Character Over Talent
Dr. James Emery White
- 2019 Feb 07
Several years ago, we had to ask a lead vocalist from our Arts Team to step down from the stage. There were character and maturity issues that the leadership staff collectively agreed disqualified her from being platformed in that way.
The goal was to work through those issues with her, in view of a potential return to what were clear talents and abilities.
Sadly, she was unwilling to make that journey.
She went to another church, and within two weeks (I kid you not, two weeks) that church had her on stage singing. It apparently never entered their mind to do any kind of background check on her, even informally calling our church to see if she was ‘safe’ to platform. All that mattered was her voice; and, to be sure, the gal could sing.
I wrote an entire chapter on “picking up the phone” in my book What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary. Why church leaders don’t talk to each other when someone from a church down the street shows up on their doorstep, I’ll never know.
But for now, let’s think about the larger question: will you value character over talent? Answer: you must. I know there is no greater temptation – particularly in the area of music – where look and talent blind us. But we must open our eyes. Here are three reasons why:
- The Holy Spirit consistently shows up and works through character more than talent. It’s a question of doing something through the “flesh” or through the “Spirit.” The “Spirit” is better. You think the “hip” factor and the vocal range will be what grows your church. Nope. Not, at least, for the long haul.
- Character deficiency affects the entire team. Whether it’s ego, a negative attitude, a prima donna mindset, the undermining or disregard of leadership, juvenile behavior, relational divides, snarky comments or blatant immorality, such behavior infects the entire team and creates a demoralized and unhealthy culture. Like a cancer, it will spread from member to member.
- You run the very high risk – actually, probability – that the character deficiency will hurt the witness of your church and the impact of the ministry. If you have someone on stage who is seen by a first-time guest who happens to be their coworker, and that person is widely dismissed at work for their lack of character or charity, you have a witness problem. Or if the person’s Instagram postings, tweets or Facebook reveal a character or maturity that undermines the persona on stage, you have a witness problem. And not just a problem—you have a witness train wreck that affects the reputation of the entire church.
Character can be a tricky thing. We tend to think of it solely in terms of sexual immorality. While that is certainly a dynamic, I find it to be even more prevalent in terms of ego, narcissism, insubordination, negativity, gossip, slander, relational immaturity… the list goes on.
So what are you looking for? Certainly gifts and abilities are a factor, but second only to character. And what are we looking for in terms of character?
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, along with humility and a servant’s heart.
I’ll take that over looks and talent any day.
So will God.
James Emery White
James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker).
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.