Drawing straight lines between resources and success belies another issue

If you’re interested in such things, Jose Mourinho has been having a go at Jurgen Klopp, other teams, even his own employers about transfer policies. To be fair to Mourinho, Klopp has made a few comments about such things in the past. He made some famous comments about Man City’s spending power relative to Liverpool’s, insisting even if he could spend big, he wouldn’t want to. If he is to be believed, he refused to sign one or two big name players because of their exorbitant transfer and wage fees. So, as Mourinho pointed out, it is a bit surprising that Liverpool are the highest spenders in the transfer window thus far and have broken the world record spent on a goalkeeper.

Klopp’s point in the past has generally been that without the kind of money City have to splash about, he had to rely on technical skill, training and tactics. Klopp even went as far as to say, even if could do that, he wouldn’t – he wanted to do things ‘the right way’. Mourinho was suggesting that such a principle has gone out of the window and if he doesn’t win a trophy this year, Klopp should be out on his ear. Of course, it was nothing but PR for the media in a bid to increase pressure on the Liverpool manager. It is a favoured tactic of Mourinho but, as anybody who has seen the man speak for more than two minutes will recognise, Klopp doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy who will be remotely bothered.

I was minded to think of how this dynamic sometimes plays out in church. As the pastor of a small, insignificant church it is very easy to take the Klopp line toward other churches. If only we had their resources, we think, we would be able to achieve so much more! It is similarly tempting to tell ourselves that without such backing we will have to do things ‘the right way’. That somewhat arrogantly assumes that we are doing things ‘the right way’ at all. But there is another assumption that what we have built (and we love to consider it what we have built), because it was done on scant resources, was much purer – it was built on the back of being more biblical, doing things the right way, and putting in the kind of hard yards that others can simply shortcut with money and connections.

At the same time, it is also easy to start implying the Mourinhoesque reasoning that those who have such resources really should be seeing more fruit than they are or than we – from our obviously clear-sighted perch – believe they should be seeing. We convince ourselves that if we had those resources in that setting, we would be a lot more successful than whoever currently has them. We, of course, have only been held back by our relative lack of resources. We know this because we are essentially certain that we are, indeed, genuinely quite capable, able and ultimately responsible for much of what goes on in our churches.

If we have money and resources – like the Man City’s of the world – we love to emphasise that much of what is going on is the result of our hard work, skills and excellent programmes. Sure, the money and stuff is helpful, but it’s all essentially down to us. If we have no money, we prefer to emphasise that our outward success is really impeded by our lack of money and resources. We, likewise, assume what has happened is a result of our work but similarly tend to believe if we just had the resources we’d be doing even better still. The former group can quickly assume that if folk just pulled their socks up and did things better, they would do so much better. The latter assume that if only they had more funding, or people, or whatever they would be doing better. Both draw lines between money, resources and success that are far straighter than they should be.

What we so often forget is that the church belongs to Jesus and it is he who builds it, not us. It is the Father who draws people to Christ by his Spirit, not us. There is no straight line between funding, people and success. The Lord has a habit of using the most unlikely of people, with the scarcest of resources, to really achieve great things for his kingdom. The Lord has built churches on the well connected and resourced and he’s done so using those who had neither of those things.

The reality is that those things are not the be all and end all. We could have all the resources in the world and the Lord may choose to bring nobody to faith through our ministry. We could have no resources whatever and the Lord could build a huge ministry by using us. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah had ministries that saw no response at all. Jonah, by contrast, rocked up to Nineveh and saw the whole town repent en masse through nothing but his turning up and telling them what God had said. Nebuchadnezzar – who appears to have become a believer – has no meaningful ministry built around him despite his vast resources. The church in Jerusalem – in which most the apostles remained – was routinely the poorest. The point is that we can’t draw a direct line between resources and significant ministry.

What is more, this kind of thinking pits us against one another. My church is some sort of rival to your church. This is a bit like Mo Salah and Jordan Henderson trying to compete with one another despite playing in the same team. The fact of the matter is that gospel-preaching churches are all on the same team. We are, or at least should be, concerned with God’s kingdom (as opposed to our empire). Which of us has the most money really shouldn’t be our biggest concern, anybody seeing disciples made should be a cause of joy for us all. A win for the team is a win for us all, right?

At the same time, that cuts the other way. None of us should be hoarding resources. If those without resources are seeing disciples made, being on the same team, we should want to divert our extra funds to them. But, to continue to the football metaphor, we can see our personal accolades as more important to pursue than a win for the team. That is to say, we see the size of our buildings, or adding yet more staff to our team in a bid to keep our congregants happy, as more important than helping churches seeing real fruit stay open and carry on reaching people for Christ. It’s so easy to put our own personal concerns ahead of the wider good of the kingdom.

If we recognise that we are all playing on the same team, working for the same goal, fewer of us would hoard our resources and others would be more charitable to those who have resources. Wherever the kingdom is being advanced we will rejoice and wherever the kingdom could be advanced but for lack of resource we will want to meet it. Let us use what we have for the kingdom and give thanks where it is advancing.