During the Clinton scandals of the 1990s, we heard a relentless refrain from the big media outlets – personal behavior and character do not really count in job performance. They beat the drum that Clinton’s all-too-evident personal failings did not affect his ability to do his job well. I call that nonsense.
I remember a young pastor I knew who was being touted as “the next Chuck Swindoll” – a great pastor, great preacher, with a growing church and unlimited potential for the future. All of that was true right up until he appeared on the evening news for all the wrong reasons. His public and promising ministry was completely undermined by a chink the armor of his character than allowed the enemy’s arrows to pierce him.
This week, we had another extremely public piece of evidence in this sad debate. Bobby Petrino was forced out as the coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks football program. It had nothing to do with his job performance. That cannot have been any better. He took a struggling program and moved them to the head of the class. Next season was supposed to be their best, with a lot of returning players. Petrino is an excellent football coach.
Then, poof, it all went away. He was in a motorcycle accident. He claimed he was by himself. Not so much. He was with a 25-year-old former volleyball player with whom he had been conducting an affair (Petrino is married with four children) for some time. His girlfriend had recently landed a cherry job within the football program and it was discovered that Petrino had used his influence in that hiring.
That is what cost him his job. Not adultery. Not lying. Not cheating. He lost his job because he used his influence to hire the young lady.
But that is what people need to remember. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. Character drives behavior. Petrino has never been known as a paragon of honesty and virtue. An ESPN article by Mark Schlabach details his history of playing free and loose with the truth.
- In 2003, which coaching Louisville, he met secretly with Auburn about replacing their coach, Tommy Tuberville. He denied it until the press produced records that proved the meeting took place. He then admitted he made a “mistake.”
- In 2007, as coach of the Atlanta Falcons, he assured his owner he wasn’t going anywhere, but would fulfill his contract. A couple of days later, he resigned immediately to become head coach at Arkansas. His word was not his bond.
From this article, it was generally known that Bobby Petrino was not a man who tied himself too tightly to the truth or to his word. This tendency evidently bore fruit in this illicit relationship, the lying to the school, the manipulation of her job search and the eventual disintegration of his professional standing.
It is not a secret that I am no big SEC fan, and I could be accused of piling on here. That is not my intent. I like poor ol’ Doug Hibbard a lot and I know that he is hurting. This is a sad tragedy and any Christian who gloated over something like this would be sinning against God.
But I would like to make one point.
People act in accordance with their character. That is why character matters most.
The idea that we can compartmentalize our character and do a good job professionally while our character is misshapen is fiction, a myth like the phoenix or unicorns. You character flaws are going to find their way into your behavior in every part of your life. A man who will cheat on his wife will cut corners in other areas as well. A cheater will cheat. A liar will lie. Our character shapes our actions.
If anyone other than Bobby Petrino can be assigned blame here, it might be the university administration who ignored his character flaws when it benefited them. That choice came back to bite them. Did they think that occupying an office in Fayetteville would suddenly transform him? Soul transformation only happens through Christ.
- At some point, people are going to have to realize that character flaws cause significant behavioral issues that will come to evidence eventually. We cannot compartmentalize character.
- There is a fundamental problem here in the way churches hire pastors. The hardest thing to verify in the pulpit search committee is character. We hire on the basis of personality, of preaching ability, of physical presentation, or of charisma. I do not know how you verify character in the search process, but somehow, we need to find a way. I know well a situation in which the pastor candidate came with the highest recommendations from the most influential of Baptist leaders. He had everything – charisma, looks, pulpit style. He just had no character. He turned out to be morally unfaithful and financially dishonest. He nearly killed that church.
- Pastors and church leaders, never let your public ministry overwhelm your spiritual transformation. We need to remember that our most important task is not preaching a great sermon, leading the church, or keeping people happy. Our #1 duty is to love God and grow in him, becoming more like him every day. In my own ministry there have been significant times when I have worked much harder on my public ministry than on my inner man. After 30 years of ministry, you get to the point that you can maintain a public personna of holiness even if it is not really happening inside. Pastors, if you neglect the inner man, eventually he will show up in your public behavior.
- There is another lie that is often told in the world. “You are what you are and that is okay.” Nonsense. You are what you are, but every character quality that destroys our inner life and our outer behavior can be transformed by Christ so that we are conformed to the image of Christ. God doesn’t just change our behavior, he transforms us from the inside out so that we become different people – new in Christ. To deny that is to denigrate the gospel.
Okay, have your say.