People won’t follow a leader with moral, spiritual or emotional flaws for long. Anthony Rose explores how to make sure your public and private faces match up
What does the word integrity mean to you? I always used to think of it simply as being morally upright, but it can actually mean much more than that. It’s really to do with being whole or sound as a person, including being the same on the inside as you appear on the outside. The Bible makes it clear that with God’s people the behaviour we show to the world should be matched by what we really are at our core, and that’s to do with several aspects of our being.
In Matthew 22:16 Jesus is described as ‘a man of integrity’. The word used translates as ‘truthful’, meaning ‘not hidden’ or ‘out in the open’. The trouble is, that’s not always the case for many of us and because we set ourselves high standards we can end up living with guilt if there’s a gap between our private life and our public one. For those in any form of Christian leadership, the stakes are even higher. Not only is there the problem of demonstrating to the world that our faith is real, but we have the responsibility of setting an example to others we hope will follow us. It becomes harder to hide things that might not be right in our lives from our home group, or to lead worship on a Sunday, for example.
I suggest there are three main areas of integrity where we need to mind this gap: moral, spiritual and emotional.
Know your weaknesses
In his book Courageous Leadership Bill Hybels writes: ‘Followers will only trust leaders who exhibit the highest levels of integrity. People will not follow a leader with moral incongruities for long. Every time you compromise character you compromise leadership.’ I suppose we all know this, but how can leaders maintain moral integrity in their lives, especially given the extra pressures I’ve mentioned?
There are a number of steps we can take, most of which are common sense. We need to recognise in the first place what our weaknesses might be. Money, sex and power issues are all in the mix, along with various addictions, whether it’s alcohol or just watching too much television! The first thing is to try to steer clear of the areas we might have trouble in. For example, you might simply need to avoid certain situations of being alone with someone of the opposite gender. If you’re tempted to watch unsavoury stuff on your computer, maybe it would help to place the screen where others can see it and try to avoid being alone on the Internet for too long. Pressing that off switch and walking away is an act of the will and sometimes the only answer. We might need to avoid temptation when it comes to money matters. For instance, do we have enough safeguards built into our handling of other people’s money? And have we got a grip on our personal finances?
These are just a couple of examples. I’m sure you can think of many other situations where deliberate avoidance is prudent, but I’d also argue for the positive to be stressed rather than just ‘negative’ measures. Take opposite sex relationships again. If you’re married, do you work at your marriage, spending quality time with your spouse and not simply immersed in work or church ministry? Do you understand their needs and sufficiently communicate yours? In all areas of life we constantly need to be keeping a check on whether we might have weaknesses. What better way for Satan to destroy God’s work than to exploit the foibles of leaders?
Accountability is a big positive area as well. Are you accountable to someone? I don’t just mean a line manager, rather a person or group who knows you well enough to ask the right questions and can be trusted to pray for you without judging.
Pursue spiritual growth
There are really two parts to this: firstly, your personal walk with God and, secondly, being true to your calling.
In your personal walk with the Lord, are you maintaining your spiritual growth to such a degree that you’re able to lead others on? Very often, the longer someone has been a Christian the more their rate of growth slows. Maybe you’ve learned a lot since becoming a Christian but you’ve become a bit set in your thinking. It could be that someone in the group you’re responsible for who is newer to the faith and really growing is asking questions you can’t answer. I’m not advocating leadership of the ‘guru in the corner’ kind, but I do believe it’s important for all leaders to be seeking nourishment from God that keeps us fresh in the faith, strong in our love for him and for others, and growing in knowledge of the Bible (because we love it rather than to show others how clever we are).
We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to resources to help our spiritual growth: the printed word, audio and visual media, the Internet, conferences, courses and networking opportunities. Many of these are worthwhile and we need to encourage ourselves as well as those we lead to use those means. But I believe that, ultimately, there’s no substitute for the discipline of daily prayer and Bible study. Discipline is not a popular concept these days, but I know my own spiritual life can't depend on occasional top-ups; I need a daily routine where I can listen to God and immerse myself in his Word.
Spiritual integrity for leaders is also about being true to your calling. When I say this I’m thinking about leaders really taking the Kingdom of God forward. New Wine’s strapline is ‘Local churches changing nations’. If we’re to see change we need leaders at all levels of church life who have fire in their hearts and are open to the Holy Spirit doing anything, even if it means it won’t always be spiritually safe in the particular area you lead. In other words, it’s not about saying you believe in Holy Sprit renewal, it’s about having the courage to allow it to happen. It’s about being sure of your ‘spiritual DNA’ and leading by example, not hoping others will get on with it!
Understand who you are
‘Leaders who ignore their interior reality often make unwise decisions that have grave consequences for the people they lead’ continues Bill Hybels. Is the public person you show to those you lead a true reflection of the inner you? This isn’t about being the most emotionally ‘together’ person in the world; sometimes a good leader will admit to their frailties. But too often leaders can come a cropper because they simply haven’t come to terms with some personal difficulty to do with their emotions or personality.
When I was a young adult (and a relatively young Christian) I led a youth group and did some ‘up-front’ ministry. For me, that made it harder to face up to certain emotions that I hadn’t come to terms with, connected with my parents splitting up when I was a child. I decided I needed to embark on a journey of self-understanding if I had any chance of moving on as a Christian and indeed being involved in any form of leadership. I wrote a book about my experiences called Stranger on the Shore, published by Thankful Books. ‘Self-understanding’ is really what it’s all about for me. As disciples we’re on a journey and we all need to allow the Holy Spirit to help us understand ourselves more. We might have issues to do with our upbringing. Often the relationship with a father is key. Many others have also spoken and written about this whole area, which shows how important it is.
I’m not advocating everyone suddenly rushing out and getting therapy but simply for leaders, particularly, to be aware that if they feel there’s a gap between the public persona and the private person then something needs to be done. Seeking the help of an understanding listener or counsellor and taking in good written and spoken material can be ways forward in this.
Remember the battle
I rejoice that so many leaders I meet are concerned with their personal integrity. We're blessed, particularly within a movement like New Wine, to have men and woman who take their leadership calling very seriously and do seek to mind the gap between their public face and their private reality. We need to be aware of the spiritual war we’re in. In any battle, the enemy targets the officers first. But if leaders can maintain their integrity, the devil will struggle to find the chinks in their defences and the Kingdom of God will advance further!
This material appears copyright of New Wine Magazine and is used with kind permission.