Don’t play your people out of position

Football is back on the telly. I’m pleased about that; my wife is not. But she is a good woman and is happy to indulge me. So, on Sunday night, we watched Liverpool’s first game since the Covid-19 lockdown was relaxed.

To say that is was not a classic derby match would be an understatement. Everybody looked pretty rusty too. Passing, crossing, shooting were all a bit haphazard. It is amazing what a 3-month break will do.

Equally surprising were a couple of the team selections. Andy Robertson, our left-back, was not in the side and, in his place, midfielder James Milner was brought in. He has played that position before but we do have other more obvious options. Mo Salah – Liverpool’s top goal scorer this season – was also left on the bench in favour of the fairly recently acquired Takumi Minamino. Except, Minamino was brought into the squad to provide backup for the position Roberto Firmino tends to play – a deep-lying no. 9 – and yet, for this match, Minamino took Salah’s position up top on the right. He was withdrawn after 45 minutes because, unsurprisingly, he kept playing the right-forward role as though he were a deep-lying no. 9 (which is, in effect, what he is, what he played at his previous club and why we brought him into the squad to begin with!)

I felt a bit sorry for him to be honest. He played entirely in line with his nature. He played in the way you would expect him to play. But he was withdrawn because, having been placed on the right and told to play like a right-sided forward, he didn’t do a great job because he played like you’d expect a false 9 to play. It’s like a sticking a pig into a horse race and then wondering why it doesn’t do very well? Of course, it can run and move in the right direction. But not being a horse, it ain’t going to be great at what you ultimately want it to do. If you want someone to do a task for you, you need to make sure you get somebody who is able to do that particular job.

Obviously, you knew there was a point about the church coming. And here it is. You need to make sure, if you want a job doing, you get the right people to do the job. Or, to look at it another way, you need to look at the people the Lord has gifted your church and work out what you might be able to do with them.

I remember somebody coming to our church and insisting on a particular form of outreach they wanted to do. We tend to want to encourage anybody with evangelistic zeal to get on with the stuff they feel the Lord leading them to do. So, we encourage this person to do the thing they wanted to do but stressed that they will need to think about who we have and how it will run to make it happen.

Several weeks later, we were spoken to again. Apparently, nobody is interested in doing evangelism. When we looked at it, it turned out lots of people were interested in evangelism, just not in the particular thing that had been proposed. Even when we looked at that, it turned out a few folk had gotten involved, but they were deemed the ‘wrong’ people. But they were the people that we have and the ones that the Lord provided. One of my elders quite wisely made the point (which we had made before), perhaps we need to take account of the people the Lord has gifted to the church. Maybe we should think about the best ways we can use them rather than trying to force them, like a deep-lying no. 9, into the role of attacking right-forwards and then getting disappointed when they don’t do it so well.

This matter is pertinent to evangelism, though it bears saying we don’t want to push it too far. We really should be asking who can we reach and then think how we might do that with the people we have. Not feeling ‘led’ or ‘equipped’ to reach a particular group is not a great reason to not bother. Ultimately, if you know the gospel (and you must if you are a Christian) and you have a mouth, you can reach anybody on some level. But, there is sense in thinking about who you have and what they are best suited to doing and then sending them to do that.

Equally, we want to leave room for the Lord to work through our weaknesses. We believe in a Holy Spirit who really and actually equips the Lord’s people for the tasks he has given us. The Lord’s power is made perfect when weak people, who feel ill-equipped to do stuff, are empowered by him in the tasks he has given us to do. Whilst the work is always the Lord’s, and we always need the empowering work of the Spirit, there are clearly occasions when his empowering is all the more evident to everyone, knowing as they do, how ill-equipped you are naturally for whatever the task is. So, again, we don’t want to so focus on ‘fit’ that we leave no room for God’s power to be at work in our weakness.

One of the qualifications for pastoral ministry and leadership in the church is that one manages his household well. I take good household management to mean, at least in part, that we recognise the strengths and weaknesses of our spouse and we allow them to help our family flourish by giving them tasks to do in which they are eminently stronger than ourselves. It is not good household management (in my view) to insist that you, who struggled to get a GCSE in maths, will maintain control and keep a handle on all the household finances whilst your qualified accountant wife has no involvement because men must lead. I’ve heard this sort of nonsense from some complementarian quarters but that is neither a consequence of complementarian theology nor good household management. It is obtuse. Good household management, good leadership and, in my view, good application complementarian theology, is to allow your wife to full express the talents and gifts that the Lord has given to her and to delegate responsibility to her in areas in which her gifts far outstrip your own. Good household management is a qualification for ministry and this must extend to how well you manage your wife’s God-given gifts, talents and skills. Not nearly enough of us even ask the question whether those who inhibit their wives this way, based largely on a particular cultural view of what women’s role in the home is, are actually managing their households well and if they are, therefore, disqualifying themselves as a result.

But I wasn’t intending to get into complementarianism here. My point is, why is manages his household well one of the qualifications the Lord gives for elders? Precisely because only one who manages his household well will be able to manage people in the church. Elders must be good managers at home so that they can be good managers in the church. And if my point above regarding complementarianism is true (you can decide whether it is valid for yourself), then good management in the church must also include recognising the gifts, talents and abilities of people within your church and employing them for the good of the kingdom. We aren’t managing God’s people well if we keep putting people to work in posts where they are simply unable to fulfil the function. Everybody can, of course, do something. And we recognise the empowering work of the Holy Spirit to do it. But we don’t do well to try and turn every false 9 into a right forward.

Of course, really good managers enjoy having a James Milner or two around. They are the people who might prefer to play in midfield – that might be where they are best – but they can turn their hand to being a pretty handy left-back, right-back or even a winger as the occasion requires. Not everybody is cut out to be that versatile. But good management recognises that only some players can play out of position whilst others will only flourish and do any good if they are played where they most prefer.

But the point here is simple enough: don’t play your players out of position. If you are going to make the most for the kingdom, good managers will know that you don’t want to be playing your goalkeeper upfront and your striker as a full-back. Whilst some of them may manage to do a job filling in for a time, it’s not what you want to aim for. Ideally, you play your players in their best positions. For the church, that means looking at who you have and where you can best utilise them and putting them where they might be most effective.