Sunday, 1 June 2008

Clerical Incompetence

The Sunday Telegraph reports on a confidential report (that, obviously, the rest of us cannot read) called Quality and Quantity Issues in Ministry. Thinking Anglicans covers this with comments.

The report of the report, by Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent, states that a survey of Church of England bishops reckon one third of them finds two thirds of existing priests (6000) and a third of recruits are of insufficient quality and ability for the job (so say nine out of ten bishops on the latter point).

New vacancies stretch priests (presumably driving between many joined up parishes and churches and fronting endless committees between morning and evening) and existing priests have gone cold on the job. The need to fill vacancies and a choice between weak candidates means persistent low quality recruitment. The priests trained have the wrong temperaments and lack abilities. The original report thinks priests can't delegate, they produce lousy and shallow worship, and they are insufficiently trained to fall within Anglican polity. Nor can they change for the challenges of the future.

To counter this, pay may rise (presumably) and the personnel will be vetted better at selection as ways of improvement. There will be guidelines about performance.

The report of the report tells us that the Archbishop's Council will look at the motivation and personalities of recruits and what they expect to achieve. It will look at selection and reward.

As for preaching there could be worshipper feedback and better breathing exercises, says the report on the report. Much of this, though, is based on a book, Preaching with Humanity.

Well, when you have a workforce, you have what you have got. If there is general incompetence and poor recruits, there is only a fantasy available of replacement (say by encouraging early retirement or job changes and then bringing in non-existent better recruits); rather, you have to work with what is present.

Now I have a suggestion, and it relates to improving the motivation and skills of who you have already. It is called management. In my own little library I have books with these titles: Management Information Systems, Be Your Own Management Consultant, Managing Operations: A Competence Approach to Supervisory Management, Managing People: A Competence Approach to Supervisory Mangement, Writers on Organizations, The Will to Manage, Business Organization, as well as two books by Charles Handy and two by Bill Gates.

These and so many more are commonly available. They and others could be read by bishops, who are supposed to be leaders over clergy. Their job is to inspire and motivate, and you do it via competent planning. You set up systems to plan the job and run the personnel and be the communication channels for inspiration. You have competence feedbacks, and always information back and forth is the key.

My recently acquired but still limited view of the Church of England sees its utter lack of planning. Parishes are left to hang after an incumbent retires. If bishops stopped letting things "wither" so that a decision about plant, equipment and personnel only emerges after so much frustration, and instead acquired some training and skills for proactive management, then clergy and indeed active lay people might feel somewhat more capable themselves and organised. People do not talk to each other, no one has a clue what is going on, and people in meetings laugh when you ask simple "why not" questions.

There is the Lambeth Conference coming up about Better Bishops. I bet it never touches on management performance, let alone training. It will be in the abstract, and cover all sorts of theology about being "incarnate" and the like. Whoopee.

What is needed is oversight, consultation, bringing people in (try those indaba groups between bishops and clergy - participatory meetings that get into the deep and do come up with resolutions!), planning systems and ways of quality assessment that meet clearly worked-out objectives.

As for recruits: well there is a mismatch. They want people all God-directed and potentially holy and good solid believers and the rest... Well such people need not be competent. Back in 1984-1986 I was considering Anglican ministry and I was doing a Sociology of Religion Ph.D at the time (in my twenties). The whole thing was dogged by the demands for a certain level of belief. I was raw, absorbing and eager, but I went off to the Unitarians where eventually the chapel culture and me did not match. That wasn't management but more sub-cultural. In those days the Church of England wanted people with experience in the world. Now, with a Theology MA added, but about to be 50 years old next year, they want younger people. I would also be equally dogged by a certain level of belief (that seems to be rising and narrowing all the time). Every time I approach the matter, I fall away, and the clock ticks on. I may, of course, be unsuitable anyway, but I am also looking to that Lambeth Conference and how it reacts to pressures, and how the Church of England itself responds (further narrowing, probably). I tend to think that, just as I would have been better off in the Unitarian Univeralists back in the later 1980s early 1990s, so I would be better off now in The Episcopal Church - both in the United States.

Oddly enough, in between both occasions of considering ordained ministry, the selection process seems to have become more bureaucratic and formalised, rather like as in the rest of education and in some of the worst management practices. The selection process now has nine criteria to fulfil: my wife joked that she could meet them, and she is not interested. Once again a quantitative procedure creeps in where a qualitative assessment method had existed and should be improved along with the quantitative. A candidate told me that I would have to focus on those nine criteria in order to get through. Honestly.

There is no obvious match between the procedure of recruitment, training and the competence of performance. So expect standards of performance to stay low, and to be pleasantly surprised when they are good. Perhaps the reason that so much is so weak, though, is the standard of leadership, because it so obviously lacks management skills, and perhaps the promoted personnel from that same pool are incapable of becoming reasonable managers. Well, perhaps they ought to try, because there is no one else.

And often managers find that when the training improves, when the communication improves, when the systems are in place, when people know what they are doing, and the goals are there, and people are empowered, that there was nothing inherently wrong with most in the workforce after all: they had just been badly managed.

Later Update

Praise to Raspberry Rabbit for questioning the content of the report about a report. Like me he saw that a book was added to the report about the report to add to the journalistic juice, but unlike me he saw the report was about a report about a survey and that about a third of bishops found half (two thirds?) of clergy are crap, when 90% think a third of recruits are crap. Sounds like an improvement (or may be a more intense disapproval of a smaller proportion) but the journalist is concealing to appeal, as Genesis (the rock group) put it. I put two thirds because I reckoned on a diminishing down to 9000 clergy now in the C of E. So I have made a slight change to the text above.

Nevertheless I think the emphasis should be the other way around, on the management and lack of systems of communication and action. Usually workforces can be turned around, with relatively few who are really crap, and we are talking here not about pastoral matters but the realising the potential of all the capital, physical and human (to put it in those business and management terms, which may draw much objection).

David Keen is generous to quote a thought on the second main draft of my blog entry that appeared not long after its first appearance, though he describes the Sunday Telegraph as the Sunday Times (go on, correct it, I would - He did, as he comments).

1 comment:

dmk said...

I did! Thanks for the proof-reading services.