We can’t lead what we don’t live.
Leaders are flawed, weak and broken people being put back together by the grace of Jesus. That is all our God has to work with. Even the apostle Paul, after being transformed by the grace of Jesus, was still in awe that God would use “the worst of sinners” to accomplish heavenly purposes (1 Tim. 1:15).
So, how do we lead with integrity when we are broken vessels?
After more than three decades of local church ministry and over 40 years walking with Jesus, I have a handful of thoughts that help me navigate this complex journey. With each passing year, I grow in my faith, but I also become more profoundly aware of my weaknesses. I am humbled to be called a child of God, and I am stunned that our Lord would use me as a leader in his church. Maybe you feel the same way.
Here are some reflections on growing integrity in our hearts and lives as we lead others. These ideas apply to evangelistic outreach and every other aspect of life.
1. Practice What You Preach.
Too many church leaders call others to reach out with the good news of Jesus when they themselves do little or no personal evangelism. I have had many church leaders pull me aside and confess that they do very little to reach the lost outside of a formal church context. They publicly challenge their church members to share their faith, but they themselves are not practicing what they preach.
To lead with integrity is to align our lifestyle with the things we teach and expect of others. For many leaders, this means learning to share their faith in natural and organic ways. When church leaders are praying for the lost, building deep friendships with people who are far from God and regularly having spiritual conversations with people in their life, the alignment of words and actions is powerful. Their example is magnetic. And, their ministry grows fruitful.
2. Intimacy With Jesus Is a Must.
Too many leaders in the church have become religious professionals. They go through the motions, do the job, know the right words. But they have forsaken their first love (Rev. 2:4). Leaders can teach about Jesus but spend little time at his feet. We can tell others to follow Jesus while we wander away from him.
For a Christian leader, modeling integrity means we hunger to be in the presence of our Savior. We long to become more like Jesus and live in ways that grow our faith. Every leader should pause and do a heart check: Have I become a church staff professional doing my job with no passion behind my ministry? Or, am I propelled into each day with a love for Jesus that guides and moves me? When we love Jesus and it shows, people are drawn to him.
3. Love for the Lost is Essential.
Jesus was a friend of sinners (Matt. 11:19). The religious leaders in his day were upset that sinners liked Jesus and he seemed to like them. Church leaders who avoid nonbelievers and spend all their time with church folks can’t lead their congregation to fulfill Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). Leadership integrity calls us to live like Jesus, and sometimes that will mean making new friends and spending less time at church.
One pastor I know well told me he had virtually no friends outside the congregation he served. He went to the church office early in the morning and went home in the evening, leaving no time for hanging out with nonbelievers. I encouraged him to get out of the office, find a hobby and make some friends (and not with other Christians). He took up cycling and now he has tons of friends he rides with who are learning about the love of God as they cycle around the Monterey Peninsula. This has brought unspeakable joy to this pastor. It has also transformed his life and ministry.
4. Passionate Prayer Unleashes Power.
Systems, programs and tricks of the trade will never bring lost sheep home to the Good Shepherd. The best worship services with the finest music and the most articulate gospel presentation are powerless if the Spirit of God is not present and at work. Only when God moves will people surrender their hearts to Jesus.
Leaders who mobilize God’s people to pray understand where true power resides. Each time our church is going to have a time in a worship service when people are invited to accept the life-giving and transforming grace of God through faith in Jesus, we mobilize our prayer teams to seek the face of God. Prayer warriors spend two full weeks crying out for the Holy Spirit to open hearts. A commitment to prayer is not some old-fashioned practice but the very heart of leadership and evangelism. And, as people come home to Jesus and become part of the family of God, we are reminded that prayer and the power of God are central to all evangelism.
5. Biblical Conviction Keeps Our Vision Clear.
One of the quickest ways for a Christian leader to see their integrity wane is to begin compromising their biblical beliefs. When a church leader no longer holds to the Scriptures as the absolute truth of God, vision dies.
Nonbelievers will often disagree with biblical Christians, but most will still maintain a level of respect if we hold our convictions with grace-filled confidence. When Christian leaders are quick to apologize for the Bible, sand off the sharp edges of our doctrine and adjust the teaching of the Word of God to accommodate the ever-changing norms of our culture, our integrity goes out the window.
Jesus was clear that following him would not be easy. If our goal is to fit in, get along and seem normal in this world, we are walking the wrong path. Integrity in the life of a leader means knowing, loving and following the teaching of the Bible, even when it is awkward or downright painful.
6. Invite Accountability and Seek Wise Mentors.
We all have blind spots. It is easy to deceive ourselves and get off track. When we have godly, strong, honest people in our life who speak the truth (even when it hurts), we have a much greater chance of maintaining a life of integrity.
By the grace of God, for the first 14 years I was a lead pastor, the Lord provided two men who stepped into this role in my life. Both were semi-retired pastors who served the church by calling on the elderly, sick and shut-in. The first was John Schaal. He was born in 1908 and was one of the godliest men I have ever met. When we met regularly for lunch, he would ask me the hard questions young pastors need to hear. He also shared any wisdom I would seek to mine from his heart and mind. I can still remember many Sunday mornings when I would be in my office early to pray and review my sermon, John would walk in without saying a word, stand behind my chair, place his hands on my shoulders and pray for me.
When John was too old to drive and do visitation, Warren Burgess joined our ministry team, and his impact on my life was just as powerful. His wisdom was profound and being near him made me want to be a better husband, father, pastor and follower of Jesus. Being near someone with such integrity caused me to strive to live more for Jesus.
When I began serving in Monterey, I knew that I had to find mentors. I called Karl Overbeek and asked if he would mentor me and if we could talk regularly. He prayed about it and agreed. Later, I sought out another man I deeply respect, Paul Cedar. He also agreed to pour into my life in a consistent way. To this day, both men honor me by investing wisdom, encouragement, challenges and prayer into my life. Neither of them came to me and offered to be a mentor. But when I asked, both said yes and have been a source of strength and examples of integrity. Their lives help me stay on the path of Jesus with fresh passion.
In a world where integrity can seem old-fashioned and leaders can lean more on technique than character, Christian leaders are wise to look closely at their heart and lifestyle. Anything and everything we can do that leads to greater integrity will forward the work of the gospel, protect our ministry and bring honor to our Savior.