Yesterday I spent some time with someone who’s considering ordination in the Church of England. He’s the third person from The Belfrey this month with whom I’ve had that kind of conversation. None of them may proceed, as they’re thinking and processing and doing some reading and chatting to some people before we talk again. But I am encouraging them because they all have real potential to be quality leaders of the future.

Raising up great leaders is really important in any organisation, not the least the church. It’s interesting at The Belfrey to see how the Lord seems to be stirring people to consider church leadership and priesthood the more we share a vision for the transformation of the North. It may be that one part we can play in this is to provide fantastic future leaders for the Northern church.

I was in Ely last week, spending the bulk of it with a small team helping advise Bishops on the selection of future clergy. It’s what the Church of England call a BAP – a ‘Bishop’s Advisory Panel’, where those who the dioceses think look good for clergy training come for a final test of their call. For the selectors the four days is exhausting. We get a large amount of paperwork to digest on each candidate in advance and then we observe them in all sorts of contexts, from eating and socialising together to making a presentation and chairing a discussion. Each one is interviewed three times, produces a personal inventory and has a pastoral exercise to do. Guided by a Secretary from Church House in London the system will never be perfect, but I have to say it’s thorough and pretty good.

Sometimes I’m asked what kind of thing are we looking for in the candidates. The good news is that the church has a clear set of criteria which set out, under 9 headings, the areas of assessment in which we need to be satisfied. Here they are:
A: Vocation
Do they have an inner call, confirmed by others?
B: Ministry within the Church of England
Do they understand the church in which they’ll serve?
C: Spirituality
Are they maturing in a disciplined and sustainable relationship with God?
D: Personality & Character
Are they self-aware, mature and stable?
E: Relationships
Can they build healthy relationships?
F: Leadership & Collaboration
Can they offer leadership in the church and wider community?
G: Faith
Do they understand the basics of the faith?
H: Mission & Evangelism
Are they committed to mission and to sharing the faith?
I: Quality of Mind
Can they think and reflect, committed to life-long learning?

Everyone’s assessed under these criteria, so it’s fair and consistent. They don’t have to be perfect but we’re looking for evidence in each area so we can advise bishops on their potential for ordained ministry.

I returned home on Thursday night, having met some inspiring people – both candidates and other selectors – and sensing that I’d been part of something good. We didn’t recommend everyone. Those we didn’t will, I hope, continue to explore other avenues of service. Those we did will need to work out how best to be trained for leadership in the Church of England. I will look out for them in the future.

For me, it’s a fantastic privilege to be a leader – especially serving God’s church as an ordained leader. I was reminded of that a couple of weeks ago as I heard American pastor Bill Hybels’ keynote address at the 2012 Global Leadership Summit. Hybels, considering retirement, drew to a close with these wise words:

‘My overarching thought about my leadership these days, and it’s taking over my mind, is ‘what a privilege it is to be a leader’. These days I often find myself looking to heaven and saying, ‘Thank you God’. I was among the lucky few who got to lead.

I know the heartaches of leadership, but every once in a while isn’t it good to step back and realize what a privilege leadership is. We get to establish organizational values, solve problems, raise up young leaders, raise money to allocate to causes we believe in deeply. We actually get to further the causes of the transcendent God in this messy, broken world.’

Our worst days of leadership beat the best days of being a spectator.’

I agree. That’s why I’m grateful not just to be a leader myself but also greatly pleased to be part of raising up new leaders in God’s church. What a privilege. What an immense privilege.