'Good Lord, deliver us from successful bishops': A call for authentic church leadership

The Archbishop of Canterbury was standing right there when he said it.

"Good Lord, deliver us from successful bishops."

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, made his courageous intervention in a sermon at the consecration of two new female bishops and the new male "bishop for church plants" at St Paul's, London on Tuesday.

Bishop Cottrell was preaching at the ordination of the Right Rev Anne Hollinghurst as Bishop of Aston, the Right Rev Ruth Worsley as Bishop of Taunton and the Right Rev Ric Thorpe as the new Bishop of Islington, a see revived specially for the task.

Archbishop Justin Welby ordains as bishops Ric Thorpe, Anne Hollinghurst and Ruth WorsleyGraham Lacdao

Bishop Cottrell, a former Bishop of Reading, said he was suggesting a new line for the litany: "Good Lord deliver us from successful bishops, from too well prepared or even too well organised bishops, from ready answer in the back pocket and PowerPoint strategy self-sufficient, all efficient bishops."

He said he explicitly did not want talent-pool bishops.

And while he dislikes today's "soundbite" culture, he said that if one was demanded of him, he would say that at this time, in this present culture, it is in Christ that people become themselves.

"You can be set free from the snares and temptations of a world that tells you you aren't good enough, good looking enough, thin enough, clever enough, young enough, and find a new identity and become completely yourself as you are meant to be in the communion with God that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes possible.

"As teacher and evangelist this is the first job of the bishop.

"Not MD of CofE plc; not safe pair of managerial hands, not just emerged slick and shiny from the talent pool, not even graduate of the latest whizzy business school offer of better organised salvation, though these things can help us.

"But storyteller, poet, theologian: a gospel person, with the good news of Christ and on our lips and in our hearts, and this good news translated into the languages of the smorgasbord of cultures in which we serve."

This is not the time to change but to be themselves, he told the three new bishops. Too many people still treat bishops with the wrong sort of deference and respect, and believing their own publicity, the bishops collude.

Bishop Cottrell said: "Take us to those high places, places of perspective and reality, where we and all our schemes are set on fire, which, paradoxically for us, are also those places where life is raw, and pain and darkness requisite.

"Take us to the heights of prayer, to the depths of the scriptures, to the bottom step before the altar, to a place of silent waiting where, with mitres off and staffs laid down, we will be replenished and know our need of God, and there be renewed and strengthened for the things that lie ahead as bishops of God's church – messengers, sentinels and pastors."

Earlier this year, senior clergy in the Church of England were called on by Archbishop Welby, former oil company executive, to sign up for MBA-style leadership courses.

The business-style leadership programme is part of a strategy for revival and evangelism that Archbishop Welby has brought to the Church of England. The strategy is aimed at bringing about Church growth and creating a talent pool of future bishops and archbishops.

Bishop Thorpe, previously Rector of St Paul's Shadwell, is expected to use his extensive experience of church planting to focus on supporting newly established worshipping communities both within London and at a national level. He will also contribute to the new School of Church Growth in association with the staff of St Mellitus theological college, both in London and at its hub in Liverpool.

Bishop Thorpe said: "There are so many opportunities and we want to do all we can to help churches reach new communities with the good news of Jesus Christ."

He will be installed at St Paul's on 6 October along with three others, Bishop of Edmonton Rob Wickham, Bishop of Kensington Dr Graham Tomlin and Archdeacon of Hampstead John Hawkins.

There was one previous Bishop of Islington. Charles Turner, who was at the same time Rector of St Andrew Undershaft, served in the post from 1898 to 1923.