Keith Drambot is the men’s head basketball coach at the University of Akron. Before returning to his hometown and alma mater in 2004 he was the head coach at Tiffin, Ashland, and Central Michigan. His overall record at these four institutions is an eye-popping 412-208. Throughout his career at Akron he has had several offers to move on to bigger programs, most recently the University of South Florida, all coming with larger salaries and greater national exposure. Yet he has chosen every time to remain at Akron, eschewing opportunities to showcase his coaching talents. One might reasonably ask why? The answer is simple yet unusual in this day and age: loyalty.
After being blackballed at Central Michigan for allegedly making a racist comment (which led to his firing) Drambot was hired by St. Vincent-St. Mary High School where a young man by the name of Lebron James just happened to be on the squad. As we all know, Mr. James learned a lesson or two about loyalty when he chose to take his talents to South Beach before returning to his hometown to lead the Cavaliers to its first NBA championship. Apparently, both Lebron James and Keith Drambot understand the notion that when someone is willing to give you a second chance, especially in your hometown, you say thank you by staying put and giving back to the community, which they have certainly done.
Drambot’s latest decision to stay at Akron made me think of my father. He was a “Ford man,” as was my grandfather. Neither would ever think of driving anything else. Back then that’s just how it was. As time passed that sense of loyalty became a bit broader and shifted to American made cars. I remember my father saying he would never own one of those “cheap Japanese pieces of junk.” He’s probably spinning in his grave over the long line of Toyotas and Hondas I’ve parked in my garage over time.
I guess people are still loyal to all kinds of things, from sports teams to grocery stores, clothing brands to barber shops, political parties to musicians, tool brands to television shows, coffee to computers. But where I see a sense of loyalty waning at an alarming rate is in our churches. In a recent conversation with a pastoral colleague we lamented the idea that churches have become consumer commodities like toothpaste or the latest pharmaceutical promising to relieve your digestive problems. That is, people seek out churches with one primary question on their minds: “what can you do for me?” If a church happens to change in some way and it is perceived to no longer meet one’s needs then folks simply move on to another one that does. Regardless of how much time and energy one may have invested, or how many friends one has made, or how much church feels like a family, when something happens that one doesn’t agree with it seems a rather easy decision to head to some other congregation that is better equipped to provide what is wanted. The grass is always greener somewhere else. Until, of course, one arrives and realizes the new church is not all it’s cracked up to be because every congregation has its own unique set of challenges.
From my point of view this trend needs to stop. It’s hurting our churches. Pastors are often pressured into making decisions based not on what might be a faithful, long-term vision for congregational life, but instead on whether or not Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith will pick up their marbles and go elsewhere, taking their offering contributions with them. Rather than focusing much needed energy on evangelism and outreach, or social justice and service, we create a revolving door with neighboring churches, shifting our members from one faith community to another. At some point don’t we have to get back to understanding ourselves as a family (no matter the size of one’s congregation), all of whose members are seeking to follow Jesus, who support one another in all circumstances, who put their personal desires aside for the betterment of the whole, and stick together no matter what?
If we can be hard-core-until-the-day-we-die fans of our local sports teams, or life-long devotees of our favorite musicians, then can’t we be proud members of whatever church we currently call home and make a commitment to be there doing our best to support its ministry because our allegiance to Jesus is deeper and stronger than anything else in our lives? For the sake of the gospel, I hope so.