Guardiola, Sterling & lessons for church leadership

Just prior to the weekend, Raheem Sterling suggested that he would move away from Manchester City if he was guaranteed more game time. Pep Guardiola, in response, said the following according to The TImes:

If any of these players are not satisfied, it is so simple. With their agents, [they need to] go to the club and say, ‘I am not happy, I want to leave,’ and we are going to find a solution. I am pretty sure of that. We want committed and happy people to be here.

And there is is. If players aren’t happy with the way the manager is playing, they are free to go elsewhere.

Interestingly, Guardiola went on:

The biggest athletes in the world, in all the sports, in the moment, they speak on the grass. That is where they have to talk. Where you have to show how wrong I am is there, three o’clock on the pitch. All of them. I cannot assure them game time, any one of them — they have to prove themselves.

There is a place to prove the manager wrong. There is a way to prove him wrong. It is to show him, by your performances on the pitch, that he is not right.

I was led to thinking about how we often handle things within the church. Somebody doesn’t get their way and wants to leave. Let’s assume that their wanting away is not for any gospel reason, but they have a difference of opinion with the church leadership about whatever it is the church is doing. Not matters of sin, but nonetheless they feel significant to the individual. What is to be done?

I am largely of the Guardiola school of thought on this. He noted in his response that he liked Raheem Sterling, he thought he was a good player and he would like to keep hold of him. But, when push comes to shove, if Sterling isn’t happy and wants to move, the manager was happy enough to wish him well on his way.

There seems to be a real fear of doing this in the church quite often. For some, schism is the only sin. Never mind what keeping people together means in practice, keeping them is what matters. For others, it is just ‘unkind’ not to do whatever somebody wants. It doesn’t seem to enter their heads that allowing the person to do whatever they want necessarily means others don’t get what they want; but unkindness never seems a factor when it relates to leaders. Others still seem to believe it is always a bad witness when people do not remain in the church, glossing over the fact it isn’t a great witness when they stay and cause division and dissension either, particularly over matters of often tertiary importance.

In the end, there comes a time to say if you are not happy, you are welcome to leave. The church cannot really function apart from people really wanting to be there. At the end of the day, elders are appointed by the church membership to lead. If they are in sin, there are mechanisms to remove them from office (I hope your church does have such mechanisms). But if they aren’t in sin, and there isn’t a gospel issue, they have specifically been appointed to lead. They are there to call the direction of the church and have been recognised as those biblically qualified to do so. Which means, if somebody simply cannot get on board with their mode of leadership or approach to particular issues, not only isn’t it unkind, it is nigh on necessary to highlight that elders are there to lead and if they really cannot wear what is happening, to allow them to leave.

Of course, we all want to take people with us. If you are constantly jumping to ‘I’m an elder. Get on board or get out!’ I think you will run into other problems. Namely, most people will probably choose to do one and you might find you run out of people to actually lead! In fact, I’m not convinced ‘get on board or get out!’ is ever really quite the right thing to say. But I do think the underlying sentiment, at some point, necessarily holds. We should want to bring people with us, we should want to persuade people to grasp hold of where the church is heading and there does come a point, if they insist that they will not, to suggest that they might be better served somewhere else where these things aren’t at issue.

In the end, there does come a time for recognise proper order and authority. Elders have been gifted to the church by God and recognised officially as leaders of the church by the congregation (at least, if you hold to the congregational polity that I do). This means, whilst it is legitimate to raise concerns with your elders and to seek to persuade them of whatever positions you hold – and good elders will at least listen to you – if they ultimately disagree, and the issue is not one of sin, you must either submit to them and live with it or else go and find some leaders to whom you can submit. In the end, if it is wrong for an elected team of elders to ride roughshod over the congregation (and it is), it is surely worse for a member who hasn’t been elected to any office in the church to attempt to hold the church to ransom because they see things differently.

If we are dealing with matters of sin, the situation is different. This should be brought before the church. If the church recognise that an elder is in sin, not only is it right – it is their duty – to remove that elder from office. But if we are not dealing with a sin issue, but one of direction, approach, ministry philosophy, or whatever tertiary matter it might be, our elders have been elected by the membership to lead the church on these very matters. In the end, the members have to submit at some point and, if not in tertiary matters, it begs the question why even appoint elders at all? Just have utter and total congregationalism, voting on everything, all the time and sack off your leadership and save the money you are shelling out on a pastor. Very little will get done, of course (though I appreciate, we don’t just do what makes for efficiency). But if you never actually submit to any leaders, you do have to wrestle with how you meaningfully obey Hebrews 13:17 in any way.

But if you have elected your leaders to lead, then at some point you are going to have to let them lead. That doesn’t mean unrestrained leadership without any checks and balances. That is what plural eldership and member rule is for. A plurality of elders exists to stop one man holding all power and decision-making on his own. Member rule exists to stop teams of elders sinning and lauding it over the church when most recognise their leadership has gone awry. But where the church at large see no issue of sin, and the eldership are agreed, the church are called to submit to their leadership. Where somebody will not, the only tenable thing to do is encourage them to find leaders to whom they can.

There is no sense in keeping hold of people who are unhappy. We may reason with them and seek to persuade them that the issues are not credible reasons to break fellowship. But in the end, if people want to leave, we are wise to wish them well and let them go without ill-will or rancour. It serves nobody well to try and grasp onto them.

At the same time, if we are healthy church members, we will accept there will be times that the recognised leadership will do things with which we don’t agree. Assuming they are not outright matters of sin, nor force us into sin, we are called to submit to our leaders without groaning. We should be able to share our views and opinions with our church leaders, but if they ultimately disagree with us, we are called to submit, or else find some to whom we can.