Saturday, 7 June 2008

Authority in organisational management?

At the Craighead Institute course I'm taking here in Rome we've been doing some fascinating work mapping the organisations we work for as they are in our minds - as we did this through drawing it was a good way to get some unconscious stuff onto paper without using words. In a later session we moved on to look at issues of power and authority which was very challenging.
More than ten years ago I took an Open University course on managing in the non-profit making sector. I still remember one of my tutors saying that she found working with groups of clergy the most challenging (problematic) because they often refused to face up to or own issues of power. I've been revisiting some of those thoughts again after our sessions and role plays on power and authority and realised that as the only Protestant in the group (the others are all Roman Catholics) I probably had a rather different take on authority. My most positive experiences of exercising authority have been when this has been a clearly structured responsibility, where authority and discernment were shared collegially with others - sometimes in the elders' meetings I have worked with as a local pastor but particulalry on national church committees like the ERF's Commission des Ministères.
It's interesting to be faced with the issue of authority. Authority being in a person consecrated to that authority (bishops etc.) is not something I can readily agree to - though I might have been willing to sign it away in the 1970s in England for the sake of greater church unity. I am Reformed rather than Anglican or Methodist because I feel it is better for authority to be with groups and structures, for leadership, discernment and decisions-making to be exercised collegially.
This could be seen to be a great weakness of Protestantism - nothing is ever completely absolute - the group discerning and deciding can change. Perhaps sometimes we hide our power and authority in this collegiality and we don't always take responsibility for our individual and corporate power and responsibilty. I realised that this course is going to make me want to read Calvin again on church polity - I don't think I ever expected that!
And of course as I reflect on these issues of power and authority in the ecumenical context my own experiences in the course make me realise just how difficult it is to even speak the same language between our churches, let alone find a language that can have authority for all of the churches. Perhaps we simply have to trust in the ecumenical Spirit of Pentecost to do that work of interpretation for us.