Clerics to get the MBA lowdown on mammon

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The Independent Online
It may be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven; but it may also be easier for a priest to balance the books and manage his parish when he has a business degree course under his belt.

Members of the Church of England's General Synod are being invited to sign up for a new MBA course on how to run churches using business principles. The image of priests priming themselves on the finer points of corporate strategy may seem a touch too worldly, but it is all in the name of providing a better service for customers.

The two-year masters degree at Bishop Grosseteste University College, in Lincoln, is available to both clergy and senior lay members of the Church of England. It aims to convert students into "effective and imaginative managers and leaders, faithful to their religious calling."

Such courses are mainstream in the United States, where many churches already see their role as providing a "quality service" to worshippers. Canon Raymond Rodgers, the Bishop of Lincoln's personal assistant, suggested the course after attending an MBA programme run by the Graduate Theological Foundation of Indiana.

Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist churches in the US offered a service which was "directly comparable" to ideas of quality service among businesses, he said.

However, some church members remain unconvinced of the value of such a course. "The resistance comes from people whose thinking concept seems to be that members of the Church are guided by the Spirit, which will blow them where it will," said Canon Rodgers. "The Spirit is chaotic and therefore they are resistant to any kind of management structures. They look for inspiration, spontaneity and creativity - and they think management is the enemy of that.

"To win them round I have to suggest that you couldn't organise the high- street stores in this way, or any kind of secular organisation, for that matter. We believe that we are here to win people's souls so we, of all people, should be offering the best of what the world has to offer ... We need to think of the worshipper in the pew as the person we serve. We need to look at their needs and think how we can exceed them."

Like more mainstream business and management courses, Britain's first MBA in church management offers modules on corporate strategy, financial planning and control, change management and developing people in organisations. Students will also be able to choose from six theological modules, including theology for management, spirituality in organisations and appraisal in Christian contexts.

Eileen Baker, principal of Bishop Grosseteste College, where the course is being run in collaboration with Hull University, said there was a need seriously to study management in relation to the Church.

"Theology deals with belief systems and behaviour that derive from man's relationship with God and direct our relations with each other," she said. "Successful management depends on getting systems and relationships right, so the two areas of study have a great deal in common."

Dr Mark Chater, who will be leading the course, which starts in September, added: "It is not about church people taking on management language and values uncritically. It is about a useful harnessing of management skills and insights to our theological and missionary task."

- Clare Garner