Middle Management Malaise

Charlotte Gauthier speaks from her experience of middle management in the secular world – how it works well, and where it works badly. The Church of England is replicating all the worst management patterns of a failing company heading for collapse. How can we stop this malaise and restore an efficient and energising vision of what the Church of England could be?

Middle Management Malaise

Much has been made recently of the increasing bureaucratisation of the Church of England, with a seemingly endless proliferation of middle-management-style posts at diocesan and central level. Commentators have decried the rise of Associate Archdeacons, Directors of Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation, and other such conjurations of overzealous HR departments, whose ministries seem entirely disconnected from the worship of Almighty God amongst our friends and neighbours in the village church.

As a former middle manager at companies and charities ranging from six-person startups to multinational publishing houses, I know that effective middle managers act in the same way a transmission does in an automobile, driving power from the engine to the wheels. But adding more and more transmissions to a car won’t help get you anywhere if the engine is choked – or dead. Middle managers translate vision into the strategy and tactics that will turn things written on paper into a reality in the world. They are useless – or worse, destructive – in the absence of a clear vision, and can never compensate for its lack.

A lack of vision is therefore the single most pressing issue facing the Church today. Practical problems, like the structural issues with central funding that cannot be used for parish ministry and thus encourage the proliferation of central roles, need to be addressed in Synod. The motivation for addressing such practical problems will not arise without some sense of what we are striving towards as the Church, however.

The plughole diagram that presently substitutes for the 2020s vision of the Church of England is dead on arrival. Jargon-filled meaninglessness never motivated anyone to dedicate their lives to building it. People have to be wildly over-compensated to spend their careers enacting such things. The present proliferation of Directors of this and Associate Archdeacons of that is plainly an attempt by Church leadership to substitute strategy and tactics for vision. The Directors have been hired to figure out what to do without being given the support or the leadership necessary for them to do their jobs effectively or the clear vision that is so necessary as a yardstick for their effectiveness in their roles. It’s a pattern depressingly familiar to anyone who has worked at a failing company with a CEO who is out of his depth.

Fortunately, there is an alternative vision available – a clear, compelling vision with which the majority already agree. It is simply this: A Christian presence in every community.

Six words. And that’s all you need. Everything else – Church structures, funding, training, and all the rest – can neatly fall in line behind it, if we have the courage to drop the insulating and responsibility-shunning layers of management twaddle and commit to something so simple, pure, and holy.

Let those who have the experience translating vision into strategy and tactics show the Church how to make it work. These needn’t be overpaid central posts; plenty of experienced laity would jump at the chance to work with clergy to figure it out. Most of all, it’s a vision to which people can dedicate their lives. Christians from the Apostles to the present day have done so. Why not us? Why not now?

Charlotte Gauthier is a historian whose research focuses on late-medieval conceptions of ‘Christendom’ and the effect of the crusades on Church, state and society in fifteenth-century England. Before returning to academe, Charlotte was a manager specialising in digital strategy for the publishing and charitable sectors.

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