The Archbishop’s Election: What is an Archbishop?

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Originally Published:
25th July 2013

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…the Archbishop must be first and foremost a man of God, a minister of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A man who, in the undertaking the varied tasks of the Archbishop, does more than fulfil due process – for he has the bigger picture in mind …a theological one that explains the practical implications of the gospel…

…a man who takes every opportunity to minister the gospel, both personally and publically – initiating, sponsoring and engaging in it as he sees fit.

Our choice is not so much between which man will best fill the role of Archbishop but what kind of Archbishop will either man be?

The question is not so much “what does the Archbishop do?” as “what would this man do if he were Archbishop?” … How does he express the gospel in the complexities of life?

 

In this series of essays I am explaining how I view the election of Sydney’s Archbishop. In this article I am discussing principles, which is difficult when there are only two candidates, as readers may assume anything said about one will imply something about the other. I am trying to avoid this by disclosing that I have nominated Rick Smith as my preferred candidate, to help you the reader perceive any unintentional bias. In this article I am also trying to use illustrations that do not bear on the candidates to argue for principles. In the next article I will write explicitly about the candidates.

When it comes to electing an Archbishop the natural questions are “What does the role involve?” and therefore “What are the characteristics or competencies that we are looking for in a candidate?” However, the answers to these questions are quite different to most people’s expectations as they are not the most appropriate questions to ask.

Starting with the Bible

A good starting place is the Bible’s view of leadership, seen pre-eminently in our Lord Jesus Christ and taught to us in the appointment of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy and Titus. The character and convictions of a man are the mainstay of selection criteria, rather than any particular competencies. The particular competencies listed for Timothy and Titus to look for in an elder, are to “manage his own household well” and to be “able to teach” the truth and “rebuke those who contradict it”.

The ministry of an Archbishop is different to ‘managing the household of God’ but cannot be less than that. It is different, because like Timothy and Titus, the Archbishop is not leading a single church or even a parish but a diocese of parishes and churches as well as all the associated para-church ministries (schools, retirement villages, theological college. etc) that support the parishes in their ministry of the gospel.

Our problem, and it is a good one to have, is when we have more than one candidate with these characteristics. As I mentioned in the first of these essays, the Diocese of Sydney is blessed with many men who fulfil these requirements and could be our Archbishop. And synod members are being given a choice between two nominated candidates whose life and doctrine match the characteristics outlined in the New Testament, but whose episcopacy would be quite different. So how do we choose?

The Previous Archbishop

One way of choosing is to define the job by listing what the last Archbishop did and then look for somebody to do the same. But this method holds us captive to the past rather than opening up opportunities for the future. Because most of us can only remember one or two Archbishops we tend to think what they did is normal or required, when their contribution may have been a novelty and not really required. We need to allow for the unique combinations of gifts that God has given to a man to be used to shape the way he conducts his ministry as Archbishop. We mustn’t cast the next Archbishop in the mould of his predecessor.

Casting the role in terms of the previous incumbent is one of the ongoing problems in ministry appointments generally. When we don’t like the previous rector there is the pendulum swing of looking for somebody quite different. When we love the retiring rector we want a look-a-like who will be able to fill his shoes.

The pendulum swing problem tries to correct the imbalance of the last Archbishop – so “he wrote books therefore we do not want a new one tied up in the study writing”, or “he didn’t write books so we really want the new one to be busy writing”.

The look-a-like Archbishop means we search for more of the same; dooming ourselves to disappointment, as nobody is the same or as good as the predecessor we so admired. So, if the retiring Archbishop preached at conventions – “we must have a convention-speaking Archbishop” - ignoring the fact that convention speaking takes you away from other duties.

Neither writing books nor preaching at conventions lies at the heart of what an Archbishop must or even should do. They are merely some of the platforms from which his predecessor has done the job.

The Politically Based Definition

Another false trail in defining and understanding the role of Archbishop is the political one. When people, who have a favourite candidate, are asked their view of the role it is amazing how clearly they spell out the role in terms of the candidate that they favour.

If their candidate is knowledgeable about music then the next Archbishop must be a music buff, if their candidate is a bachelor it is important that he is able to itinerate around the diocese unencumbered by family life.

Describing the role in terms of your candidate is a very natural self-deception that is so easy to see through in another person, but so difficult to see in oneself. We genuinely think that we have worked out the key characteristics and competencies needed, but in reality we are describing somebody we already had in mind.

A Self Centred Definition

Worst still is the self-deception of describing the role of Archbishop in terms of yourself!  “If I were Archbishop then we would …”; “What we need is somebody who does what I do, only better.” It is not usually expressed that baldly. We subtly cover our narcissism with a general description of the role in terms that happen to sound – especially to others - remarkably like ourselves. “He has to have been to a state school, and have travelled overseas, have a university degree in business management, and lots of work experience prior to college …” and so one describes oneself.

Academics think he must be an academic and parish men think he must be a parish man – when neither is necessary. Sometimes the diocese has been led by an academic and sometimes by a parish man – it is a little hard to prove that either one was better than the other and even more difficult to prove that it was because of their background experience that they were better at the task. The last Archbishop of Canterbury came directly from academia to being a bishop and archbishop with very little parish experience. The present Archbishop of Canterbury comes from years as an oil executive before undertaking basic theological training and lots of parish experience to becoming Archbishop, having only been made a bishop a year before. There is no one clear career path or set of required experiences.

The Heart of the Matter

The job description of an Archbishop is not at all simple. An endless list of tasks and expectations that no one person could fulfil fails to see to the heart of the job that unites these many and varied tasks.

Formally, the Archbishop is the man of God who is constitutionally appointed to give leadership to the diocese of Sydney. There are many other leaders within the diocese, some with much greater influence and following than the Archbishop of the day, but the Archbishop is the duly constituted leader. As such, the Archbishop has some required tasks such as presiding at synod and being responsible for the ordination and licensing of clergy. He is the chairman of various diocesan organisations e.g. Standing Committee, Moore College Council, Anglicare Council, the Cathedral Chapter, etc. There are also matters that have to be referred to him such as the appointment of heads of schools or Professional Standards issues. There are many requirements and expectations laid upon him, especially as he represents us in the community and amongst churches. 

However this is not the heart of the matter, nor hopefully the heart of the Archbishop. For the Archbishop must be first and foremost a man of God, a minister of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. A man who, in undertaking the varied tasks of the Archbishop, does more than fulfil due process – for he has the bigger picture in mind by which he can guide each of the organisations and churches to work together for the common cause of the gospel. The bigger picture is a theological one that explains the practical implications of the gospel for both the church and the world. It is this bigger, theological explanation and its practical outworking that unites the diocese and brings people and organisations together to work cooperatively for the cause of Christ. And to do this he will be a man who takes every opportunity to minister the gospel, both personally and publically – initiating, sponsoring and engaging in it, as he sees fit.

Confusing the Role and the Man

Our choice is not so much between which man will best fill the role of Archbishop but what kind of Archbishop will either man be? How will this gifted man use the role to best advance the cause of Christ in our diocese? How will his gifts shape and create the role? The question is not so much “What does the Archbishop do?” as “What would this man do if he were Archbishop?” “What gifts does he bring to the role?” “How does he express the gospel in the complexities of life?”

Peter Jensen brought three characteristics to the role, which were distinctively his. He was the first elected archbishop with an earned doctorate. Secondly he had a distinctive use of public media. Thirdly he was the first elected archbishop not to have been a bishop already. But none of these was central to his task, and we are wise not to look for them as important for his successor. We could have elected a different person who had more parish experience, was less academic, had greater media training or who had already been consecrated as a bishop. We did not make such a choice and proved that most of the criticisms and questions of the competency of Peter beforehand were unfounded.

It is not the qualifications or experience of the man that matter but what he does with them. If we look for an academic we may well get the egg-head. Worse than that we can get somebody who is ‘puffed up’ by knowledge rather than using his knowledge in love to build others up (1 Corinthians 8). If we look for the media man we may well get an impressive looking King Saul instead of the unimpressive shepherd David, who was the man after God’s heart. We must be wary of letting the public media set the agenda of our appointments or our message, lest we appoint a man who plays to the crowd, is led by opinion polls and seeks the approval of the world, rather than calling upon a nation to repent. Peter’s media contribution was not that he was presentable in the media, others have been that, but that he turned media opportunities into conversations about Jesus.

The important characteristics of Peter’s episcopacy had little to do with these novelties and much to do with the man himself. He had the big theological picture of the gospel in view and united the diocese in mission: breaking down tensions between different organisations and refocussing them on to mission and their relationship with each other and parish ministry.

In electing the new Archbishop we must look at both men to see what they would make of the role rather than having a fixed view of the tasks of an archbishop and trying to work out which peg best fits the hole.

So in my next article I will make the comparisons between the two men to see what kind of Archbishop they would be.

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