During my sabbatical I've been looking back at my experiences of leadership and ministry. The theme of collective leadership has been a significant one:
I was deeply influenced by Derek Hanscombe and Peter Price as an 18 year old Root Group member. Derek's commitment to community was powerful and his use of group organisation tools was inspiring. Peter's demonstration of Liberation Theology in biblical studies was life-changing and I was fascinated to discover when I went to Bristol (see Mutual Ministry in Bristol) that they were still working together a few years later and founded New Way of Being Church. As I pointed out to Alister Palmer, It's fascinating how my journey has taken me back to my early mentors and influences... I am amazed, looking back over the past twenty years, how often I have used the lessons I learnt with USPG.
The second key infuence was my time with SCM in Aberdeen. I was convener of the local university group for three years, on the scottish and national exec - briefly - and represented SCM at the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland in 1992 - where I first met Bev Hollins. This was a time for radical thinking about community, political action and theology. We dreamed about networks and collective action. It was here that I began to develop my interest in alternative worship - which had sadly been neglected during my time with the C of E. One of the more significant elements of that journey was the input Trish gave about anarchistic organisational methods (see Leadership Under Development). I have used and developed these in practice in Milton Keynes.
The concept of Cell has been a key part of my thinking since 1986. Although Richard Davis discovered it in 2004 and got very excited, I've been thinking in terms of small communities for a much longer period. I first noticed it in the writings of Paul Yongi-Cho from Korea. Even in the nineteen eighties I was beginning to wonder how it might be adopted and developed for a more traditional western context. I looked at our local anglo-catholic church and began to see how each group within the church provided some form of micro-community within the body. I wondered about cells as a strategy for SCM in Aberdeen - although it didn't go further than that... The concept of small, intimate, active communities was part of the inspiration for joining Root Groups, where I learnt an enormous amount. In Watling Valley, we have done little more than hint at the possibilities of cell - or small self-managed micro-churches. I have tried to introduce the term "cellularisation" to indicate that this is a process rather than a structural goal, but with little success. Steven Crofts, Transforming Communities, is a good example of fresh thinking on small groups. I am also encouraged by my experience of small churches (see Mursley).
In Slough and Watling Valley I was able to try out some of my ideas about collective leadership and develop some processes. Finnishing my MA gave me an excuse to raid libraries and give myself a mini-course on management and strategic planning. SHIFT was the main play ground for experimentation and I wrote this up in my MA dissertation. Since then I have been able to reflect on experiences and refine my thinking. Each new tool gets added to the collection. I am grateful for the opportunity this has provided.
As I said in Leadership under Development, collective leadership has alway been a key element in my thinking. It was neccesary in the Watling Valley. In my vision leadership does not rest with Ministers or even the Ministry Team but with the people, and should be expressed through councils, congregational meetings and discernment processes. Three months of reflection and study have given me a chance to develop my thinking about collective leadership (See The Wisdom of Crowds, Wikinomics and the Folly of Teams.) As I return to work I hope to develop this further in practice.
When I put forward a suggested theology for Local Shared Ministry, James Cassidy agreed with most of the things I was trying to say, but challenged me on the concept of collective or circular leadership. I am very grateful to him for doing this since he has encouraged me to really give this issue some proper thought and get reading! I finish my sabbatical convinced that collective leadership is both possible and necessary. I also have a whole new set of theological and practical tools to play with. What fun!