Character in leaders isn’t highly prized in our culture. Not realizing that lack of integrity negatively affects the task of leadership, our world often chooses leaders based on their celebrity, wealth, and brashness—thinking such qualities override lack of knowledge, wisdom, and character. But the long run proves otherwise.
What is character?
- Dwight L. Moody suggests that it is “what you are in the dark.”
- Oswald Chambers describes it this way: “Character in a saint means the disposition of Jesus Christ persistently manifested.”
- Thomas Paine contrasts it with reputation: “Reputation is what men and women think of us. Character is what God and the angels know of us.” (Quoteland.com)
God’s lists of leadership qualifications focus on many specific aspects of character and reveal it in action. (See the qualifications of elders, women leaders, and deacons in Titus 1:5-2:8 and 1 Timothy 3:1-13.)
But many dismiss these lists when it comes to secular or political leadership roles, forgetting that people eventually abandon leaders who can’t be trusted and respected. In many cases even church bodies have minimized major sin within their leadership, possibly out of the mistaken belief that showing forgiveness equates to dismissing consequences. The God who paid the price himself for our sins still doesn’t give us a pass from their consequences in life. The Apostle Paul recognized that he had to live godly to keep his position: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27). Yes, we forgive when leaders are contrite and make amends, but they still forfeit their positions when major sin is uncovered. We all sin, but some sins more seriously undermine our witness and/or our ability to lead others well.
Trust is essential to recruit and retain followers, even among those who agree with the goals. Why? Without honestly and principle, a leader erodes the morale of her followers. Also, the young generation of adults, those categorized and generalized in the U.S. as Millennials, has grown up disappointed and hurt by leaders, making them sensitive to whether leaders live what they espouse. Finally, the public audience is quick to find double standards between our preaching and our living, and we lose our voice for the gospel.
Character does count. The world is watching to see if you and I live out what we teach.
Next up: Care