Friday, 19 February 2010

Why Mark McGhee is just SO wrong!

For those of you who are not football fans, Mark McGhee is the manager of Aberdeen FC. On Tuesday evening, Aberdeen were beaten 1-0 by Raith Rovers, a team from the lower division, and so were knocked out of the Scottish Cup. The game took place in Aberdeen. After the match, the Aberdeen fans were so angry with their team and the manager that, as he walked from the dugout at the side of the pitch to the dressing room, he had scarves thrown at him in disgust and worst of all, he was spat on by some of the fans.

On Wednesday morning, he was quoted in the newspapers saying that the fans were quite right to spit on him and that he and his team deserved all that they got from the fans. I can only imagine that he was trying to prove to the fans that he was on their side, or that he shared their dismay at the performance of the team. I think he is SO wrong to say such a thing.

Why do I think he was wrong? Supporting a football team is a traumatic business and every fan has a view on the way in which the team should play. Every fan has favourite players and thinks the manager should pick these players for every match. Every fan has a view on the way in which the club they support should be run. There are times when every fan thinks that he or she could do a better job than the present manager.

But here's 2 things. First of all, while every fan might have a view, not every fan has the ability to be the manager of a football team; not every fan has the relevant coaching badges and certificates, nor the requisite skills and experience to manage a football club. Secondly, when pushed and in a calmer moment, none of these fans would want the job; they know that it is a thankless task; they know you'll never please everyone; so while they will voice their opinion, they would not wish themselves in the manager's chair.

This is probably the only thing that I share with Mark McGhee. Everyone has a view on how I should do my job. Let me give two examples, one from my previous charge and one from my present one, but a few years ago. A situation had arisen that the Kirk Session needed to deal with urgently; I had been on holiday and a proposed course of action had begun to be pursued in my absence. It was the only practical course of action open to us, but at the Session meeting called to discuss the issue, I was told that if I pursued this course of action (and for some reason it was my course of action and the consequences would be my fault), then people would leave the Church and others would be seriously offended. We took the course of action, no-one was offended, nobody left the Church; but did anyone come to apologise for their accusations and insinuations?

One Sunday, during coffee at Church, I was almost literally pinned to the wall by someone who thought I was doing my job in quite the wrong way. I was told that people were going to leave the Church unless we did this, that and the other and it was terrible that I was not doing things in the way that I should. I was left speechless. People have not left Juniper Green Church in droves, as was prophesied; (a few have and that is always a source of dismay) but indeed people have come to join Juniper Green Church because they like what they find here.

Mark McGhee is a genuine man who is trying to do his best for Aberdeen FC and for that he should be treated with respect; no-one deserved to be spat upon, no matter how vigorously you disagree with him. I wouldn't want his job!

Everyone has an opinion about the way Church should be; I accept that. Someone said to me, nearly 30 years ago now, "Don't try to please everyone; Jesus couldn't do it, so you've no chance!" It's hard to live up to that at times, but...

Friday, 12 February 2010

It seemed a good idea at the time!

I spent most of last Saturday in Hamilton. I know, not particularly attractive, but we went to Hamilton College for the Tearfund Transform's Orientation Day for our trip to Cambodia in the summer. It was staffed jointly by Joy James who came up from London specially and Fiona Morrison, one of the new Tearfund staff in Glasgow; they were excellent. There were lots of positive things to come from the day:
  • our team got to know each other just a little bit better, as you do when you have to build a tower from newspaper (and ours was still standing at the end of the day!);
  • we learned a bit more about the trip and what it will involve and the issues that we need to face (mind you, we have to balance all of that health information - these are all the things that you might catch - with the knowledge that 90% of it you will never need);
  • we all became just a little more excited about the prospect of the trip.

It was arranged for Hamilton College (an independent Christian school) because there is a larger group from the school doing a similar Transform trip in the summer; they are going to Burkina Faso. So, 8 of us arrived for the day, and 15 pupils from the 6th year in the school with 4 adults. Tearfund wanted us to share the day because it meant one day, presenting the same material to two groups; it would save time. Yes it would! Yes, it did!

Today, they sent an evaluation form to us; what did we think of the day? Good marks for the material and for the presenter. Best question on the form: "what would have made the day a 10?" (I rated it 8!) Our small group seemed to be swamped by the others, and the school pupils weren't really interested in listening to us when we were contributing to plenary discussion, talking over us and plainly being rude. So what had seemed a good idea at the time because it would be the more economical use of resources, actually didn't work for us for a number of reasons, in my view.

What do we do with that? I hope Transform will learn from that and do it differently the next time they have 2 groups like these.

In Church, we often do things that seem like a good idea at the time, but for some reason don't quite work in the way we had hoped. Or we start something off that is a good idea for a time, but after a number of years has lost its 'good-idea' status. What do we do? Churches are really not very good at evaluating honestly: we keep something going for sentimental reasons or because someone would be offended when the group or the activity has long lost it reason for being. We even, would you believe, keep doing things in a particular way when it has been proved time and again not to work - it might come right the next time!

Why do churches find it so difficult to do honest evaluation of groups and activities and if it doesn't work, either drop it or fix it? Does Jesus notion of shaking the dust from our feet have something to teach us?

PS, put March 10th in your diary; we are holding the Church AGM on that evening; it will have a new look to it, with a financial report delivered by the treasurer; a new beefed-up annual report by the minister; an open forum session when anyone can ask a question about any part of Church life and get an answer; and a time for some of the team going to Cambodia to speak about their hopes and aspirations and fears. Exciting! Do come!