Johnny Manziel: Case Study for Young Leaders

Let me first of all be honest about my biases:

1) I am an Alabama Crimson Tide fan, have been since ’92.

2) As such a fan, I am still smarting from the loss to Texas A&M last year.

But let me be honest about something else:

I believed that Johnny Manziel should have received the Heisman Trophy.

Now, I must admit I was wrong.

I do not deny that Johnny Manziel had the talent to win the Heisman; no one would deny that he can move around on the football field like something out of NCAA ’12. The kid has got a lot of skill, and he definitely has leadership potential.

However, the off season has shown that while he has the talent to be a Heisman recipient; he does not have the character.

Off the field he has flaunted NCAA rules; on the field he has smugly taunted opponents, cost his team considerable yardage, and has blatantly ignored his coach when being corrected. The kid is, well, a punk; Johnny Manziel may have the talent of a Heisman winner, but his character is found wanting.

Texas A&M should discipline him, but they are finding it hard to find grounds…especially since he wins football games. The why of Texas A&M’s success becomes secondary to the the success itself. As long as “Johnny Football” wins games, he is going to push the limits, and there is going to be little his coach is going to be able to do.

Now, let’s tie this to biblical leadership.

First Timothy 3:1-7 describes the qualifications for being an elder or overseer. In verse 6, we read:

“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” (ESV)

Paul’s warning about novice elders is contingent on their lack of: 1) spiritual maturity, 2) proven character, and 3) failure that is then expressed in humility.

This is even further illustrated by the narrative of Solomon’s son Rehoboam in I Kings 12, go back and read it in your spare time. To sum up: Rehoboam had the chance to be a truly spiritual and significant leader, and instead he decided to be an arrogant punk and lost half of his kingdom.

When I was seventeen (and a christian for two years) I thought that I knew everything; I lacked spiritual maturity, character, and especially humility. Even in college when I started The New Orleans Project, I still lacked these qualities. It was not until I left college and had to face the real world that I began to be schooled in these three areas.

And I still do not feel like I am even close to arriving.

I used to believe that young people who wanted to lead should be able, after all, many were more competent and skilled to lead than the older generation that was currently running things. Yet, I look back now and see that I had missed the point: young people should be allowed to lead and grow, but they should in no way be allowed to be in charge. There is wisdom in having more seasoned believers shepherd the flock (and I am not talking about how old they are physically, but how mature and Christ-like they are spiritually).

So, do young people have the talent to lead? Yes! Do they need to be given the opportunities to lead in such a way that develops maturity, character, and humility? Of course! Do they need to be showered with accolades, given the top jobs, and be put into charge of an entire community of faith? No way.

This should be something that we include in our church cultures. Are we only concerned with the results that are produced from young leaders? An over dependence on numbers, volunteer hours, and artistic skill can blind us to the flaws of their leadership ability. What we need to be concerned with is what kind of results are they bringing? We should be concerned with their integrity, purity, and Christ-likeness more than we are concerned about how it will hurt our church growth plan.

When young leaders are willing to be teachable, when they are willing to sacrifice part of themselves for the kingdom, when they see that who they are is more important to us than what they accomplish, then they are ready to be considered for higher-risk leadership in our churches.

Until then, let’s keep them from becoming “Johnny Elders”. Thanks.