'church,' we learn, instead, approaches that work given gifting and personality that would differ to the approaches taken by others because of their particular gifting and personality and experience.

In many ways, church leadership training experiences compare quite readily for me to the teacher training experience. Whilst I was able to learn approaches from shadowing other teaching professionals, I had to ultimately find my own approach. One colleague taught through humour - fantastic -  classes were hugely animated. Work was completed with a rather ad-hoc approach. It worked. I couldn't replicate that method. Another teacher got results through tight discipline and with work often completed in complete silence. Again, I couldn't replicate this. I had to find my own way. I rarely sat down, walked around a lot and kept firing new things at my classes (metaphorically speaking) to prevent the boredom that often leads to difficult behaviour. This was my approach, working for me because I kind of do fast-pace and high energy.

In Christian ministry, you can't really develop technique. You can, of course, learn how to construct appropriate liturgy for a funeral and you can work on your speaking and presence and sentence constructions for eulogies and sermons but there is a lot of 'you' invested in the role: your character just leaks out really all over the place, your attitude to people and life and God. Your world-view, whilst being Christian, is, of course, so bespoke to you: glass half full/half empty, introvert/extrovert, contemplative/activist... and of course, such dualities far from capture the complexity that is each one of us. You really do spend a lot of time in prayer asking for that transformation of your character that St Paul encourages. Ultimately then, there is much that can't be taught, trained, achieved.... because it is not that kind of exercise.

As the Church of England, like many institutions, seeks to catch up with the 21st century, it seeks also to standardise its training all over the country. In this way clergy in one part of the Anglican Communion will have developed similar competencies to clergy in other parts of the Anglican Communion and the competencies are fairly vast, really.

I think that it has only just properly dawned on me that we really spend between five and seven years training for the ministry. Two to three years are spent at the equivalent of university on academic theology and placements and then between two and a half and four years are spent in training, on the job, so to speak, depending on your diocese or on how quickly you land your post of first responsibility. During this five to seven year process, the competencies that are to be worked on are those that I list below:

VOCATION AND MINISTRY - Calling Church, Community, Personally
VOCATION AND MINISTRY - Readiness for incumbent's role
VOCATION AND MINISTRY - Reflective practitioner, theology, psychology, sociology
VOCATION AND MINISTRY - Legal and Canonical knowledge
VOCATION AND MINISTRY - Administration and Maintenance
VOCATION AND MINISTRY - Ministry in the public sphere
VOCATION AND MINISTRY - Reflection and Feedback on Acts of Worship
VOCATION AND MINISTRY - Understanding other faiths
VOCATION AND MINISTRY - Working ecumenically
VOCATION AND MINISTRY - Reflections on ecumenical work
SPIRITUALITY - Collaboration in variety of ways
SPIRITUALITY - Dependence on the Grace of God
SPIRITUALITY - Leading of Holy Spirit
SPIRITUALITY - Oversight of others
SPIRITUALITY - Prayer
SPIRITUALITY - Servanthood
LEADERSHIP AND COLLABORATION - Accountability
LEADERSHIP AND COLLABORATION - Collaborative leading (in worship services)
LEADERSHIP AND COLLABORATION - Collaborative leading (in Community and other)
LEADERSHIP AND COLLABORATION - Empowering others
LEADERSHIP AND COLLABORATION - Supervise, manage others
FAITH AND QUALITY OF MIND - Bible
FAITH AND QUALITY OF MIND - Disciplined study
FAITH AND QUALITY OF MIND - How doctrine interfaces with society, across church traditions
FAITH AND QUALITY OF MIND - Other faiths
FAITH AND QUALITY OF MIND - Personality as a leader, as a disciple
FAITH AND QUALITY OF MIND - A reflection on a challenging decision
FAITH AND QUALITY OF MIND - Rule of life
FAITH AND QUALITY OF MIND - Teaching, enthusing about Scripture
MISSION AND EVANGELISM - Encouraging learning, proclaiming
MISSION AND EVANGELISM - Making faith accessible across pastoral offices (wedding, funeral)
MISSION AND EVANGELISM - Missio Dei (Mission of God)
MISSION AND EVANGELISM - Continued and fresh expressions of church
MISSION AND EVANGELISM - Social Justice issues
MISSION AND EVANGELISM - Worldviews and adaptation of gospel/ inculteration of gospel
PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER - Change Management
PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER - Support of others
PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER - Development in role
PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER - Development in role, supervision
PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER - Self-care
RELATIONSHIPS - Supervision of volunteers and staff
RELATIONSHIPS - Conflict Management
RELATIONSHIPS - Corporate life across diversity
RELATIONSHIPS - Fruitful relationships across contexts
RELATIONSHIPS - Professional, Pastoral, Conduct, Boundaries

I poured over these descriptors over the months, looking at them and working out what all the language really means, writing reflections under each heading and trying my best to collect evidence and evaluations from the perspective of other people who observed me in various contexts. No mean feat, I can tell you.  

Often these reflections read like some kind of bildungsroman and many of them I have shared here. I am a writer and perhaps sometimes they can only be written in poetry 

I think one of the most ultimate things that I have learned along the way, so far, is something about human relationships. I used to admin a group with 175 ministers in it. I have since passed responsibilities here on to someone else. It is a group we leave when we move on to our posts of first responsibility. In this group, we supported one another, prayed for one another and shared our reflections and best practice. We supported one another through the ups and downs and the successes and failures of ministry and church. It has been interesting to watch stories unfold there as prayers have been prayed for those personal chemistries coming together and reacting together in various ways in people's worlds. It is this that has revealed to me ultimately that perhaps there actually is not such a thing after all as a difficult person, there are only what I have come to think of as unpleasing paint splats.

The image (I think in pictures) that I carry is that of colours that come together to do different things and become something new. The Rachel Marszalek paint splat is of a particular combination of colours. Chuck it up, if you would, out of a giant paint pot and watch it splat together with the paint pot of another person. Sometimes the splat will be great, full of colour, creative and yet ordered, new and vibrant and yet easy on the eye and harmonious to live with. Sometimes the paint splat just will not work at all. Colours jar or compete, hues will not mix. Focus is lost. The ink becomes sticky and unworkable.


In any meeting, indeed, in any group of human relating, I see a myriad paint tins launching and sometimes it's great and sometimes we need a lot of paint-thinning solution. Ultimately, I think I conclude that we really should never, indeed ever, call them jerks because it's all just a matter of chemistry. As far as whether leadership should be undefended, risk it, all your colours are going to leak anyway. Be true to who you are, whilst seeking to grow into the person you're intended to be, whilst all the time watching the mix. It's never a case of becoming defended, sometimes it's just that you need to hold back on the bright yellow, for example, just for a while, just until colours reform again and the whole picture can be made new by yours or someone else's hue. Ultimately then, this image has become an accompanying one to me as I do life and church and family and calling. Before joining the church I had never been quite so exposed to such a diversity of hues, even in the classroom and even across friends and family of various cultures, faiths and ideologies, there had not been the diversity that I now live with daily. There is colour and sometimes I want to don sunglasses and go somewhere sepia for a while but most of the time, it is been hugely interesting to observe the paint splats.

I will leave you finally with the words of Simon P Walker.

About training future leaders something that the Church of England (with its curacy processes and competency check-lists and Ministerial Development Reviews and even Lord Green) is seeking to do, Simon Walker says,
In fact, we should be looking for individuals who have cultivated a stillness of spirit such that they can attend to the movements of God. We should look for leaders who are sensitive to the tone in the room, to the unconscious voices in the discussion. We should be elevating women and men who have an awareness of the spiritual dimension to life that runs in parallel to this world. 
I am not in the slightest interested in following men and women who can depict some grand vision, or who have a confidence about ‘the way we need to be doing things’. I want to follow and learn from the men and women who struggle with the pain in the world and are generous, kind, self-effacing, seeking to learn, fragile, patient, still, free, who have known failure and not been crushed...

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