Integrity in Christian Leadership

Even with solidly conservative theology, we sadly often find moral compromise in our ranks.

As leaders, we will often face situations that reveal what is in our hearts. When we are pricked, our people will see our hearts, and they need to see us bleed integrity—either true holy character or humble repentance. If there is one thing that the Protestant evangelical world needs right now, it’s men and women of character who can say with Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

 

In a recent interview with The New York Times, the CEO of a world-renowned bank and investment firm revealed his uncommon practice for hiring leaders in his organization. According to the interview, this CEO invites job candidates to breakfast and arrives early to make sure the restaurant messes up their order. The reason he does this is simple: to see how the candidate responds. In his words, he wants to “look inside their heart.” You see, the CEO is most concerned with the character and integrity of the person he is considering hiring for a leadership role in his company. There are many leaders who have credentials in the areas of experience or education, but they are lacking in the area of integrity and character in leadership.

In the Protestant evangelical world, we are often reminded of this truth. Our leaders are in the headlines day after day in recent history. We hear reports of sexual misconduct, abuse of power, discriminatory comments—the list goes on and on. The lesson is simple: even with solidly conservative theology, we sadly often find moral compromise in our ranks. Far too often, our lack of private integrity becomes the source of our public indignity.

On the one hand, many leaders who have fallen because of moral failure has caught us by surprise. Yet at the same time, we understand that the best of men are men at best. We must fight the tendency to puff our chests out in self-righteousness. It is more proper to grieve over the devastating effects of secret sin. As I consider my own comrades who have fallen in infidelity, I am reminded of the words of Jesus, who declared that if you even look at another in lust, you have committed adultery in your heart.

The Exemplary Case of Job’s Character

Because of this, the very first verse of Job should give us pause. It is a powerful summation of a man who exemplifies the integrity and character we should all long for: “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

After the cursory historical facts of his name and place of origin, the first significant thing the writer tells us is about Job’s character. He was a man of complete integrity. This does not mean he was perfectly sinless; it simply means he was not hypocritical. After all, Job readily confessed his own sin throughout the book. It is also noted that he was also a man who feared God. I can think of nothing else that bolsters integrity like a deep reverence for the sovereign Judge of the universe. Finally, he was a man who turned away from sin. That is, he was a man who practiced repentance. In many ways, Job 1:1 puts forth an excellent epitaph for a Christian leader’s headstone, doesn’t it?

Character Is the External Display of Internal Holiness

If we are going to pursue personal holiness, integrity, and character, then we need to be aware of several things. First, as Christians, we need to recognize that while salvation is surrender, sanctification is war. No one drifts toward holiness. This pursuit of holiness begins in our private lives, and for us as leaders who serve as examples for the church, this is of utmost importance. Because the nature of our work is often public, we need to keep a close watch on our lives. It’s no wonder that Paul exhorts Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). If we ignore any erosion in our integrity, we could find ourselves in the rubble of our own implosion.