When the apostle Paul challenged Timothy to expand the ministry and hand responsibilities over to others, he emphasized character over competence. He didn’t diminish competence, but he started with integrity and faithfulness. Notice the order of the language of this often-quoted verse:
The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others [2 Timothy 2:2].
The verse does not read, “Entrust to able men who will be faithful.”
So here is biblical leadership development: Find faithful men who will be able. Not able men who might be faithful.
Clearly being a man or woman of character doesn’t mean being sinless, as there is only One. Being a person of integrity isn’t about perfection, but it is about the direction of one’s heart. Someone who is faithful repents, displays the fruit of the Spirit, and lives a life directionally in submission to the Lord, not directionally in opposition to the Lord.
When competence outpaces character, more than just the leader suffers. The organization and the people the organization/ministry serve suffer as well. But personally, a lack of integrity kills at least three things in the leader’s life:
When people sense there is a gap in the leader’s life and words, credibility suffers. And when credibility suffers, people are less likely to believe in and follow their leaders. If your team is inwardly concerned about your character, they won’t be as amped to take the next hill with you. If your team inwardly wonders about your motivation, they inwardly struggle with the why behind all their work.
A leader who is deteriorating internally is a leader who is simultaneously losing the confidence to lead with conviction. A leader who is lacking in character is a leader who cannot lead with the confidence that “this move is best for the people” because it is often just best for the leader. If you are lacking in integrity, you inwardly lose a sense of moral authority when you give a presentation or lead a meeting. What a miserable way to lead.
A leader’s lack of character hampers a leader’s relationships. Relationships always suffer when integrity wanes. Trust erodes on the team, and the unity is not what it could and should be.
About a lack of personal integrity hurting one’s influence, pastor Charles Spurgeon said, “If a man’s life at home is unworthy, he should go several miles away before he stands up to preach, and then, when he stands up, he should say nothing.” After all, if one does not know how to manage his household, how will he take care of God’s church?
Eric Geiger is a Vice President at Lifeway, leading the Resources Division. He has authored several books including the bestselling church leadership book, Simple Church.