One of the top news stories this week has been the scandal stemming from the fact that Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, apparently cheated during last week's game against the New York Jets. Belichick, the most successful coach of the 21st century (to date), is a three time Super Bowl champion as a head coach (with two more rings as a defensive coach under Bill Parcells) and is widely considered to be the best coach in football today. His Patriots are favored by many to win their fourth world championship this season, which would make Belichick only the second head coach to win four rings (the great Chuck Noll, of course, being the first).
Upon hearing the cheating allegations, my first thought was, "Why?" The Patriots are already so loaded with talent and with solid coaching that they are worlds ahead of almost every other team in the NFL. Why cheat when you can win convincingly without cheating?
My next thought, though, was theological. I agree with most theologians and leadership gurus that the first quality of a leader is character...personal integrity. Belichick is obviously a gifted leader, destined for the Hall of Fame. Yet, he violated "rule #1" of leadership. This will tarnish his legacy for decades to come. He may still win many games and even more Super Bowls, but his legacy will always include the fact that he was punished by the NFL for cheating.
"You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain..."
- Exodus 18:21 (NRSV)
In the post-Clinton era, we often hear about character and integrity issues connected with sex. I don't want to diminish that; much is revealed about our character in how we enjoy the God-given gift of human sexuality, and whether or not we are steadfast regarding our most important vow this side of heaven...the vow to be faithful to our spouse.
But there are other things which testify to our character. Honesty is very important. One of the most disturbing parts of our Annual Conference gathering each year is when we ask colleagues, "How's it going with your church?" The answer is almost always the same: "Great! We're doing new things, taking in new members, and growing tremendously!" Sadly, one look at our Conference statistics demonstrates that most congregations are not growing; whether or not they're trying new things may be a moot point. I've always appreciated a particular brother (whose name I shall withhold) who is usually painfully honest: "Things are horrible. The people don't want to be discipled or to make disciples. They're content to watch their ministry die." He is a man of character in his honesty.In ministry, we don't have "Super Bowls". We don't compete against one another for rings and championships. Or do we?
The notion of "dishonest gain" is one which continually plagues me. I have no desire to grow JUMC by "sheep stealing", or taking folks from other area parishes; I'm more interested in Kingdom-building than building up "my own" numbers.
When folks have left another area church for "mine", quite without my help, it pains me. I always encourage people to return to their own congregations, and usually let them know that it will be months before I get around to transferring their membership...if I get to it at all. They've taken vows in and to another congregation; that should mean something.
To target members of another congregation is "dishonest gain", and demostrates one's integrity and character. One's ministry may continue to grow, just as Belichick may continue to win, but character speaks for itself, and the quality of leadership can be called into question.
At any rate, this "cheating" is what Bill Belichick's problems brought to my mind. I pray that by the Spirit's power I will be vigilant, and be more interested in my own integrity than in the numbers games and "dishonest gain".