It seems the start to Liverpool’s Premier League season is not quite going to plan. I am not on board with those who are already calling the season over. We are 3 games in – nobody can call it from here – so people pronouncing matters decided are being silly. But it is true that a draw with a newly promoted team as our opener followed up with a draw to a mid-table team and a loss to the worst Manchester United team since Ferguson retired does not bode well. Things are not right at Anfield.
We had bought in Luis Diaz prior to that – a move brought forward last season due to Spurs interest in the player – and Diogo Jota has played so well we were struggling to know how to start everyone who warranted a place in the team. We sold Sadio Mane – a top player by any measure – though he was over 30 and Bayern Munich were willing to dole out the reddies for a player moving into the sunset years of his career. In his place, we paid top dollar for a younger Uruguayan tipped for big things who is able to play down the centre or on the wing. On paper, no problem.
But the opening to the season being what it is, we already have a number of players out injured. And that bright new forward decided it would be clever to headbutt someone and is now unavailable for a while. It is not good news that we only have about 15 fully fit available players and one of those is suspended.
For some time, supporters have been arguing that we need to improve our midfield. Thiago Alcantara is frequently injured and Henderson (32) and Milner (36) are showing their age. We have a number of younger players whom Klopp clearly rates. But some of them are injured and others just do not have the experience needed nor the creativity we crave. As has been noted a number of times, we probably aren’t going to be winning the Premier League with this midfield.
This is not a point lost on the manager nor the others behind the scenes. But there is a definite policy of waiting for the “right” midfielder. We don’t just want to buy anyone. Which is fair and right enough. We have a history of buying folks like Ozan Kabak and Ben White – the former of whom went to Norwich and the latter of whom didn’t so much as kick a ball for us – simply because we are desperate. And so, we are holding our for Jude Bellingham who Dortmund have determined they are not selling this season. But one can’t help but feel there is some considerable distance between not just anyone and only Bellingham. You can surely get a few hits by googling better than “Henderson and Milner” and “available more the Keita and Thiago”. We ultimately need someone now, the ideal player we would like isn’t available yet, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone (or a few someones) who would fit the bill.
I appreciate you sticking with me. There is a point behind this that doesn’t rely on you following the travails of Liverpool’s poor transfer business nor having any interest in the opening games of the Premier League season. Because I think we can sometimes get into this way of thinking in the church.
For anybody who knows anything about churches in deprived communities, we are in need of people to come and serve with us. We tend to be smaller than other churches and in need of people coming to serve. But given our particular need, we can go in one of two directions on this. Two directions that friends of mine in similar communities have noticed too.
On the one hand, because we really need people, we can be in danger of copying Liverpool’s past follies and essentially looking for anyone. Our criteria often starts and end with living, breathing Christian. We think anybody will do because we feel we just need people. Which, unsurprisingly, causes its own problems. Just like the rubbish defender Liverpool bought in desperation, we can end up with people who just do not fit with what we’re doing and they bring more problems to the work than they resolve. These sorts of things rarely end well.
On the other hand, we can go to the opposite extreme – as Liverpool now appear to be doing – of insisting there is a very specific kind of person and only that person will do. We might have a particular role in mind or we might have a very specific person in mind. And that is all well and good – that role or person might well be ideal. But at the end of the day, if they’re not available or not willing to come, we can dream all we want. Even if that person is willing to come, but it will be some time down the track, that doesn’t do much to help us in the meantime. We may well want to wait for the right people, but the right people might not be available at the right time.
The fact of the matter is, there is a lot of blue sky between people who will be actively detrimental to the gospel ministry your church is doing and very specific people (or a particular person) who is the only one you can imagine at all. We may not want just about anybody, but at the same time should be able to find plenty of people who would benefit our work and may be available even if they are not the very specific thing we thought we might need. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of being so desperate we will take just anyone on whilst also avoiding the opposite trap of being too specific about who would fit in and actually serve the work well.
Of course, as is usually the case in football, you don’t necessarily know who will fit that well until they get there. Somebody could look great on paper, a perfect fit, and not in any way be what your church (or team) need. There are countless ways that might tell in practice, but tell it does. By contrast, there are people who do not look a credible fit on paper at all and yet they prove to be invaluable. Whether it is a centre-forward who just doesn’t gel with the team or it is an evangelist or assistant pastor who just doesn’t quite fit for any number of reasons, you can often never tell until they get there. Similarly, you can never really tell that somebody was just the person you were looking for until they are in post either. There may be pointers that make these things apparently more or less likely, but in the end, you don’t know beforehand and then you know when they’re there. Which, in the end, means we always have to take something of a punt on people.
Thankfully, we can rely on the fact that God is sovereign over these things. The right people who will fit will come under God’s sovereign guidance. Even those people that don’t fit, or in the very worst cases who manage to leave a trail of destruction behind them, come and go by God’s sovereign decree too. The Lord may be doing things to us, to them, to the church and to the world through even these apparent disasters that we just don’t see at the time. It pays to remember that the Lord cares far more about his church than we do – and I think I care about it a lot! If he cares about the church more than I do (and he does), he will ensure that whatever happens works for the good of his church and his people, even if that might sometimes look like a disaster to us at the time.