Dr. Hal Brady
The late Norman Vincent Peale, American minister and author, once said that there are three questions we should ask ourselves about any business transaction. Is it legal? Is it balanced? Will it make me feel good about myself? Here, Dr. Peale is talking about character.
I simply cannot over-estimate the importance of character. Character has been defined in many ways. Character is what you are in the dark. Character is who you are when no one else is looking. Character is who you are through and through. Character is the essential “stuff” a person is made of. Personally, I like all these definitions of character, but the one I like best is this one, “Character is being who your dog thinks you are.” If we are decent and trustworthy our dog will love us, be loyal to us, trust us, and always be our friend.
Chuck Swindoll, minister, author, and professor, said that for years he served on the board of the Dallas Theological Seminary with the late Tom Landry, legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys. On one occasion while the board was talking about the importance of character among young men and women going into the ministry, Coach Landry leaned over and whispered, “You know, Chuck, for the Cowboys, when we draft men for our team, we look for five things, and the first is character.
And Swindoll responded, “Well, let me ask you something, a hard question. What if you find a terrific athlete who lacks character?”
Landry responded, “Chuck, that’s easy. We don’t draft him.” Too bad that’s still not the guiding principle in the world of sports today, professional or otherwise.
So why does character matter anyway? Undoubtedly, there are many reasons, but I only want to mention three of those reasons.
First, the pressure of events! Too often we have seen what happens when character is absent. We have seen business corruption, wholesale cheating, massive problems of crime, athletic betrayals, political dishonesty, destructive leadership, religious scandals, greedy self-interest, unthinking prejudice, and all sorts of mediocrity.
But as someone observed, “There is a growing awareness that a variety of public problems can only be understood – and perhaps addressed – if they are seen as arising out of a defect in character formation.”
Second, character matters because of its vital importance to leadership! In their study a few years ago of what followers most want from leadership, the authors of the book “The Leadership Challenge” found three basic categories: commitment, competence, and consistency. These qualities must not only be present with the leaders, they must also be present within the organization. When leaders assume responsibility, they commit themselves, they work at being competently, and they practice consistency. And this practicing of consistency has to do with character.
So, far from being a cliché, character in leadership is critically essential for two distinct reasons. Externally, character provides the point of trust that links leaders with followers. And internally, character is the leader’s first prompting to do good and the final barrier against doing wrong.
Someone described Dorothy Day, the noted Roman Catholic social worker like this, “It wasn’t what she wrote that made her so great, it wasn’t what she believed that made her so great. It was the fact that what she believed and wrote was in line with what she lived.” She was committed, competent, and consistent.
And third, character matters because it has to do with the impending presence of God! In plain truth, God intends that we be people of character. If not, why the deliverance at the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments at Sinai, the Old Testament prophets, the incarnation in the babe of Bethlehem, the cross that Jesus died upon, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God, the church, the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of humankind.
On the wall of Harvard Divinity School are carved these words, “Acquaint thyself with deity.” If we do that we’ll understand God’s call to the hero or heroine within God’s call to character.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).