What Does a Deflated Football Have to Do with Stewardship?

By Ken Sloane

I’m in Indianapolis and watching the breaking sports story being called “Deflategate.”

In case you haven’t been listening, the New England Patriots, who defeated this town’s beloved Colts to take their spot in the February 1 Super Bowl, are under investigation for deliberately cheating. The infraction: sneaking some air out of the footballs the offense would use, making the balls easier to throw and catch.

Admittedly, the Patriots beat the Colts pretty soundly. This makes it even harder to imagine why this organization would risk negative publicity and scrutiny as they go into the most important game of the season.

Another layer has been added to the story. At the opening of the 2007 NFL season, the Patriots were discovered to have spied on the visiting team that they hosted at their stadium. Coach Bill Belichick was fined, and the team forfeited a first-round draft pick the following year. That embarrassing story, nicknamed “Spygate” is now being remembered in every article about the present alleged bad behavior.

So what does this story of deflated footballs have to do with stewardship? What is the value that we put on a reputation?

What has been profound to me has been to read the coverage from the Boston Globe, to hear not indignation, but pain and embarrassment in the words. How difficult it must have been for Boston sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy to reflect on the legacy of the team:

. . . the most important thing — the Patriot legacy — is lost. The Patriots and their fans will never win the “best ever” argument. Everything is tainted. Footballs (reportedly) have been doctored, headlines have been written, and opinions have been formed. . . .

At this hour, even if the Patriots are cleared of wrongdoing, they are the modern-day sports equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Labor, Ray Donovan, who asked, ‘Where do I go to get my reputation back?’ after he was declared not guilty in a corruption case.”

So if I were to construct a spreadsheet of my personal net worth, or prepare a balance sheet for my local church, what value do I put on a good reputation?

What do we owe to those who have served Christ through the church, who have offered their lives, their wealth and careers to build the reputation of your local church, and our church as a whole? Are we called to be stewards of the reputation of our church?

Over the next few months, many churches will be engaging in their annual financial audit. Other churches will offer reasons why their church doesn’t need to do this – their church is too small, the time commitment is too much or the cost is too high. Do we need to ask the question of whether the reputation of our church is an asset worthy of the investment of time and energy and diligence that leads to a successful audit?