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Lessons in leadership with Sir Alex

Or… ‘what the Church can teach Manchester United about choosing their leaders’

And so Easter Sunday passed this year with a hostile crowd and a vaunted leader sacrificed, but it wasn’t at Calvary and it may take a lot longer than three days to sort out (h/t David Keen). The inevitable finally took place as David Moyes was sacked as manager of Manchester United.

Regular readers will know that I’m not a fan of Manchester United so I have no football axe to grind here.

A comparison of Moyes & Ferguson's first 30 games in charge.

I am tempted to write about the fact that he wasn’t given enough time (see the photo right for all you need to know about the need to be patient).

I’m also tempted to write about how Moyes was set-up to fail because he inherited an ageing squad well past its best. A squad that had been propped up last year by world-class players in the twilight of their careers (Scholes & Giggs, and to a certain degree also Van Persie). Fergie hadn’t left him very much.

But what I’d like to write about is how I could see all this coming a mile off because it looked very, very familiar to me from the world of the Church. Specifically, what happens when one Vicar leaves and their replacement is chosen. So, here are a couple of quick lessons on what the Church could have taught Manchester United.

The Vicar has no voice in choosing their replacement

When a Vicar leaves a parish (whether by retirement or by moving on to a new role), they have absolutely no say in who replaces them. Once they have left, there is always an ‘interregnum‘ (space between two reigns) and then the people of the parish are asked what they would like to see in their new leader. The comments of people like the Bishop and other overseers are also fed in, in case they are aware of some strategic things that may not be known at local level. But the one person who gets absolutely no say in the matter is the outgoing Vicar.

What does this guard against? Well, firstly, it’s very hard to be objective about your parishes when you leave. You may be tempted to try and justify your work or even cover up mistakes or failures. You may not have a good sense of what they need now, and (of course) it’s hard to be honest about your weaknesses and allow space for a new leader who may be gifted in those areas. There is also that temptation in human beings to choose their successor by finding someone not quite as good as we are, so that it makes us look all the better when they fail.

What you definitely don’t want is for the outgoing Vicar to choose a carbon-copy of themselves as their pre-anointed successor. That pays no attention to the way in which the parish has changed and grown in the intervening years since that outgoing Vicar was first appointed. The people have changed, society has changed, the local culture will have grown and evolved. You need an appointment now that reflects the Church as it is, now how it used to be.

It also means the new Vicar has slightly more freedom to be his own man or woman. If you’ve been chosen to be a carbon-copy of the last leader, what chance do you have to be yourself? If you divert from their well-established model, people aren’t going to like it and you’re going to get unnecessary flack.

The outgoing Vicar is not seen or heard from again

Now this is a tricky bit because it doesn’t always work out this way. But there is an unwritten rule amongst Clergy that you never, ever go back and that when you leave a Parish, you very definitely stay out of the new Vicar’s way. For many Clergy keeping this unwritten rule is easy. Their new parish or retirement residence may be some considerable distance away from the old parish. Indeed, there is an unwritten understanding that (if you are retiring) you put some serious geographical distance between you and the parish in which you served (although there are sometimes very good reasons for wanting to be more local).

Why? Because anytime you turn up, it has the potential to undermine the new Vicar. They may be very talented, very strong as a leader. They may not mind your presence at all (although they might). But if anyone has a grievance or a problem with the new leadership, seeing the old Vicar in the congregation can be an opportunity for the aggrieved to stick the boot in. If a new initiative is announced, some may look at the old Vicar and see if he or she is in agreement. It never works. It always undermines.

Now, of course the Church makes mistakes. There’s plenty of bad decisions out there with the wrong people in the wrong places. But these ways of doing things in Church circles are used because, over the years, considerable wisdom has built up through countless situations. Many, many times we’ve learnt that its far better to move on and not look back. It’s the new Vicar’s ship now, not yours. You need to butt out for the good of their leadership, for the good of the community you led and also for your own good too. Move on.

QED

So perhaps you can see why I thought this was always doomed. One working-class Glaswegian with red hair anoints another working-class Glaswegian with red hair. It seems that the fans, the players, the Board don’t have much of a chance to comment or consider what Man United need in the 21st century. The Board give Sir Alex far too much latitude in making the choice. The old Manager joins the board and goes to watch every game. Every time a goal is conceded, the television cameras don’t cut to the new manager, they cut to the old one.

Sir Alex, if you truly care about Manchester United, you need to disappear. Don’t get involved in the choice of the next manager. Don’t comment on who you would like to see replace David Moyes. Become a sleeping member of the Board (or better still resign your membership). Don’t turn up to games and very definitely don’t comment publicly on anything to do with the club. Only then can you give the new Manager a fighting chance to lead.

Trendy Vicars look like Neo!

A photo of Keanu Reeves as Neo in the Matrix

The Daily Mail isn’t prone to running ridiculous stories about Trendy Vicars, at least not since they last did it a month ago. It does slightly boggle the mind, however, to think that the Daily Mail thought the best way to greet Christmas was with a ridiculous story about Trendy Vicars and what they choose to wear in church.

“Never mind the Cassocks” they say, “vicars could soon be conducting services in shell-suits, shorts or even football shirts under radical plans to overturn centuries of Church tradition.”

“The Horror” says the nation. “Typical” says Mr Angry of Tunbridge Wells. “Pile of garbage, Daily Mail” says anyone with an ounce of common sense.

Read more

Remembering that this isn’t a game

A photo of two red dice rolling.

In all that follows, I want to underline and emphasise what is always true of posts on this blog. These opinions are my own personal opinions, and do not represent the views of my Bishop, diocese or other colleagues. Any alignment with their own views is purely coincidental.

In the last couple of days, I have been trying very hard to process devastating news.

Since 2011 when I arrived in my current parish, I have been championing Kings Hill’s need for an extra primary school. Kings Hill very obviously needed the extra school places and local people felt that the Local Authority wasn’t listening. Just as I arrived, a Free School bid had been unsuccessful but the pressure in the community was beginning to mount. Read more

A contemporary Advent parable

A photo of Paddy and the girls from ITV show Take Me Out

The girls were ready, Paddy had the TV studio audience to their usual fever pitch but as the lift descended, some of the girls were already making up their mind.

No pounding dance track, no rappers promising steamy nights of passion or singing of male bravado. Instead, the haunting voice of Enya singing ‘O Come o come Emmanuel.’

The audience were momentarily silenced, not quite sure what to make of it all. Read more

It’s been emotional (Olympics, part 2)

A photo of Vinny Jones from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels

On the 20th February 1982, my dad and I travelled to White Hart Lane for the very first time. I was eight years old. We watched Tottenham Hotspur beat Manchester City 2-0. My hero Glenn Hoddle scored both goals and a young blistering Scottish talent, Alistair Dick, made his debut as a 16 year old.

I had watched Spurs famous 1981 Cup Final win the year before and been mesmerised by Read more

It’s been emotional (Olympics, part 1)

A photo of Vinny Jones from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels

I have scanned the memory banks but I honestly can’t think of a month in which I have ever been in such a heightened state of emotion.

It started with my older son getting ‘Achiever of the Term’ award at school, but it really took hold with the opening night of the Olympics a week later.

It really hasn’t take much to set me off with tears this month. As my wife will testify, Read more

Ahead of the game…

Book jacket for Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott

Norman Ivison is someone I worked with when I was at Church House Publishing. Norman is now Fresh Expressions’ Director of Communications and has a relatively new blog up and running.

In his latest post, he talks about Don Tapscott’s Grown Up Digital, a book I reviewed a year or two back. It’s great to see someone else plugging Tapscott’s work in a church context since we’re not always willing to apply insights from other knowledge bases and experts beyond the Christian world.

Norman has applied Don’s insights to write a post entitled ‘8 ways to keep young adults out of your church‘ and it’s definitely worth a read.

The butterfly effect

A kind friend decides to give me a Christmas present: a fifteen pound voucher for iTunes.
I purchase Ed Sheeran‘s +
I visit Israel in January, my first real chance to listen to the whole album in one go.
I listen to it again and again.
In fact I spend the entire trip listening to it.
The song that stays with me most of all is ‘small bump’.
My wife goes away for a few days and I wake up each morning surrounded by my kids.
After day one, the alarm on my phone becomes ‘small bump’.
I remember the child we lost in the summer of 2007.
My kids start to hear some of the lyrics and understand some of it.
‘You can wrap your fingers round my thumb’ (as my youngest son does just that)
I remember families in this parish whose pain is as real now as ours was then.
My kids jump on me again and I am thankful for their laughter.
I reflect on the fragility of human life
and that the eternal Word would take the risk and become a helpless infant.
I remember a snippet from Ecclesiastes ‘they have never seen the sun or known anything, yet they find rest’.

“You were just a small bump unborn for four months then torn from life.
Maybe you were needed up there but we’re still unaware as why.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Npp7ZFOgpyM[/youtube]

Like this really helps the debate

Screengrab from Guardian website, 05 March 2012

Tonight I had to really think. As a priest, is it okay to swear on my own blog? Do I have a rule against swearing? Have I ever sworn before on this blog?

I have no idea, to be honest, to any of those questions but I find myself sorely tempted to start swearing this evening after reading a big pile of garbage being served up like cold school dinner over on the Guardian website today.

Apparently, they say, church schools shun the poorest pupils. No doubt, there will be more weeping and gnashing of teeth by secularists (or perhaps just triumphal cries) while the middle classes tut knowingly. But before you absorb too much of this headline, let’s drill down a bit into the article.

First off, there is the fact that the journalists seem not to know the difference between a ‘faith school’ (set-up to educate kids and propagate that particular faith) and a ‘church school’. Clearly, these journalists hadn’t read (or had forgotten) Read more