A TALE OF TWO MANAGERS
I AM AN ARDENT FOOTBALL FAN. The past weeks have been fabulous for English football! Why fabulous? Because in footballing history, no single nation has ever been represented by four of its own clubs in the two prestigious European finals – the UEFA Champions League (Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur) and the Europa Cup (Chelsea vs. Arsenal)
As I write, over 750,000 Liverpool Football fans packed the city centre to welcome and applaud their triumphant heroes. This celebration was particularly poignant as Liverpool were pipped to winning the English Premier League by Manchester City by a single point!
It’s a well-known observation that avid fans identify themselves with particular star players. Their emotions rise or fall based on the performances of their heroes and teams. I confess that my vicarious pleasure lies in identifying with managers. At half time I’ve often asked myself, “If I were in his shoes, what do I say to my players in the dressing room? Do I bring in a substitute or two to change my game plan? How do I motivate my Team to secure victory?”
You won’t have long to guess as to which manager that I admire. In fact, there are two. First, there is Jurgen Klopp the German manager of Liverpool. Since 2011, I’ve watched him interact with his players. Words like “affirmations” “lucid directions” “lifting spirits” characterised his relationship with them. And when I discovered that Klopp is a committed Christian, I found myself drawing closer to this man. Before the final on 1 June in Madrid, he had suffered defeats in six consecutive finals! Triumphing over adversity reflects his strong character. Like all successful leaders, he forges a winning team mentality. One player made this removing remark, “Playing under Klopp made me and my fellow players bloom.”
The other manager I esteem highly is Pep Guadiola, the manager of Manchester City Football Club. Before assuming the managerial reins in 2016, he had already won national league titles with renown teams like Barcelona FC in Spain and Bayern Munich in Germany. He is legendary! He is known for his thorough preparation. Before each game, he would size up the strengths and weaknesses of opposing teams. Then he maps shares his game plan with his players. In all his post-match comments, he’s never arrogant, belittling other teams and passing negative comments on his players. When his team wins, he lavishes praise on his players. In defeat, he never makes excuses or blames the referee. In victory, he does not rest on his laurels; he gives the impression that he’s still learning and continually working at breakthroughs.
Recently, I heard a commentator, once a star player himself, remarking, “Pep’s achievement cannot be measured in trophies won. Every player he coaches becomes a better player. And consistently so. This is his unique contribution.” He aims at developing the abilities and potential of each player.
Now it’s easy for us to imagine Pep Guardiola as a high-octane manager who shines in one-to-one coaching of his players. But this is not the case. The day after they won the Premier League, there was a victory celebration in their home stadium. Thousands of adulating supporters were there. Pep did not just parade the winning team plus a few substitutes. He had every player, even in the youth team coming on the field to receive the acclaim and applause of their fans. More significant, Pep “fielded” 25 of his backroom staff. These were the ones that he had delegated to do the tactical and technical training. With pride, he raised his hands to cheer and acknowledge all of them. Throughout the celebrations, he did not draw attention to himself. He ascribed their victory to the entire team plus the loyal supporters.
In some ways, we who are lead pastors or chief executives of Christian agencies are like soccer managers. In the game of football, some are appointed player managers. These are usually key players who are trying their hand at management. These men serve as stop gaps, but they do not produce winning teams. Player managers like all players are eager to show off his playing abilities. They may be coaching players, but they concentrate more on their field performance. I suspect most lead pastors are like that. We fulfil our responsibilities when we bring the best out of our staff and lay leaders by moulding them into a team with a winning mentality. We may not have the budgets and the resources of Pep Guardiola. But we still can recruit key people to assist us in the key task of developing leaders.
The apostle Paul, like the Lord Jesus, invested heavily on workers and leaders who laboured alongside him. Read his letters to Timothy and Titus; study his exhortations to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20: 17-38 ESV) And writing to Christians he had never seen, he summarized his leadership responsibility in constantly proclaiming Christ and alongside his ambition is “ to present every man mature in Christ” (Col.1:28,29 ESV)
I look back over four decades of leadership I think of the scores of men and women who looked to me as their Senior leader or Pastor. By God’s grace, quite a few have definitely excelled and even outstripped me in terms of spirituality and accomplishments. Some treasure the impact I’ve made in their lives and ministry. My leadership input was always that of working alongside them, never wielding authority from the top down. My tools were influence, encouragement and formation.
Now, I have to admit that this is not the case with every staff member or lay leader. Sadly, a few no longer walk with the Lord. Others had stagnated or are on the sidelines of usefulness in His kingdom. How easy it is for me to defend my record by stating that the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul had deserters and failures. One glaring failure on my part was to be the authoritative pastor who led the congregation up front. I enjoyed being on centre stage and basking in the glow of a receptive congregation. I found myself invited to speak at conventions and churches. These require time and preparation. The priority of investing quality time in encouraging and equipping leaders became secondary.
It is my prayer that you and I like Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, pursue the same passion and vision to bring the best out of the people the Lord has entrusted us. In the end, our leadership will be tested on godly characters and fruitfulness of those who serve alongside us.
WHO WANTS TO BE A SERVANT?
AFRICAN PROVERB ON FAST AND FAR