I tuned in last night to watch Liverpool play Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup. I wasn’t at all surprised to see opportunities given to our younger players, that is generally what the League Cup exists for these days. But I was surprised to see an entire team made up from players in the Under-23 squad. Even more surprising, I saw that the Under-23 coach was taking charge of the game. There wasn’t a single first-team player to be found among the starting 11 or even on the bench.
It seemed an odd decision. Then, one of the pundits mentioned that the first team squad were currently in Qatar. It turns out that those who organise these things decided it would be reasonable to expect the team to play a domestic cup game on Tuesday night followed by a Club World Cup game on the Wednesday night in Qatar. I recall Jurgen Klopp speaking about the possibility of forfeiting the game by not turning up at all if something couldn’t be done. Seemingly, he decided to forfeit the game in practice, even if there were 11 players on the field in red. By half-time, we were staring a 4-0 scoreline in the face and it wasn’t looking like getting much better.
I don’t expect anyone to have much sympathy for the players themselves. They’re paid enough and all that. But it does make a mockery of the sport when they can’t set fixture lists that allow teams to adequately compete on a level playing field. If they want teams to compete properly in all competitions, there comes a point where too many fixtures means it is simply not possible. Something has to give somewhere.
The same is ultimately true in the church. We all want our people involved in as much gospel ministry as possible. On the one hand, if we don’t have any means of involving ourselves in gospel ministry, they won’t be doing any. On the other, if we insist everybody comes to everything and we fill up the calendar with an endless, unrelenting schedule of programmes people are going to struggle. At most, they will not be at their best as they are expected to run yet another event; at least, we will end up sending out our equivalent of the Under-23 squad and making a pig’s ear of what we are attempting to do. We’ve got to organise ourselves in such a way that we can actually do the work of mission to which we’ve been called credibly.
Inevitably, different contexts will suit different setups. But I am fairly sure that most places will need to work out some mix of mission work that needs to be attended/done and free time so that people are able to meet up more informally. Too much free time and – whilst you might get some – a lot of people will end up not really doing any mission at all. Too little free time, everyone gets weary and doesn’t really do anything very well, maybe even coming to resent the work because it is so relentless. There must be a balance struck somewhere so that we can maximise the gospel opportunities and the work of ministry without burning out our people.