Recently, I was asked to record a series of messages for African church planting leaders about the Character of a Leader. My #1, lead topic was a no-brainer … INTEGRITY!!! Integrity in leadership is fundamental, it’s the foundation upon which all else is built. When integrity in leadership is missing, whether immediately or much later, things begin to crumble. The fall is hard and painful, and the ripple effect upon others can have catastrophic results. Numbers 32:23b shouts the warning, “you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” [emphasis added]
The Cambridge Dictionary offers two definitions of integrity.
- the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
- the state of being whole and undivided.
Both apply as we consider integrity in leadership. I appreciate the inclusion, the emphasis upon, “moral” in this definition. “Moral” implies a standard, what some refer as the “North Star”. For the Christian leader, this North Star is a Christian worldview that sees all of life through the lens of Biblical principles and Holy Spirit inspired insight.
The second definition also applies as we view integrity in leadership. “The state of being whole or undivided.” “Integrity” and the term “integer” in mathematics come from the same root word meaning “whole”. Leaders with integrity are the same person regardless of the realm in which they find themselves. They are the same person, operating out of the same values and worldview, whether they are in the office, at home, in the church, on social media, or driving on the freeway (ouch!). Consequently, their behaviors are consistent as well.
The foundation for integrity in leadership, this godly character, is our love for God and our obedience to Him. The gospel of John is very clear about this. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.”(John 14:15). Acts 5:32 says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him.
What are some of the key areas where Christian leaders need to demonstrate integrity? I would like to suggest the following three spheres, but there are certainly many more.
Leaders must demonstrate integrity in their handling of finances. Money is often accompanied by temptation. There are temptations to misuse ministry or work funds for personal need. Temptation to distribute funds in ways that bring the expectation of personal favor in return. We call that “with strings attached”. 1 Timothy 6:10 warns us that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Integrity in leadership means not only handling funds well but also having the right attitude toward financial resources entrusted to us. It is faithful stewardship.
Leaders must also demonstrate integrity in family matters, especially in the area of marital fidelity or faithfulness. Hebrews 13:4 very clearly states this. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Paul, writing in 1 Timothy 3:2-5 said “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, …. for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church.” [emphasis added]
This same principle applies beyond a church or ministry context; it’s for the marketplace as well. During my years in the workplace and the church, I’ve, unfortunately, seen the highway of life littered with the debris and carnage of wrecked lives, ruined families, and careers destroyed due to moral failure. We’ve even seen it in the headlines, both business and church, this year!
Leaders must demonstrate integrity in their speech. As Christian leaders, we must have integrity in our leadership; we must have alignment between what we say and what we do. In the Amplified version of the Bible, Ephesians 4:25 tells us “Therefore, rejecting all falsehood [whether lying, defrauding, telling half-truths, spreading rumors, any such as these], speak truth each one with his neighbor…” Did you catch the part about telling half-truths and spreading rumors? Yes, that’s in the Bible, too.
Integrity in speech also means telling the truth, even when it’s painful. It may be painful to us or to others; both apply. At the same time, speaking the truth is not an excuse to verbally assault another. The Message advises us well in Colossians 4:6. “Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious with your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.”
Three Things to Avoid on the Journey to Integrity in Leadership
1 John 2:15-16 warns us to “not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”
Godly Christian leaders are warned to avoid these three things:
The lust of the flesh – Having already addressed above the consequences of failure in this area, I’d like to offer three antidotes that have helped me maintain integrity in this matter.
- Job 31:1 provides straightforward guidance. “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman [or man].” The first look may cause admiration; the second look opens the way to wrong thoughts.
- Here, 1 Corinthians 10:5b gives great guidance. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Realize that Christ is viewing the “theater of your mind”. When wrong thoughts creep in, change (or stop) the video.
- Finally, Paul says it bluntly. “Flee sexual immorality.” (1 Corinthians 6:18a) When tempted, the most prudent thing is often to simply physically remove oneself from the situation.
The lust of the eyes – Matthew Henry’s commentary helps us understand this warning. “The eyes are delighted with riches and rich possessions; this is the lust of covetousness.” In 1 Timothy 6:6, Paul shares that the antidote for this condition of fallen human nature is that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Here, “godliness” relates to a leader’s character, and “contentment” is an attitude of his or her heart. Integrity in leadership means being content with what one has, be that a set of skills, physical appearance or financial assets.
The pride of life – Once more from Matthew Henry helps us. “A vain man … thirst[s] after honor and applause.” A good and godly leader avoids the trap of seeking personal honor and applause. I refer to people with this attitude and behavior as “legends in their own minds”. They think more highly of themselves than is appropriate, and they crave the praise of others. Jesus had some strong advice to the apostles about this in Mark 10:42-44 where He called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” A posture of servant leadership is the antidote for this sin of the “pride of life”.
Integrity in leadership does not come easily; it does not manifest naturally. But it can be both built and maintained by a right worldview which leads to right beliefs, attitudes and behaviors and by daily dependence upon – and obedience to – Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit.