What can the church learn from Manchester United?
As a Manchester United fan, the events of recent seasons have been painful. Supporting this once-great club has recently been more of an ordeal than a delight. Pray for me! As the dust begins to settle on this season – in which we’ve changed managers yet still chronically underperformed, achieving our lowest points tally in a good while – various things have made their way into mainstream media. Lamenting the state of my club gave way to thinking about life in the church at large.
Problems behind the scenes
The problems at Manchester United may culminate on the pitch, but they’re not confined to it. There seem to be numerous problems behind the scenes – the Board, recruitment, player egos and more. When you hear the phrase ‘behind the scenes’ in the context of church, what do you think? Your thinking likely gravitates towards administrative challenges, church-wide communication problems or ministry gaps. Various aspects of church life not functioning as you think they ought to. They’re all worthy of thought and attention, and we should be diligent in our pursuit of health in each of those areas, but I suggest there’s a more significant ‘behind the scenes’ that affects the life and vitality of the church.
C.H Spurgeon is a man used mightily in the purposes of God. Reports show that of the thousands who were converted under his preaching ministry, up to 10,000 of them would gather weekly to try to hear the ‘Prince of Preachers’ open God’s Word. He was often asked about the key to his success, whereupon he would accompany the enquirer down the steps of the London Metropolitan Tabernacle. There, in the basement, was the scene of hundreds of women and men faithfully pleading with the Lord for His mercy, His compassion and the miracle of His salvation.
Could it be that the church’s ‘behind the scenes’ problem is that we have neglected the ministry of corporate prayer? Is it possible that we’ve lost perspective and focused so much on the components of our time together – sounds desks and PAs, music, even reading through sermons ready for preaching - that we’ve nudged prayer down in terms of importance?
If we want people to come and gather with us and encounter the presence of the Living God, we may need to give attention to our corporate prayer activity.
In a particularly poignant moment when United were thrashed 4-0 away to Brighton, the exasperated fans sang out: “You’re not fit to wear the shirt.” The consensus amongst fans didn’t centre primarily around the quality of the players but around the perceived lack of effort they exerted. Manchester United fans have bemoaned the entitled, self-serving attitudes of some of the players for a long time.
Entitlement in Christians is a subtle but pervasive attitude. It creeps in and consumes without easy detection. What starts with a decision to arrive just before the service starts to avoid having to do, to serve or to interact morphs over time into a critical outlook when things aren’t done the way you’d like or decisions don’t align with your preference.
An example of an attitude that may exhibit aspects of entitlement is found in the phrase ‘I didn’t get much out of the worship today’ (I cringe as I write this as I’ve said it myself previously). Do you see the problem with the attitude? It highlights that we’ve carried in through the door with us the expectation that what follows in the next 90 minutes or so is intended to cater to our expectations and preferences.
Play through the issue of entitlement to its ugly caricature and you find a bunch of people who gather weekly to endure something they don’t enjoy whilst withholding their own service from the body because they feel hard done to. Who prospers in that scenario?
Here’s my invitation: Get over yourself! If we can fix God as the object of our whole-hearted worship, we won’t be able to help but invest, spend and serve. Let’s make war on the easy onset of entitlement, recognising that the Body functions best when each part plays its part.
Lack of buy-in to identity
When Manchester United parted company with club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the back pages of the paper criticised the team’s lack of structure and team cohesion. They were branded a team with no discernible style or identity. To address this, interim Manager Ralf Rangnick was brought in. He was a man famed for his ‘gegenpress’ style that had brought success for teams previously. Only a few weeks in, our Ralf was forced to adopt new and different formations and approaches. It’s not that the gegenpress didn’t work, but that the players hadn’t bought into it. There was no investment, no commitment. In short, the indifference of the players towards the direction the manager sought brought the whole thing to a standstill.
I wonder how you view your role in the life of local church. Is it to simply keep rocking up week by week to attend a service? Or is it something more? You see, the realising of God-given vision doesn’t simply drop into the laps of the gathered throng. We don’t move from one state of existence into realising our own ‘promised land’ by clicking our heels together three times and expecting it to all be different in a moment. Instead, seeing vision realised takes time and deliberate, sustained effort.
Do you know what the vision of your local church is? If not, find out. Seek to understand it as clearly and fully as possible. When you’ve done that, ask yourself whether your contribution – from your prayers to your practise – helps move things towards that vision. It’s possible that your indifference towards the vision is inadvertently working against it. Ask yourself – and maybe one of your elders – if there’s anything you can do to help move things along. Without vision, people perish. But without action, vision suffers.
Whatever season of life you find yourself in, you have an invaluable role to play in the life and health of your local church. Playing your part sometimes feels hard, even undesirable, but it’s what we’re called to.
Einstein’s definition of insanity was repeating the same things and expecting a different outcome. If you want things to be different, begin to change the way you approach and engage with church life. It’s too simplistic to say ‘be the change you want’, but you can at the very least point your prayers in that direction, and then ask how you can get involved.