Spiritual Maturity and Administrative Skills
In the controversy over the decision to involuntarily retire Bishop Bledsoe, Mr. Don House, chair of the evaluation committee, said,
. . . the committee was aware of “great things” in the North Texas Conference, and praised Bishop Bledsoe as “a gifted man, a dedicated Christian man in the church.” But he said the committee acted in the interest of the denomination.
“We need excellent administrative skills, and that’s the primary motivation behind this – the health of the church,” he said. “Although Bishop Bledsoe has excellent skills in many areas, we were concerned about some of his administrative skills.”
Now, I’m reading various commentators who seem to think that being a dedicated Christian ought to be sufficient for the office of the episcopacy. They pooh-pooh the problem of questionable administrative skills, deeming them unimportant in the big picture of things.
Losing the Clergy
Read this quote by Richard Hearne, former Lay Leader of the North Texas Conference:
‘“He lost the clergy,” Mr. Hearne said, adding he felt Bishop Bledsoe could have avoided the committee’s action by acknowledging mistakes and promising to do better.”
Yes, he did lose the clergy, or at least some of them and possibly a majority of them. I don’t think it was because of any personal animosity toward him–he was warmly welcomed here and we all hoped for great things together. So what happened?
Before I answer that, I’d like you to enter into several scenarios.
- If you’ve ever watched a show on those who suffer from compulsive hoarding, you may have seen how chaotic are the lives of family members who have to live with the hoarder. That person’s inability to prioritize possessions, and bring some order to just normal activities of daily living sends spouses, children, and housemates screaming to therapists for help. How would you function in such an environment?
- Spend some time observing children at play. Which ones are the happiest and most engaged in their play for extensive periods of time? The ones whose play area, whatever it might be (room, playpen, back yard, sand box) is cluttered with too many options, and too many toys that do not permit freedom to manipulate the toys in non-prescribed ways? Or the ones who have limited options but within those options can do pretty well what they want with the objects therein?
- Think about your own workplace. Where do you thrive the best? In an atmosphere where directions and expectations are clear, where supportive leadership is given, and where you have good autonomy to reach shared goals? Or a place where expectations are exceedingly unclear and shift constantly, where unqualified people are promoted to top positions, where you are routinely berated for poor performance but never given tools, time and training to improve your performance and where your supervisor constantly looks over your shoulders and second guesses each decision you make?
Tasks of a Good Administrator
Each of those scenarios is essentially administrative in nature. A good and effective administrator knows how to prioritize, discards that which is unnecessary and distractive to the main goals, intentionally limits options but offers huge space for creativity within those option, has clear expectations and then makes it possible for those working under his/her supervision to reach those expectations.
How are these things not spiritual in nature? Do they not reflect the nature of God and the way God deals with us? How can being a good and effective administrator be de-coupled from the type of mature Christian leadership needed as an effective Episcopal servant of the church?
Holiness and Dirty Diapers
When I was a young mother, up to my ears in diapers and needy babies, I realized something exceedingly important: the act of changing a dirty diaper was equally as spiritual as time spent in intense Bible study or prayer. That act of changing those smelly and often disgusting diapers (and these were the days when those dirty pieces of cloth then soaked in the toilet before the move to the washing machine and dryer in a never ending cycle), when done lovingly and with unending patience, is an act of service to the least of those. It is a holy act. It is also an act of administration. It is an act of bringing order to chaos.
In Genesis One, when the world was void and formless, God brought order to that chaos. Opening space for creative ministry and holy growth is essentially an administrative act.
The Problem of Clergy Morale
So to go back to Richard Hearn’s comment about losing the clergy: It was my sense and my experience that clergy morale sank to a deep low under Bishop Bledsoe’s leadership. Bishop Bledsoe acknowledged that fact himself in a video put out a couple of weeks before the North Texas Annual Conference. He invited clergy to respond. I don’t know how many did, but I heard (and I could be wrong) that it was somewhere around forty.
Now, I write a weekly newspaper column for two local newspapers. Periodically people will write or email me in response. I know, as do most writers, that the response of one person generally means 100 to 2000 others wanted to and just didn’t. If as many as 40 clergy responded to the Bishop, that would effectively represent the entire ranks of clergy in the North Texas Conference. That is a serious situation.
I was one of those who did respond. Here the first of three questions I posed to him (all three questions can be found here):
First, how exactly are you going to define an “effective” clergy person?
This blog post more fully asks that question. Effectiveness judged by numbers is highly contextually defined, and may have much less to do with the numbers that appear on various dashboards than they do with a fortunate demographic, some deep pockets in the congregation and a compromise of the message of the gospel and of personal integrity. Those numbers may have little to do with the calling, character, or missional fruitfulness of that clergy person.
To date, I have yet to see one comprehensive statement that clarifies what an effective clergy person looks like.
Also, while I understand the Bullseye measurement system now required as part of the consultation process is supposed to emphasize narratives not numbers, the system itself appears to give numbers only the large visual prominence highlighted by colors on quick glance. Those initial impressions are rarely easily erased by reading smaller type-face explanations.
One more factor here: I have heard several times that you and members of the Cabinet consider one third of the clergy in the North Texas Conference as “ineffective.” Have you let that third know of that such designation is attached to their name and record? How about the clergy deemed “effective?” Do they know?
To use a business analogy: if ⅓ of a given workforce is not doing their job, and if that significant portion of the workforce is never informed of the problem nor given opportunity to see and address the evaluations, how will there be improvement? And if the other ⅔ are working up to expectation, but are also never informed of such fact, but only told that (undefined) incompetence or ineffectiveness is a huge problem, then fear and anxiety will rule. Rarely do such emotions produce more self-motivated and willing work environments.
All clergy in this conference need to know how they have been classified (effective or ineffective; fruitful or unfruitful, or the latest terminology) and the reasons for that decision.
Bishop Bledsoe and I did have a thirty-minute phone conversation concerning my questions. I did not hear from him an answer to any of them.
A Grace Issue
The Rev. Zan Holmes, who accompanied Bishop Bledsoe as clergy advocate (and it needs to be noted here that reports indicate the clergy in this conference who were called before the infamous “Triads” were denied the privilege of having a clergy advocate with them), stated,
“I’m very disappointed that the committee decided to retire this bishop at this time, in spite of the fact that he really worked hard to be a change agent in the North Texas Conference, for the good of the church,”
He added that he would go along with Bishop Bledsoe’s assessment that race wasn’t an issue in the committee’s decision.
“But I call it a grace issue,” he said. “And one of the questions I raised is where is the grace in this process where we minister to one another and affirm one another and help one another grow.”
Yes, I agree: this is a grace issue. And it involves much more that Bishop Bledsoe’s job and position. It involves speaking our own difficult truths, seeking to help one another move to perfection in love, moving to deep repentance when sin is exposed, and offering the fullness of forgiveness to one another.
Grace does not, however, mean keeping people in positions for which they have either inadequate gifts or a disinclination to exercise those gifts when necessary. We separate our spirituality from our administrative gifts at our peril and at the peril of those whom we are called to lead.
I do believe that there that a holy chaos overtakes us as we move closer to the fullness of the Presence of God and discover that our sense of order may not match God’s sense of order. However, there is also an unholy chaos that is deeply dispiriting and keeps us from our mission. That unholy chaos must be addressed–on every level.