Some time ago, a friend of mine who has spent many years running such events told me how the ‘techies’ – those who look after the sound, the PowerPoints and a dozen other unnoticed things – do their judging. She said, ‘These people have heard the best speakers from around the world. They’ve listened to the funny ones and the serious ones; they’ve heard the jokes, the stories, and the illustrations – often many times over.’ And then she said this: ‘They judge these speakers, at least in part, by the way they behave towards the team. They could be the best Bible teacher in the history of Christendom. But if they stamp and kick if their mic isn’t quite right, if they complain bitterly if somebody makes an occasional mistake with a PowerPoint, and – especially – if they never say a kind word or a simple thank you, then even if at the end of their talk 10,000 people clap for an hour, back stage at least, they’re toast.’

I have thought a lot about my friend’s comments and I have come to believe that they contain a truth so powerful and disturbing that we often dare not face it. It is this: there is something more important than gifting – even great gifting.

Many of us have heard of the three Cs that it is wise to consider before appointing somebody to a position, whether it’s in a multinational company or a local church. They are: Competency, Chemistry and Character. ‘Competency’ measures how well equipped people are to do the job in hand. ‘Chemistry’ measures how easily they will get on with other people. And ‘Character’ measures the kind of person they are.

But which of the three Cs is the most important? Well, it depends. If you are about to have a life-threatening operation you would probably settle for the most brilliant surgeon in the world, even if he is the grumpiest person on the planet and robs banks in his spare time. But although there might be occasional exceptions, the truth is that in almost any area of life, good character is the most important. Perhaps this quality is best described by the nine elements that Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22-23: ‘Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’

It’s easy to make huge mistakes in this area: just because somebody is successful in business it doesn’t necessarily make them a good church treasurer. If we rush to appoint – perhaps being star-struck on ‘competence’ – we may take a year or so to realise we have appointed somebody who is controlling, difficult to work with, and just too used to having their own way. And in our churches and Christian organisations we need to be not only striving for excellence in what we do, but emphasising the vital importance of character in how we do it. Honest and open discussion – yes. Rude and cutting emails – no.

In his book Against the Night (Vine Books), Chuck Colson painted an apocalyptic view of the crisis at the heart of humanity and suggested a cause:

‘A crisis of immense proportion is upon us. Not from threat of a nuclear holocaust or another stock market collapse, not from the greenhouse effect or trade deficits.

‘No, the crisis that threatens us, the force that could topple our monuments and destroy our very foundations, is within ourselves – the crisis of character.’

I know a couple of ‘techies’ who’d agree with him.

Illustration: Elisa Cunningham