A Culture of Character

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, sympathetic, lovers of your fellow believers, compassionate, and modest in your opinion of yourselves.” – 1 Peter 3:8

In her book Quiet, Susan Cain points out an interesting phenomenon. In one century we have gone from a culture that celebrates character to one that celebrates personality. Cain argues that it was what we did in our private lives that was understood to truly define us in the past. But now it’s who we are in public that gets us noticed.

That’s true everywhere, but I’m always a bit surprised when it’s true in the church. Too often pastors become the draws to a particular congregation, and not the church itself, for instance. Even our theology books get taken over by the trendy. Barth and Tillich, were they writing today, probably wouldn’t sell many copies. They’d be displaced by colorful book covers featuring camera-ready pastors whose stories are even more colorful.

There’s nothing wrong with being yourself, and being proud about it. But I sometimes wonder whether we’ve become so caught up in elevating personalities that we’ve forgotten how to talk about character.

More than ever we are living in a time when big personalities are determining our fate. Perhaps now it the time when the church is called to respond not with our own personalities, but with what Peter calls being “modest” in our opinions of ourselves. Maybe now is the time to go back to the place of calling Christians to contemplate who we are in private first, and only then striving to cultivate a greater public presence that rests on the bedrock of character.


God, thank you for the quiet, and thank you for the time to know who I am, and what matters most. Make who I am in private match who I am in public. Amen. 

dd-emilyheath.jpgAbout the Author
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.