Drawing on the responses of Methodist ministers to the policy of ministerial development review, a case is made for research-led policy making.
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The paper examines the responses of Methodist Ministers to the policy of Ministerial Development Review (MDR). A case is made for research led policy making; of how important it is for the Church to pay attention to those affected by a policy, and to seek understanding of their responses from organisational perspectives. The research picks up on previous research by Professor Yvonne Guerrier working with Christopher Bond (Guerrier 2012, Guerrier and Bond 2013, Guerrier and Bond 2014).
The approach adopted in the research is based in a form of Grounded Theory (Strauss and Corbin 1998, Goulding 2002), in an attempt to hear voices of those involved. The schedule of the questions used in the semi structured interview was adapted from that used in Guerrier’s and Bond’s research. 13 in depth interviews were transcribed and themes identified using NVIVO, a tool for qualitative analysis.
The findings of the research in the first place confirm previous work of Bond and Guerrier, indicating complex feelings and thoughts around perceived managerial tasks. The specific responses to the policy of Ministerial Development Review are outlined in the report under the headings of: ‘appraisal and MDR’, ‘knowing what to do’, ‘finding support’. The results indicate a problem with the language of management and a wide breadth of opinion about MDR, its value and help. There also appears to be a difficulty with the relationship of an individual minister and the national Church expressed in terms of identity and a particular understanding of the Covenant relationship. The data shows an inconsistent and wide variety of approaches to how work priorities are set and support found underlining some of the reasons as to why MDR was originally implemented.
The paper suggests the need for further research that would include a more focused evaluation. Certain recommendations are made: a case for the Susanna Wesley Foundation, and for the need for policy makers to find ways of noticing how their policies have an impact on the lives they seek to support and help.
I am grateful for the opportunity to share some of my research into the responses of Methodist Ministers, presbyters and deacons, to Ministerial Development Review. This is important for the Methodist Church and I also believe it illustrates the concerns of the Susanna Wesley Foundation. My interest in policy research arises from my studies at Manchester University and the Institute of Education in London as well as participation in the policymaking of the Methodist Church in Britain. I offer some of the outcomes of my research of the last year and make a case for academic thoughtfulness in policy making. I conclude my paper by reflecting on the benefits and challenges of the Susannah Wesley Foundation as it grows and develops.
I would like to engage with a church matter from organisational perspectives. I have found such an approach in the past has brought me into conflict with the Methodist Church. This ‘awkward relationship’ between the church and secular ideas lies behind much of my own academic interest today. There is I believe, an inherent distrust of secular ideas when dealing with sacred matters: for example, theological formation need not consider secular approaches to adult learning precisely because it is theological; the purpose of that formation cannot be reflected upon within a wider context of professional training precisely because it is ministerial.
During my ministry the resistance to educational reform and the need to engage with a more secular understanding of profession has modified, and MDR is an example of that change. I notice that similar changes have occurred in other historical occupations: for example, teachers have had to come to terms with different approaches to learning, reflection and the shape of their profession (Hargreaves 1994). For Methodist Ministers changes, no doubt, have emerged to some extent as a response to concerns of ministerial stress (Coate 1989, Davey 1995), but also out of a recognition of a need for more competent ministers and thus seeking new ways for their formation (Methodist Council 1994, Methodist Council 1996, Howcroft 2002) while safe guarding issues have clearly raised the stakes for the Church. Some have argued that the increasing number of older students with managerial experience has pushed the Church towards more secular models of our vocation (Luscombe and Shreeve 2002, p.14).
Ministerial Development Review
MDR is a form of annual review that has consciously tried to distance itself from previous versions of support that had been based in a form of appraisal. Those implementing the policy understood the resistance among Ministers to strongly flavoured management approaches and worked hard to be consultative in their approach and careful with their language (IJ).
In Book One of the MDR literature the principles of the policy are laid out:
- A development review process that supports ministers.
- A framework for ministers to engage in reflective practice.
- Not an end in itself.
- A connexional scheme. (Miller, Anderson et al. 2011)
However, it is worth noting that it is a policy that:
- Has a history in appraisal
- Is a one sided change in the Covenant relationship
- Is thus ‘from on high’.
Uses secular language of review, development and reflective practice for ‘office holders’ who don’t see themselves as employees. (Miller, Anderson et al. 2011)
Lenses and perspectives
The organisational theorist quite reasonably wants to look at the Church as just another organisation but the theologian would in their turn want to look at organisational theory as just another way of looking at the created order. Somehow we need to do both and use secular ideas from a theological base.
I owe much to Yvonne Guerrier and Christopher Bond’s study of Methodist ministers (presbyters) and management which is concerned with how presbyters, ‘construct and develop management and leadership skills’.
They suggest there is,
‘at best ambivalence and possibly in some instances a resistance to notions of oversight, management and accountability among a significant proportion of presbyters (Guerrier and Bond, 2013 p. 12).
Their papers are concerned not so much with management and leadership skills as a set of competencies, but with how managerial identity is developed and sustained by presbyters. Among other concerns noted was the malleability of the presbyter’s role, and the way that presbyters consistently divided their role into the areas of pastoral, management and outreach and that the pastoral side was the area with which the majority felt most comfortable and confident. They also noted the tensions in the Church in the areas of management, leadership and oversight (Guerrier and Bond, 2013 p 2). Recommendations included that the Church should engage more positively in management, a view upheld in a telling quote by one of the presbyters interviewed,
They come to the church doors, take their brains out, hang them up, and come in, they mismanage the building, the property, they mismanage people. And that’s their way of being holy, by rejecting common sense from the world around them (Benjamin) (ibid p. 19)
It was interesting to note that the two roles in which presbyters felt less confident were the outward facing ones – mission and management – leading to the recommendation that the Church must learn to ‘recognise the legitimacy and purpose of both discourses’, and to use appropriate languages about management and when referring to the ‘spiritual and the divine’
(ibid p 22).