WASHINGTON – Describing Jesus Christ as the “greatest leader of all time,” Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said problems arise when leaders “lose humility” and let their “pride” get in the way.
Wentz said Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. are often mentioned as prime examples of leadership, and they wanted to make the world a better place rather than achieve fame.
“They all did some amazing things, but they were not out there to get praise and recognition. They just wanted to make the world a better place. They just wanted to make others around them better,” Wentz said during his keynote address at the National Prayer Dinner on Thursday evening. “Let me challenge you and ask you – I’m challenging myself at the same time – do you seek that praise? Do you seek credit? Do you want to be at the top or get that recognition for your position of leadership?”
He quoted Galatians 1:10, which states, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Reacting to the verse, Wentz said, “We’re not here to gain praise from the world around us – some of us from the media. I understand that completely. I know politicians understand it as well. You are not here to gain recognition from people or the media or whatever it might be. It’s actually the opposite.”
Wentz said Jesus is the definition of a serving leader.
“I think the greatest leader of all time, whether you believe in him or not, is Jesus Christ. I don’t think there’s any debating that. This man changed the history of everything. He changed everything. He’s the most impactful man to ever walk the Earth; again, whether you believe in him or not. I don’t think there’s any debating that,” Wentz told the audience.
“He cared for the sick. He cared for the homeless. He cared for the brokenhearted. He walked around healing others. He washed the feet of his disciples and, at the same time, he was the creator of the universe,” he added.
Wentz continued, “He [Jesus] had every right to say, ‘look at me. I’m sitting on my high horse.’ He had every right to say, ‘I created you. I can do whatever I want.’ But he didn’t. He valued others over himself and he put others first to make a difference and he did everything with love and compassion and changed the world.”
Wentz asked the public to imagine what our country, our workplaces, our family and our entire world would look like if every leader took Jesus Christ’s approach and led with love and compassion to “truly just make everyone around them better.”
“Imagine that,” he said.
Wentz told the audience the greatest compliment he has ever received is “you make everyone around you better.”
“I think we all want that, but how do we do that? See, as a leader, you must embrace the roles and the details that others think they are way too good for,” he said. “It’s the dirty work.”
The quarterback said effective leadership takes humility.
“I always say either you lead humbly or you’ll be humbled, because leading is tough. Not everyone is cut out for it. Let’s face it, being a leader can be really messy. Sometimes life gets in the way. Plans rarely go as planned. The daily burden of caring for others can be enormous and absolutely exhausting,” he said. “One main problem, though, is when leaders lose that humility.”
Referring to several Bible verses that deal with humility, Wentz concluded, “Pride is not a good thing. It can lead to a downfall.” He cited King David as an example.
“He was the king. He was also a man after God’s own heart, but his pride got in his way at one point in his life,” he said. “He saw a woman named Bathsheba. He sent Bathsheba’s husband to the front line and basically had him murdered so he could be with her.”
Throughout his life, Wentz recalled being “wired” to work his “tail off” to earn something in return, such as an ‘A’ on a test or a position on the varsity team. However, Wentz said the “myth” that a lot of people believe is “faith plus works is what helps you reach your salvation.”
“But that’s wrong because the fact of the matter is your faith alone, as it says in Ephesians [2:8-10] here, your faith alone leads to your salvation and the works come out of your salvation,” he said. “So you’re not saved by your good works. You are saved to do the good works.”
Wentz cited Matthew 7:22 and 23, which states, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’”
“Jesus wants to know us. It’s not a religion. You can’t earn it. You can’t earn salvation. See, the relationship verses religion is the equivalent of doing things for your spouse or loved one verses doing things for your boss,” he said. “If your boss is in here, don’t make eye contact right now, it might get awkward.”
Wentz revealed how he got involved in the dinner to close out the National Prayer Breakfast as the replacement for Vice President Mike Pence, explaining that he received an email about the speaking engagement three weeks prior while the Eagles were competing for a spot in the Super Bowl. Wentz was injured during the regular season but strategized with his replacement Nick Foles, who later became the Super Bowl MVP.
“It was a crazy time, but I knew it was an opportunity that God opened a door for, but I got the email and I’m just like, why me? I’m replacing the vice president? I’m a 25-year-old kid from North Dakota – I don’t get it. At first, I didn’t believe it was real,” he said.
Wentz said he reflected on Timothy 4:12 before accepting the invitation to speak.
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity,” the passage reads.
After going over the full verse, Wentz thought, “All right, God, you win. I’m doing this thing.”
Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) introduced Wentz at the gathering. Heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield attended the event but did not address the crowd. He applauded Wentz’s speech during an interview with PJM.
“I think it was great for being 25 and not accustomed to just jumping on the stage,” Holyfield said. “Sometimes the hardest things are the things that you don’t practice. Now, football, he can do that any given time but when it gets down to something you’re not accustomed to do doing and on the spot you do it, that’s a little different.”