Each year during March Madness, college basketball fans binge watch 67 games over an exhilarating three weeks. A big part of that coverage comes from pre-game, halftime and post-game commentary including insight from former NBA athlete and executive Clark Kellogg.
In this CSJ conversation, CBS Sports analyst Kellogg shares his thoughts on the importance of setting a good example as a follower of Christ while living out one’s faith both publicly and privately.
Chad Bonham: As a prominent sports broadcaster and former NBA athlete, how important is it for you set a Christian example for people who might be watching you up close or from a distance?
Clark Kellogg: Example at its core is actions speaking louder than words. Leadership in its broadest context is real role modeling and mentoring. You only effectively do that when you actually walk the talk, for instance as a parent and as a husband, who has been assigned leadership responsibility in God’s order and economy.
Bonham: How did this principle become real to you?
Kellogg: It was a combination of things. Part of it came through my sports experience. And I don’t think it’s something you realize you figuring out until you move forward in your own experience and start to have some level of leadership responsibility. My dad was a policeman in Cleveland for over 40 years and he worked additional part-time jobs to help raise me and my four siblings in a lower-middle class fashion. His consistency in working hard and providing for us was an example for us. I saw how my parents treated folks when they came to our place. It was kind of a gathering place for a lot of our family and friends. A lot of that had to do with how welcoming our folks were. I think back to that example they showed of treating people the way you want to be treated. I also learned a lot from my sixth grade teacher, Clayton Burroughs. He was one of the few male teachers I had in elementary and middle school. He was an African-American and there were very few at the time. He was firm and demanding but consistent. He was very well respected by the students and the faculty. He laid the foundation for me and set the example for what I could aspire to be.
Bonham: What compels you to set a good example for the next generation?
Kellogg: You always have to be true to yourself. We’re all a little different in terms of our personality and how we’ve been formed and shaped. You have to be consistent in your values and parameters and expectations. As a parent of three young adults, as they were growing up, our desire was for them to see us be consistent in how we were at home and in our interactions with people outside of the home. When you have a chance to set an example for young people, just be who you are, be consistent and don’t fluctuate in your values or your approach.
Bonham: What are the benefits that a leader will experience as they understand and live out the principle of being an example for others?
Kellogg: You become a respected resource for other people. You end up being an influencer in a positive way when you present a consistent, positive example. You become someone that other people from afar and even up close will look to for counsel or advice. I look at a guy like Tony Dungy and the example that he set in his position as a head coach and how he’s impacted hundreds and even thousands of people through his example, through his consistency and through his authenticity. It’s because of his attributes and the platform God has given him that he has been able to be a great example for so many. People who are examples in leadership become influencers on a wide scale.
Bonham: Does it also bring a sense of accountability?
Kellogg: It does clearly hold you to a high standard. We all have leadership opportunities. It doesn’t have to be the most visible or the highest platform. It could be as simple as leading in your neighborhood, at your place of work or in the home. Whenever you know that there’s a level of expectation or when you’re following Christ and you’re walking according to the Word of God, then you automatically have accountability (first to God and to Christ and then obviously to those people with whom you will be interacting). That does give you an anchor of accountability. As you become an example an as you understand the importance of becoming an example, then there’s some self-accountability.
Bonham: What are the dangers of ignoring this concept of setting a good example?
Kellogg: It short-circuits your own potential. It can allow you to settle for some level of mediocrity in your own life. You don’t give yourself a chance to be the best that you can be when you fail to look at your life with a perspective of stewardship. Without that, there’s no foundation and you end up wallowing in a state in which you’re far less than you can be. It can also short circuit any opportunity you might have to be a greater impact on others.
Bonham: How do we combat the conflicting message that being successful requires a higher standard even though some are seen as successful while setting a poor example?
Kellogg: It goes to the core of the question, “What is success?” Success is a state of mind and being the best that you can be. It’s not just about achieving things but doing so with integrity and character and values. Success is when those things have grown and when you’ve been able to embody greatness in those areas. That’s where it starts. Then you have to ask yourself, “How do you look at your life?” “What is your purpose?” When God is at the center of your life then all that you are flows out of that relationship. As you journey through life, you allow Christ to become who you as far as your desires and purpose are concerned. You’re always working to allow those to be lined up. Then you have a road map for who you are and whose you are. That impacts how you act in a leadership capacity.
Bonham: What is the mindset a leader must have when working towards being a positive example for others?
Kellogg: My mindset starts out with wanting to be in fellowship and intimacy with the Lord through time in prayer and meditating on the Word of God. I need to spend time on a consistent basis near the Father. That helps me align myself and look at things with a biblical perspective. From there, it’s now a matter of having the Word in me so it can naturally flow out of me. I also look at the life of Jesus. Jesus was a servant leader. He knew exactly what His purpose was. He had a clear idea of why He was here. Everything He did was tied to that purpose. He was a servant. He was a sacrifice. He was a redeemer, a restorer. I’m a follower of Christ. He had a clear understanding of His purpose. That’s probably one of the greatest challenges that we face. What has God gifted us and equipped us to do? We have to reconcile that with the challenges we face on a daily basis. How does your life line up with your purpose and then how do you effectively live that out with all the moving parts that it takes to function in the here and now. Knowing your purpose helps you determine what’s really important, what’s not so important, what’s urgent, what’s necessary, what’s not necessary. And then it’s allowing the desires of your heart to be shaped by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. It’s a challenge. Who I am has to reflect that from the inside out with humility and certain disciplines. If I’m moving in that direction on a consistent basis, I’m on track to being the example that God wants me to be.
Bonham: How does Jesus’ example challenge you to follow His example?
Kellogg: It’s a great challenge. He made such a great sacrifice. He went through pain and anguish and felt that separation from God all the while knowing that was His purpose for living the way He did and died the way He did. It was so that through Him we could have abundant, eternal life. There’s such great sacrifice that you see in the life of Christ. That’s where the self-centeredness of our lives has to continually be chipped away so that that our lives are Christ-centered and focused on others. That’s not a natural thing to embrace. The example Christ set before us is incrementally achieved. I don’t know if we ever quite get there. It’s right out there in front of us and something to which we should aspire and reach for. There are so many layers to that kind of sacrifice.
Bonham: Is it that kind of sacrificial example that will ultimately get people’s attention?
Kellogg: It speaks loudly. It’s so uncommon. For those of us are Christ followers, that has to be who we are. It has to be more common within our lives. The example comes from humility and understanding that it’s God who empowers us to live and to act according to His pleasure and good will. It’s God who works in us. From that premise, you have a chance to move towards servant leadership and not just what might bring you immediate attention. And your motives change. It becomes more about other people. It becomes about helping them get to their highest and best level. That’s why example in leadership is so important. It has to be about the other people and the work that’s necessary. It can’t be about who has the title supervisor or VP or president or leader. It has to be about the people. That’s why example is so important.