San Diego State defensive back Nat Berhe at the NFL scouting combine
Associated Press/Photo by Nam Y. Huh
San Diego State defensive back Nat Berhe at the NFL scouting combine

Flash vs. substance


One of the most anticipated off-season events for National Football League teams wrapped up this week: the NFL scouting combine. The combine takes place annually in Indianapolis and was created to allow NFL team doctors to administer physicals to college players entering the draft. Over the years it has become a full-fledged scouted workout. Players are measured for height, weight, hand size, and arm length. They are timed in the 40-yard dash and shuttle runs. They show off their vertical leap and bench press. Teams end up with a portfolio of numbers measuring the value of the players.

Such numbers and metrics are useful because they allow for clear comparisons. In spite of that clarity, the combine results provoke a spectrum of interpretations and responses. When a good player measures well it confirms what game tape already told us. When an unproductive player measures well it generates a whole spate of questions. If he’s this talented why didn’t he show more on the field? Did we miss something? Should we go back and look a little closer? Some teams fall in love with measurables and ignore the actual playing career. When a productive player measures poorly the inverse questions are applied. How did he play so well if he lacks these skills? What did we miss? Can he make it in the NFL? Other than about a handful of elite prospects, the opinions vary widely.

Time has proven that putting too much stock in the workout numbers is a bad idea. “Workout warrior” is part of the NFL lexicon because of players who can run and jump and trick teams into thinking they can play football. The Oakland Raiders have a reputation for loving these players (and look how well that’s worked out). The other side of the same coin is that ignoring the workout results altogether can be a bad idea. All those measurements represent skills necessary to make it in the NFL; they just aren’t all the skills necessary. Proven production, character, personality, and work ethic all matter just as much.

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When I see a team like the Raiders falling for the workout warrior year after year it reminds me of many in the American church who ignore track record or proven ability for the sake of flash. Leaders fool us. Trends entice us. Programs look so perfect. But so many lack the character and solidity to persist over time. Others, though, shun numbers, metrics, trends, and anything flashy out of distrust. All that matters to them is character—skills and measurables are fool’s gold. We can’t afford to make this mistake any more than an NFL team can. Numbers and metrics indicate something of note. We just have to sort out what it is. Those trends, if accompanied by the right character and depth, might be great for the church. Just as NFL scouts need to figure out the right combination of flash and substance, proven and measured, so too does the church in order to grow in health and real success.

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.


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