No, No, Cristia-No
*Complete disclosure... I felt like a tabloid sports journalist coming up with this blog title!*
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best footballers in the world. His name is often mentioned in conversations about the GOAT – the Greatest Of All Time. However, on Wednesday evening a series of events unfolded for which he has now been dropped and fined.
Ronaldo left pitch-side before the game against Tottenham had ended, headed to get changed before the rest of his team and left the stadium early. The reason? He was upset that a younger player, Anthony Elanga, was preferred to him.
A few thoughts about church struck me as I watched the actions of a club hero run the risk of marring his memory among fans.
Nostalgia has no place in the Premier League
Ronaldo has been a great player for United. He was part of a team that enjoyed much success, much of which was down to the part he played. Despite his age, his return to the club was warmly welcomed and he was the club’s top-scorer last season. But that was then. Last night was a different game in a different time. Renown and reputation counted for nothing. Past performance and contribution was irrelevant to the present decision. ‘For old time’s sake’ would not, should not, cut the mustard.
Take a look around your church. What do you see? Is it the same people doing the same old thing? If so, why is that?
Church has an uncanny knack for starting something and, decades later, still be doing it with no understanding of why. Nostalgia prevents things that have served their purpose coming to a healthy end. Nostalgia stops those who should have served for a season from stepping out. ‘I’ve always done this’ or ‘We’ve always done it this way’ are tragic words in church circles. There is a sobering tone to Brad Pitt’s character in ‘Moneyball’ – adapt or die.
Faithfulness and perseverance are important. Commitment and longevity are too often in scarce supply. But if commitment crosses into doggedness, it ceases to be healthy. Don’t continue with something just because you’ve always done it or it was once the thing God used you in. Prayerfully reflect on whether this is still the ministry God is using and if so, whether you are the person to be involved in it. Be honest with yourself and God. Solicit honest, trusted feedback and make what may feel like a tough decision. Don’t let nostalgia call the shots.
The Manager knows Best
Maybe you find yourself in a season where you’re less involved than you’d like to be – an unhappy spectator. God may seem to be releasing others, introducing them to the fray and you feel frustrated. You can’t figure it out. You have the skill, the gifting, the experience. Surely you should be involved.
Whichever way you cut it, there’s a diagnostic question you need to grapple with: Do you trust that the manager (God) knows best? Erik Ten Hag made a choice for reasons he alone knows. He’s accountable to the Board and to the fans, and is capable of making mistakes. God, however, never makes the wrong call. There’s wisdom which we don’t understand to everything that he does. Further, he isn’t accountable to you or I, or some Heavenly Board of Directors somewhere. He can do as he pleases. And he can be trusted as the One who knows best. He doesn’t think in the ways we do, nor does his decision-making follow the logic of ours. Things don’t always play out the way we’d envisage or hope, but he knows best.
How we handle disappointment matters
Ronaldo stropped and stormed off. How you respond when someone else gets the nod ahead of you reveals much about you. The desire to be involved is generally a positive one, but we can trip ourselves up if our response to somebody else’s involvement causes us to resent them or to withdraw our service. Our response ought to be to celebrate the ministry of the other. We should delight in their success. What would church life look like if we turned our disappointment into the cheering on of others? What if others’ promotion brought us delight, even though it came at our expense? Our response matters, and you don’t get a second chance at an initial reaction. Your reaction will show you your heart – do you like what you see?
The individual isn’t bigger than the club
Ronaldo is a global sensation. He’s the most followed person on Instagram. But he’s not bigger than Manchester United. When his time is up, the club will remain and will continue. Decisions must be made that are for the good of the team, not to fit the preference of the individual.
It’s not uncommon for church decision-making to be dominated by personality or history (‘I’ve been here for fifty years, you know’) and decisions can cease to be about obedience to God and easily become about pleasing a particular person., family or group within the church. This mustn’t be. We need to commit to knowing our place in the purposes of God – knowing that through the church, he is working out his plans and purposes. You and I have the privilege of playing a small part for a short time, by his grace, but the church will continue without you and beyond you. Don’t make it all about you – you’re not bigger than the church.
Cristiano Ronaldo will likely always be a club legend, but his conduct was not becoming of him as a Manchester United player. As a child of God, your conduct and mine matters. Let’s stay humble – we’re only used by God because He’s gracious, not because he needs us. Remain other-focused: Our enthusiastic delight in others’ growth and involvement, even if it’s at our expense, speaks volumes. And let’s remain committed to the glory of God in the church. It’s all about him, all by him and all for him.
Soli Deo Gloria.