As I write this, I am just about to watch Liverpool face off against RB Leipzig in the Champions League. I am painfully aware that LFC are really not playing well. We are, happily, 2-0 up from the first leg, which is helpful. But based on recent performances, we’re in for a tough night and there is every chance we might get turned over.
There are lots of theories about why things are going so badly at the moment. The most obvious cause of our travails is the mass of injuries. Our player of the year from last season was horrifically injured at the beginning of this one. Most of our defence are on the sidelines. We have been playing, with frequency, either midfield players in our back four or fifth and sixth choice reserve squad players.
The problem with this theory is that our defence isn’t the only problem. Our midfield – despite having some world class talent in it – isn’t doing great and the front three, at least two of whom have major teams sniffing around for them, don’t look like scoring any time they go forward. It is getting harder and harder to suggest that Virgil Van Dyck’s absence is the main problem.
The knives are already starting to be drawn for Jurgen Klopp. The man who took us to a Champions League final, followed by a Champions League win and then a Premier league title is starting to shoulder the blame. That is the way it goes in football. When the results aren’t coming, sooner or later, the buck stops with the manager. It may sometimes be unfair, or unreasonable. It is frequently short-termist. It doesn’t always take into account direction of travel. But it is true to say, when things aren’t at all right, the manager at least has to take some of a flack, no matter how good he might have been up until then.
In the church, we are not in a results-driven industry, like football players. The measures of success – though we frequently fall into one’s that we all agree aren’t credible ways to judge church health – are not specifically based on numbers. There is a reason that we don’t offer performance related pay to our pastors and Christmas bonuses based on conversions.
But despite that, whilst there are a whole host of reasons why things might not be working as they ought in the church, there does come a point at which the buck has to stop with the leadership. Depending on how you have constituted your church, that either means the collective leadership of the eldership (as I would argue it should be) or with the singular leadership in practice of your pastor. Whilst there will always be issues in the church, and frequently there are reasons beyond the control of the leadership as to why they come about, if there is a repeated pattern of fallings out, people leaving the church, significant numbers jumping out and citing the leadership as the reason, there comes a point where we at least have to ask the question whether we might be the problem.
Of course, when we ask that question, the answer may rightly be ‘no’. There might be real, clear and credible reasons why it really isn’t our fault. We might be doing all that we can do and yet still folk get unhappy and leave. That happens, for sure. It may even happen quite a few times. But when there are repeated patterns, again and again, we surely need to be open to the possibility that we might be the problem.
This isn’t only true of leaders, but of members too. If we have a pattern of falling out and leaving churches, finding trifling reasons why we can’t stay anywhere, at some point we have to ask whether we are the problem. Perhaps it isn’t the fault of the dozens of churches we have left in our wake, perhaps it is us? Similarly, when member after member leaves our church – especially when it includes the kind of members who have never left anywhere else and don’t tend to be complainers – we have to at least ask the question, maybe the dozens of people leaving are not all at fault. Maybe the common factor is me?
I suspect those who are even willing to countenance that question (with some ignoble exceptions) are likely not the sort of folk who are typically at fault. An honest asking of that question tends to suggest a self-awareness that is usually lacking in those who always view the problem as ‘out there’. But if we won’t even consider the possibility, if there are always reasons why it’s somebody else’s fault, perhaps we need to take a more honest look at ourselves.