What Happens When Character Matters Less Than Talent?

Please keep reading after this next sentence.

I used to be a fan of the Cleveland Browns.

Stay with me. I’ve got a point about leadership and in order to do so I need to confess my error of judgment in cheering for the Browns. You see, I love to cheer for the underdogs. That’s why I’m also a huge fan of the Kansas City Royals—have been for several years. I like seeing teams rise from the ashes and prove everyone wrong. (You can psychologically analyze me on this if you desire).

The truth is I’d still be a Browns fan if it wasn’t for Johnny Manziel. Once they drafted Johnny Football I knew that they’d never be rising from the ashes—at least not until the culture of leadership changed. The thing about Manziel is that he has a ton of talent. He’s also got amazing passion. But they knew he had serious character issues when they drafted him. They drafted him in the hopes that they could fix the character issues—or at least minimize them—while they reaped a harvest off his talents.

I wonder how many churches—and para-churches, for that matter—use the same logic in picking their leaders. If you look at some of the celebrity pastors who have recently fallen you can see a pattern. They had obvious talents and gifts and passion, but there were a few questions about character. But we let some of those character issues slide in the hopes that character would eventually catch up with the talents.

Think with me about that logic. Take someone who struggles with pride and arrogance. And say that these character issues are evident in the early stages of their celebrity. What in the world makes us think that the spotlight will serve as an incubator for holiness?

Craig Hamilton is correct when he says,

“People can pick up skills relatively quickly, but character isn’t something you just pick up. Character is often forged over a long period of time and over multiple experiences, and it only changes with great and sustained effort. It can and does change, but it’s much harder to change your character than it is to learn skills.” (Wisdom in Leadership, 48)

It’s easy to pick on celebrity culture, but I wonder how often this plays out in the local church? You’ve got a gaping whole in your children’s ministry. It seems that all of your prayers are answered as Mr. Good-Theology expresses interest in heading up the department. He has passion, great theology, and tremendous talent. He’s also got a good deal of arrogance to match his gifts.

So what do you do?

Most will propel him to that position of leadership. On the front end the benefits seem to outweigh the pitfalls. We hope that eventually his character will catch up with his gifts. But it seldom does.

Now contrast all of this with my favorite baseball team—the Kansas City Royals. They too were once the underdog. And they still are in the eyes of many baseball projections. But they, unlike the Cleveland Browns, built a culture of character. What is happening in KC is no accident. If given the choice between an A+ talent who has little character and a B+ talent who has great character, KC will choose that second player every time.

Character matters.

Photo source: here


  1. It’s amazing how character now plays no important role in selection of people to fill out positions. In Acts, the apostles didn’t say, “Seek out gifted, charismatic and funny men to serve at the tables.” Instead, they looked for people who were filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom.

    The German theologian, Helmut Thielicke compared gifting/education to wearing oversized shoes and expecting to grow in them. My mother used to buy my brothers and me oversized shoes so that she didn’t have to buy new shoes when my feet grew. Sadly, the shoes got torn before my feet grew.

    “During the period when the voice is changing we do not sing, and during this formative period in the life of the theological student he does not preach.” Helmut Thielicke, A little exercise for young theologians

    • Thanks for commenting.

      That’s a great book, isn’t it?

  2. How many more have to fall before we realize the common denominator is not flawed pastors but the system that is creating them? We, in America especially, love our idols. We love worshiping people over ideas. Just look at our crazy political system. The book-writing, conference-going, podcast-producing, celebrity pastor circuit is just too fraught with spiritual dangers, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

    • I think it’s a combination of the two. I think for the most part we haven’t really looked at the system we’ve only looked at individual hearts…but I’m convinced, as you seem to be as well, that the system is messed up.

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