The key to surviving the General Synod of the Church of England is to have a book on the go that has nothing to do with church business. Or church.

I have just finished the excellent ‘A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney’ by Martin Gayford. Hockney spends a lot of time looking. Not just spotting something and drawing it, but looking. He describes how he looks for a very long time – hours and days – at, for example, a group of trees. The book ranges over time, space, colour, place, depth, and much besides. And it is beautifully illustrated.

The problem is that it provides a lens through which to look at and think through the business of the church as mediated through the General Synod. No escape there, then.

We began yesterday (after worship and a very odd choice of an unsingable hymn) with an address by the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil in Iraq. This was a powerful first-hand account of what is happening to Christians at the hands of Islamic State. The plight is dire and the plea for help is urgent.

It always jars to move from such a matter to the legislative business of the Church of England – even though that is basically what the General Synod is for. But, it rams home the fact that life has to carry on despite the mess of the world. We then ranged over a variety of matters before departing in the evening. Today is taken up with four reports aimed at reorienting the Church of England for the future, aimed at focusing our attention on our core vocation: making disciples (followers) of Jesus Christ and shaping the church at every level for its core mission.

It could be expressed like this: how does the church, in all its variety of context and reach, create the space in which different sorts of people can be invited to join us in following Jesus in the particular contexts in which we live, work, play, and give our lives? This involves worship, outreach, evangelism, pastoral care, nurture, learning, arguing together, and so on.

Of course, the bit of this that has hit the media radar is the so-called Green Report. The coincidence of its launch with the depressing news about HSBC’s tax evasion behaviour is … er … unfortunate. But, a half-rational mind would realise that, putting the easy target to one side (how can the church be advised on leadership by a banker?), the question of how to equip church leaders for the responsibilities they carry is an important one.

Someone in public life said to me yesterday that, although she had not read the Green Report, she only had to look at her vicar to realise that some training in professional conduct would be helpful – given that he had run down his congregation over the last few years. I guess many in our churches would like to see their clergy better trained for some of the ‘management of people and stuff’ responsibilities that running a parish demands.

So, we will no doubt pick holes in this report and others. But, we cannot simply hide behind cleverness and dismissive non-engagement with serious questions about how we train and equip leaders for what we are asking them to do. The Green Report should have been translated for its ultimate audience; it might even start from the wrong place and use the wrong language; the process of its genesis might well not be ideal; it might well make assumptions about the nature and exercise of leadership and the nature of the church. Fine. But, the criticisms still don’t address the question of how we do then invest in ensuring that church leaders in the future are better equipped to do what is expected of them.

When I was Bishop of Croydon I initiated a clergy leadership development programme and recruited an experienced colleague to create, develop and facilitate it. Some in the diocese were sceptical – about any suspicion of ‘management’. However, this programme involved peer cell groups of six clergy in their first post-curacy post, residential training, expert coaching, and so on. It was a heavy investment. But, it was an attempt to take clergy seriously and build their confidence in their own competence. It made a huge difference to morale, and feedback from parishes about their clergy made clear the impact that went wider than the development of the clergy themselves.

This is what the church is now looking to work on. It is not a substitute for inspiration, spiritual direction, theological development or all the other holy stuff of ministry. We need to ensure that the question Green poses is not avoided by dismissal of the Green response.

I am writing this on a flight from Manchester to Atlanta, Georgia, where I will connect to Roanoke, Virginia, and spend a week visiting the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia which is linked with the Diocese of Bradford.

The only interesting bit of the flight so far was hearing two stewards agreeing that they “love the English accent”. “Which one?” was the question I wanted to ask. One of the amazing glories of England is that such a small island comprises so many distinct accents and dialects. I always pitied the German language Assistentin who came to Liverpool in the 1970s and, having spent too long in the company of Scouse teenagers, left feeling that she couldn’t understand a word of English after all. Ask about accent and you ask about the amazing history that makes it almost impossible to define what it means to be ‘English’.

Anyway, I was reading Thursday’s Guardian on my iPad and was struck by the piece by Martin Kettle on the newly-opened Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy in London which I long to see. I love David Hockney’s work: the vibrancy, the colour, the perception of a landscape as the seasons change, the transparency of the everyday and the banal that makes you look and think differently about what you take for granted in the familiar world around you every day.

Kettle says:

Hockney celebrates drawing because… drawing is an instinctive human act from an early age, and because teaching someone to draw better is to teach them to see better. He does not add that to see better is to understand better, and thus to communicate better, but it is implicit and central to everything else.

I remember taking a holiday with my young family in Gloucestershire when I was working as a linguist specialist in Cheltenham in the early 1980s. My wife was dabbling in art and understood the importance of drawing. She made me sit down for two hours, without distraction, and draw an orange. OK, miss out the bit where she asked me why I had drawn a banana, but I learned two important lessons: (a) when you are drawing, you concentrate and focus – and you look differently at the world; and (b) there are different ways of looking and seeing.

How would you draw a chair? An ordinary, bog-standard, unremarkable upright chair? Well, I started to look at the legs, the backrest, the seat. I tried to use a simple technique to get the perspective right. After an hour or so of drawing something rather naff,  the artist told me to start again and to look differently. She told me to draw the spaces between the seat and the legs and the backrest – out of those spaces the object would emerge.

And she was right. In fact, the chair looked more real and alive than it did when I tried to draw the object itself.

I think my point here is that we shouldn’t take for granted the way we look at what we think we see. This has a theological import, too. Sometimes we need to take our eye off the presenting object and look at the ‘space’ in order to see more accurately (or, at least, more interestingly) what is before us.

It was this that made me look at Mark’s Gospel differently several years ago (while writing Marking Time). The point of the gospel (and the filter through which to read the text and understand Jesus) is to be found in chapter one verses 14-15:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

For the Galileans, the only evidence that God was among his people again – that there was truly good news to be heard – was that the blasphemous Roman occupying forces were leaving. But Jesus asks people to look differently. The question now looks like this: “Can you possibly dare to believe that the holy God is here among you again… even while the profane Roman pagans remain? Dare you conceive of the possibility that God might be with you… even while your problems persist and resolution seems either impossible or, at least, remote? Dare you look differently (for the presence of God) in order to see differently in order to think differently (about God, the world and us) in order to live differently in the real world as it is now, but with a driving vision/narrative that imagines a different future?

The rest of the Gospel illustrates just who were those who could ‘repent’ (literally, from the Greek) ‘change their mind’… and who were those who just could not. Read it in this way and see the rather shocking picture that emerges.

Hockney is bewilderingly brilliant and exciting. I don’t look at a bend in a Yorkshire road and see orange fields and technicolor trees as he does. But he compels me to ask whether I am missing something in the world around me simply because I don’t stop and look and question and wonder.

Martin Kettle’s observation has wider pertinence:

… it seems to me that Hockney and his art express and address the kind of people and country that he and we wish we were. There is something religious in his work. And when Hockney takes a pop at Hirst, I, for one, will cheer, because he is taking a pop at the kind of country we have become, in which attitude is more important than morality, price trumps value, and in which to shock and make a name is privileged over doing something lovely or true.

Last Friday (1 April) my election as the tenth Bishop of Bradford was confirmed in a (mostly legal) ceremony at York Minster. Having a bit of time to kill before the service and legal ceremony, we went to have a look at the David Hockney exhibition in the City Art Gallery.

You go in through the front doors (not surprisingly) and ahead of you is a large room with a fifty-panel painting mounted on one wall: Bigger Trees Near Warter. On the facing wall there are explanations of process and there are computer displays explaining how and why Hockney set about this task in the first place.

What is interesting about the enormous painting is that it depicts an ordinary scene on the bend of a road near some buildings in North Yorkshire. It is the sort of place I have driven through many times and not noticed. Whereas I see a bit of countryside that has to be driven through if I am to get from where I was to where I want to be, Hockney sees a scene that captures the nature or spirit of a particular environment. I see ‘shallow’ and functionally; Hockney sees ‘deep’ and artistically. This might be because he is looking for somewhere to paint and I am keeping my eyes on the bendy, narrow roads – but you get my point.

I was musing on this while looking at the painting in the art gallery. Sometimes what we are looking for determines (or, at the very least, influences) what we see or how we look. And the gift of the artist is to invite us to look differently and see places (or things) differently. The artist asks us to look through a different lens and risk the potential for changing our perspective, having seen the object differently. It is what the Bible calls ‘repentance’ – changing how we look in order to change the way we see in order to change the way we think in order to change the way we live.

My wife remarked that Hockney “takes the ordinary, sees it differently, and makes it monumental”.

The second thing that struck me about Hockney’s work was an easily-missed comment on one of the explanatory panels in the gallery. His method involves observing, then painting very quickly. When you are doing this with fifty panels it is possible to end up with several large, wet panels at one time. So, he and his assistant had to modify their vehicle and construct a frame in the back so that these panels could be transported in whatever condition and without damage or compromise. Questioned about the characteristic spontaneity of his painting method, Hockey replied: “You’ve really got to prepare if you’re going to be spontaneous.”

It’s one of those annoying things that the people who make life look easy are those who have dug deep foundations and prepared well. Preparation is everything. The radio and TV presenter Chris Evans describes in It’s Not What You Think, the excellent first part of his two-volume autobiography, how his radio programmes are meticulously prepared for using pie charts. He only manages to get the effect of spontaneity because the whole thing is broken down into smaller units and is thoroughly prepared. It is impressive to see it in action.

Spontaneity is sometimes used as an excuse for laziness. A politician might be tempted to ‘wing it’ – or (he says…) a preacher to ruminate from the wells of experience, but we usually get found out. We become repetitive, uninspiring or embarrassed when questioned. Preparing for a radio documentary interview a month or so ago (for Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday on BBC Radio 4 – going out in May), I checked basic facts, read lyrics and even bought three CDs I had last owned on tape. The interviewer turned up in my office the next morning with books, CDs and other resources and was surprised to find I didn’t need them – I had thoroughly prepared and knew what I was talking about (or limited what we did talk about to what I knew…). He kept remarking on it – much to my surprise as I couldn’t imagine doing the interview without having done my own research.

OK, I’ve winged it with the best and the rest of them. I’ve occasionally got away with murder and also know what it feels like to be found out – faced in front of a camera or microphone with a question for which I was not prepared. I’ve also been arrogant enough to think people would be interested in my unique perspective, only to find from their body language that I was mistaken.

As Tony Blair might have said (but didn’t): ‘Preparation, preparation, preparation’.