Leadership, Priesthood, and Ministry: Some Reflective Statements

I have been thinking a bit about ordained ministry this week, and the shift of emphasis to leadership - "Church Leaders" - that has happened in recent years. It is a very strong notion in Liverpool Diocese, I suspect because of its evangelical heritage (where the concept seems to be very strong). It is a theme that I have come back to many times in the last ten years or so.

I have so far avoided blogging on this topic because I have struggled to articulate my thoughts coherently. I'm not now claiming to have gotten to that point, but I feel able to get a few things down and perhaps get some feedback that will help me think more clearly about the area of leadership and priesthood. (When I say priesthood here I really mean ordained ministry - for those of you not from a traditon that calls its presbyters priests.) It is something that genuinely bothers me - not in the sense that I am profoundly disturbed by others' opinions, but because I haven't landed my own thoughts yet and so keep coming back to the question. For that reason I offer a series of statements. Share your thoughts if you have time...

Statement 1: Leadership is a necessary part of Priesthood. This is a notion that is often lost in traditional accounts of ordained ministry in the Church of England. History tells us (and House of Bishops' reports) that a failing of ordained ministry in the nineteenth and twentieth century was an emphasis on management of the parish properties and services over and against the need for intentionality and direction (i.e. that people needed leading in order to grow in faith and discipleship). The modern emphasis on leadership is a counterbalance to that embedded sense of pastoral care, and helps us to remember that part of the responsibility of ordained ministers is to help people grow in faith and discipleship. Growth is a movement, so stagnation is not an option.

Statement 2: Leadership is not the sum total of Priesthood. Whilst I think that leadership is an important aspect of ordained ministry, I would contend that a better counterbalance to emphasis on stagnant parish ministry is emphasis on doing good pastoral care, not on making all priests corporate leaders. This needs a bit of unpacking. Much of what I have to study at the minute as part of my Initial Ministerial Education is leadership skills, mentoring, visions setting, corporate governance and management etc. It is the kind of stuff you read right of the pages in a handbook for an MBA degree. I see the need for it: the local congregation is a kind of corporation.What I don't ever have to engage with in IME is prayer, bible study, pastoral care and discipleship, or theology! So I question the emphasis on it at the expense of good pastoral care and practice (that isn't stagnant but wants people to grow and learn as Christian disciples). To me, it gives the wrong impression about ordained ministry to call us "leaders" - we are supposed to be servants. Now, you could say we are servant leaders - great - but nowhere on earth would you hear ordained people referred to as "Church Servants". It sounds degrading. By the same token, "Church Leader" sounds grandiose.

Statement 3: Emphasis on learning from Business Practice has replaced attentiveness to Scripture. I don't think this is too dramatic a statement. Or at least, let me explain why I think this. There are two reasons. The first concerns the way in which "leadership" is used as a hermeneutical category through which to read huge chunks of scripture in a way that universalises particular ministries. Prophets, kings, queens, priests, apostles, evangelists, pastors/presbyters, and elders all come under the universal category of "leaders" but without much attention being paid to the particularities of each ministry. Kings are not prophets or priests on the whole. There is a distinction and emphasis. They operate differently, and lead differently. We need to attend to these distinctions when reading scripture, and attend to the differences when thinking about the application of leadership language to ordained ministry: the way we lead may not be the same as a corporate manager. In fact, I think, it oughtn't to be. The second reason is really a reflection on experience of sitting through leadership and ministry courses: rarely do the facilitators of these courses ever turn attention to scripture, church tradition, or theology. I was at a course earlier this week, facilitated by someone from the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) which has developed much of the material on developing leadership and ordained ministry for the Church of England. We were asked to say if there's anything we'd particularly like to cover in the session and to write it down and stick it up on a notice board for the facilitator to see. Someone wrote that they'd like to have some scriptural/theological insights on leadership and mentoring (which was the theme of the morning). None was given. When the session finished two and a half hours later we hadn't opened a bible or talked about the theology of ministry.

Statement 4: Churches need appropriate leadership, but Priests don't always have to lead. The Church does need to be led, principally to Jesus Christ. And this is principally the work of the Holy Spirit who works in and through men and women. We trust also that the Spirit is working in and through our ordinaned ministers. Hence at ordination services in the CofE we invoke the Holy Spirit. It seems appropriate to me then that the kinds of people who are involved in leading are able to be led. In the first instance we want our ordained ministers to be led by the Holy Spirit. But, I would also like to add that there are times when ordained ministers need to be led by their congregations. By this I mean that an ordained person might need to learn something, grow in some way, or be challenged appropriately by their congregation. Who is the leader in this situation? (I have seen this sort of thing happend recently with regard to the development of childrens' ministry in a church where the congregation were miles ahead of the Vicar). Does it create the wrong sort of dynamic to say that the chief priority of ordained ministry is leadership? I don't think even the Apostles would have claimed that (e.g. Galatians 1-2; 1 Cor. 1-2).

Statement 5: Leadership is part of priestly ministry and must not be overlooked, but nor must the other parts. Church Leaders who dont know the people in their congregations can rarely provide good pastoral care or discipleship modelling. It seems to me that the model Paul gives us is to know people, or to get to know them (as was the intention at Rome). When I visualise my life I think of myself primarily as a disciple; then as husband and father; then as ordained minister. I tend to break the minister bit up into constituent parts: pastor; leader; teacher; pray-er; student; chair-stacker; coffee maker; visitor; friend; vision setter; challenger; listener; confessor; carer; president over sacraments...etc.etc. (I do the same for father and husband too). I could keep going, but the point is that whilst leadership is in there for me, it's alongside some other hefty responsibilities: all of them need attention, and I dont want to drop the ball on any of them.


I will probably think of more, but I'm glad to get some of that out of my head. I don't even know if I agree with it all, but it's stopped the whirring in my brain! (for now...)