Limited room for mavericks

Anybody who has watched a single cop show knows that the only interesting ones are dominated by a maverick. Whether it’s Jack Regan and Gene Hunt breaking all the rules on TV or John McClane, Axel Foley and Martin Riggs on the silver screen, maverick cops are the only really interesting ones.

What is generally common to the maverick cop genre is that the maverick in question is particularly good at the job, the one who gets results, but does so by breaking all the rules. The higher-ups are typically exasperated by their antics but begrudgingly acknowledge that they can’t do without this loose cannon. There is an almost mandatory scene in every film or programme in which a superintendent (or some such) berates the maverick for their unruly behaviour attended with a threat along the lines, ‘if it weren’t for your results, I’d have your badge’, (suffixed with ‘son’ if it’s UK-based; ‘boy’ if American; or, in cases of an older maverick, some expletive).

Of course, the programmes only work because the maverick gets results. The higher-ups are trapped between demanding adherence to the rules whilst also being under pressure to get results. The guy who get results, even if not entirely by the prescribed formula, are reluctantly indulged. What they want is people who will get great results following the set plan, following the agreed systems and abiding by the generally accepted practices. Those who get no results, but follow all the rules, are quickly sacked. Those who break procedure but get results are grudgingly accommodated.

Of course, there are certain rules that, if broken, will scupper one’s job. Even the most maverick of cops acknowledge that there are certain things that will get them sacked, no matter how good their results. If they murder someone in cold blood, especially someone who turns out to be innocent, not only will they be indulged no longer, they will go to prison themselves. But there is a sweet spot. There is a level of rule-breaking, of being unconventional, that will be tolerated so long as one gets results.

I have been around enough churches and Christian organisations to know that they work along similar lines. There are guys who appear a little unconventional. They don’t wear the standard clothes (that is, they eschew the standard issue chinos and M&S shirt), they perhaps use language considered blunt – if not downright colourful – and they do things that cause an eyebrow to be raised every now and then. It’s all within the sweet spot, of course. Nobody is indulging rampant affairs and industrial-scale fraud. In fact, nobody is overlooking a clear flouting of the eldership criteria at all. What they flout are the unspoken rules of ‘how we do things around here’. They reject the social conventions and the generally prescribed formula for how things must be. What I have noticed, however, is that we tend to mark the cards of those who don’t fit the mould and yet tolerate those who ‘get results’.

In my church, I can tolerate a certain amount of mess. There are those who are unorthodox in their approach to church, who don’t know the unspoken ‘rules’, and I have a limited capacity (to my shame) to tolerate some of them. The ones I tend to tolerate are those who don’t know ‘how we do things around here’ but are nonetheless endearing in other ways. Otherwise, it is the guys who are a bit rough and ready but have a way with certain people with whom I have no rapport. I may get frustrated that they don’t do things the way I think they should but I tolerate them because of what they bring to the party.

The guys I struggle with are those who break all my inferred rules; rules that I deem ‘properly basic’ and haven’t bothered communicating, irrespective of how biblical they may be. They’re the ones who aren’t so endearing and who don’t seem to get the great results that would otherwise let me tolerate them. They’re not exactly doing anything sinful, they just don’t do what I think they should and don’t behave how I’ve decided they probably ought. I particularly struggle with those who don’t keep my unstated ‘rules’ and who are particularly needy. They don’t do what I expect and they demand much from me. I have to admit, to my shame, I have a limited amount of space for mavericks.

In wider affiliations, the same sort of approach holds. There is a general tolerance of the guys who appear a bit maverick, according to their own appointed – yet often uncommunicated – way of doing things. So long as they work within the sweet spot, yet continue to get results, we will embrace them. There is less tolerance for those who appear a bit unconventional but aren’t quite big enough not to fail. Indeed, those who need our help but don’t seem to be self-sufficient need to abide by the undisclosed mode of operation before we will incline ourselves to their cause. Gospel advance becomes slave to our way of doing things.

Truth be told, we are all prone to flattery. Those who ingratiate themselves to us – who play the game we set for them to play – may have access to our care and support. Those who dress, speak or behave in ways we deem unsuitable and refuse to ‘play the game’ – even if scripture doesn’t quite set the bar where we do – are that much less likely to receive our support.

From experience, I have learnt the hard way that those who talk the talk are not always those who deserve our support. My fingers have been burnt by those who have appeared to be genuine, spoken and behaved in ways we might expect for those seeking help, and have received vast amounts of support who have more than let us down. Likewise, there are those who have appeared less of a safe bet, on whom I have reserved judgement, who have since proven to be worth their weight in gold.

This tells me that we perhaps put too much weight on our own way of doing things. We too readily mark people as maverick and fail to support them adequately when they need help whilst supporting those who ingratiate themselves to us who, later, prove that they were all about getting what they need from us or advancing up a greasy pole that should never exist. All too often church members, or entire churches, are denied the help they need when they need it until such time as they have proved they are not an issue to us. The problem is that by the time they have proven their value, or their kosher credentials, their most serious time of need has passed. They have either died or become self-sufficient.

Perhaps within our churches, and wider affiliations, we ought to take more risks on the mavericks while they ask for our help. It is no good us offering help later if the proof of acceptability is their remaining with us when they don’t need our resources. The very point at which resources are most needed are when we are not too big too fail or not so significant to the church or organisation that we are noticed. These are the very people on which we ought to ‘step out in faith’ (for which read, in secular parlance, ‘take a gamble’). If we only deem them suitable for support when they don’t need it, in what way are we any help to them at all?

2 comments

  1. I feel sorry for those who sit under your ministry..this is a veiled sarcastic criticism of the needy in your church..you are giving the enemy a foot hold to attack your local church..why expose your church in the open??If you have issues with them(The mavericks),why not discuss it with them in private,..why here on this public platform?..yeah right just your candid opinion..Such internal things have no place for public discussion.Its not about you or your care or support that you offer them..Whatever you do(charity,help,what ever,Do it as unto the Lord!,He is the one who will reward you,not the needy by living to your undisclosed rules..You sound pathetic!.. on whom I have reserved judgement!!

    Be led by the Spirit of God in pastoring his church ,in administration of care and support,be discerning,not by outward intellectual calculations!

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    1. Nobody in my church would interpret this in the way you have. Nor do you have any idea what was in my mind when I wrote it. This is, actually, no sarcastic dig at anyone in my church and any of our most needy members surely know it.

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