by Loren Stacy
Can you imagine a church leader who lacks personal character? Who gossips, who lies, or who cannot be trusted to keep his promises? Can you imagine a church leader who is unfaithful to his wife, to his family, to his church and to his God?
Unfortunately, one need not imagine such a church leader. Church leaders who actually have done such things stain the pages of church history. More unfortunately, many current church leaders continue in these sinful behaviors. Those who are famous make headlines when their character failures are exposed. Ironically, it often is their hunger for fame that corrupts their character.
Os Guinness writes of such people, “A big name rather than a big person, the celebrity is someone for whom character is nothing, coverage is all.”¹ Andy Stanley therefore observes, “Character is not essential to leadership. We all know of leaders who have led large organizations and garnered the loyalty of many followers, and yet lacked character.”² “To become a leader worth following,” writes Stanley, “you must give time and attention to the inner man. To leave a legacy that goes beyond accomplishment alone, a leader must devote himself to matters of the heart.”³ Reggie McNeal agrees writing, “Spiritual leadership is a work of heart,”4 and, “… all the leadership insight and expertise on the planet cannot, in the end, overcome a case of spiritual heart disease or ‘heart failure.'”5
What these authors are ultimately addressing as they write about the hearts of those who would lead within the Body of Christ is character. Church leadership is not necessarily spiritual leadership. Logically, biblically, and practically, character is vital to vibrant spiritual leadership.
The Logical Requirement for Spiritual Leadership
Character fulfills the logical requirement for spiritual leadership. Within the context of Christianity, the word “spiritual” is directly related to the nature and character of God. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John. 4:24 ESV). Within the context of Christianity, therefore, “spiritual leadership” is synonymous with “godly leadership”—“godly” in the sense of God’s righteous character. To whatever extent a leader’s behaviors, whether in his leadership endeavors or in his private life, reflect the character of God, his leadership may be considered spiritual leadership.
Additionally, the context in which a Christian leader exercises his leadership is a spiritual context. It is within the Church, “the Body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12-27 ESV). Therefore, because spiritual leadership is conducted within a spiritual context (the Body of Christ), and because spiritual leadership must reflect the righteous character of God, logic requires that the spiritual leader must be a person of godly character.
The Biblical Requirement for Spiritual Leadership
Character fulfills the biblical requirement for spiritual leadership. Given that spiritual leadership is exercised within a spiritual context (the Body of Christ), and given that spiritual leadership must reflect the character of God, it should come as no surprise that the Bible, God’s written word, sets high standards regarding the character qualities of those who lead. Among the character-related qualifications required of an Elder (the highest position of human leadership within the Body of Christ) are the following: “above reproach,” “sober-minded,” “self-controlled,” “respectable,” “not a drunkard,” “not violent but gentle,” “not quarrelsome,” “not a lover of money,” and “well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:1-7 ESV). As history and our own experiences reveal, it is possible to be a leader, even a great leader, without having these qualities of personal character. However, for one truly to be a spiritual leader, these biblical requirements must be fulfilled.
The Practical Requirement for Spiritual Leadership
Finally, character fulfills a very practical requirement for spiritual leadership. People within the spiritual context of the Church evaluate possible leaders using spiritual criteria. They are looking for godliness, honesty, and trustworthiness. They are looking for someone who lives in close relationship with Christ and who can help them do that, too. These people wish to be led to a place where God is glorified, where disciples of Christ are made, and where the kingdom of God is expanded. In brief, such people are looking for leaders who have character.
This is a very practical issue. Lacking godly character, a person cannot be what such people are seeking in a spiritual leader. Such a person lacks the moral authority to say, as did the Apostle Paul, follow me as I follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1 KJV). Therefore, because of the context within which spiritual leadership is exercised, and because of the expectations of the people within that context, character becomes a practical requirement for spiritual leadership.
The Inescapable Conclusion
No matter how one wishes to consider it—whether from the perspective of logical thought, biblical requirement, or simple practicality—the conclusion is inescapable; Character is vital to spiritual leadership. Logic demands it; a spiritual endeavor requires a spiritual leader. The Bible requires it; Elders are called to the highest level of spiritual qualification. And any other approach simply won’t work long-term; people looking for spiritual leadership will not long follow a leader who lacks character. Character is vital to vibrant spiritual leadership.
¹ Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 83.
² Andy Stanley, Next Generation Leader: Five Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future. (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2003), 131.
³ Ibid, 151.
4 Reggie McNeal, A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000), 40.
5 Ibid, 46.