I am in Berlin for today and tomorrow to speak at a conference of ‘middle managers’ in the German Church (EKD). I flew in this morning in time to hear a stimulating address by Dr Thies Gundlach which (to my ears, at least) focused on the need for fresh attention to be paid to spirituality (the Bible being a lens through which to see God, the world and us) and a need for the development of strategic competence in the outreach ministry of the church in a changing world.

I have met Thies a number of times and am impressed with the seriousness with which he engages – both personally and professionally – with these questions. He is also a very nice bloke.

My session was at the end of a heavy conference day for the punters and I feared I would send them to their early sleep. I was sharing the platform with a Dutchman who gave an interesting presentation about the challenges posed by the changing situation of the church in the Netherlands. The idea was that the two of us would be interviewed first by two comperes and then give a twenty-minute address each on the theme of the conference. I went second and addressed the question of ‘Leadership, Management and Inspiration’. I basically wanted to encourage the ‘middle management’ to be creative in leadership, to lose their fear of failure and enjoy the challenge of their ministry.

I was asked beforehand whether I was daunted by the challenge of moving from Croydon to Bradford. I was able answer immediately and without either delusion or hesitation: no! I am looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that this will bring. It is a fantasy that life is ever sorted; every day brings new challenges and there was never a ‘golden age’. So, if we are going to do this stuff, let’s at least try to enjoy the experience.

For the record, my line on ‘leadership, management and inspiration’ was basically that management of resources is important, but that leadership involves more than administration. Leadership demands from leaders the ability and freedom to inspire the led. I began with Liverpool Football Club…

Why can Kenny Dalglish get out of the same players who failed for Roy Hodgson more energy, commitment, flair, engagement, skill, optimism, determination and enjoyment? The same players on the same ground for the same club. Well, one answer is that King Kenny has restored confidence not only in the collective ambition of the team/club, but also confidence in the individual players’ creative ability. They look like they want to play and want to win.

Part of the distinction between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ can be illustrated by the question I found myself asking as Archdeacon of Lambeth ten years ago. I can’t remember how or why, but I recall realising that there are two approaches to being an archdeacon (responsible for buildings, finance, law and ‘stuff’ in the Church of England): the first asks what the law allows us to do and goes from there; the second asks what we want to achieve (where do we want to get to) and then works out how the law might allow us to get there. In other words, leadership begins with a vision for which a strategy is then needed – but strategy without vision is meaningless. Poor management often sees the development of strategies without having first identified the vision that the strategies are meant to make happen.

Of course, this has to do with giving permission to leaders(at any level) to fail. Having identified clarity, confidence and communication as key to good leadership, I quoted Matthew 25:14-30. Here three blokes (they are always blokes…) are given money by their boss who was about to go away for a bit. Two blokes doubled the cash they were given, but one hid his away in order to preserve it from risk of loss. The first two were praised, the last was condemned. The church and the Gospel are to be risked – given away and possibly lost, perverted, misrepresented, twisted, half-remembered, etc – and not stuck in the ground where they can be kept pure, untarnished and ‘holy’.

We never really learn this, do we?

Anyway, as this isn’t a sermon, we went on to take questions form the floor – many of which began with the football allusion. One question made me think about the analogy between football matches and church services. I quickly thought and suggested that the liturgy of football involves (among other things):

  • a commonly owned and understood liturgy
  • that liturgy involves worship, praise, criticism, prayer (pleading for an outcome), complaint, questioning, singing, silence, emotion, reflection, critical appraisal
  • the experience is centred on a common goal (literally!)
  • everyone is a participant in the event – no one is a mere spectator.

Now, think about how church might take these elements on board – consciously – in the choice of medium, language, music, action, performance and articulated vision.

A question about the challenge of the so-called New Atheists led to the conclusion (among other things) that their major weaknesses are (a) their lack of humour, (b) their need to hold on to a caricature of religion in order for their critique to bear the weight they put on it, and (c) their ignorance of the fact that what they think of as ‘new’ is actually very old and didn’t hold much water even 200 years ago.

Anyway, that’s Berlin Tonight (to quote either Leonard Cohen or Bruce Cockburn).