Character, Leadership, and the Gospel

Character Matters

Why do we feel uncomfortable trusting a politician who has been unfaithful to his wife? or disappointed when a high-profile athlete–known and respected for “family values”– has been hiding an affair? Perhaps we feel this discomfort because we make an intuitive connection between a man’s character and our confidence in him as a leader.

The Link between Character and Leadership

But is this intuition fair? Does it really matter, for example, that a state leader is having an extra-marital affair, as long as he is able to make wise decisions for the state? Here is one reason we connect character and leadership: we realize that a person’s life cannot be divided into personal and public compartments. When a man cannot keep his word in private, he is unlikely to keep it in public. When a man is undisciplined in the way he spends his personal money, he is unlikely to be scrupulous in how he spends public money. Our intuition about character and leadership is well-grounded, for it is a person’s character that unites the public and private domains of life.

Church Leadership Must Be Gospel-Shaped Leadership.

It is no wonder, then, that the Apostle Paul writes much about character when giving the qualifications for leadership in the church (1 Timothy and Titus). The importance of a leader’s character fits with the whole theme of these epistles: when we grasp the gospel, we will live the gospel. In other words, a person’s character shows whether and to what degree that he or she has embraced the gospel. The person who can honestly affirm with Paul the gospel truth that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15) will be humble, joyful, and godly. In contrast, a person who is proud, self-righteous, or defiant betrays that he or she is failing to appropriate the gospel, or perhaps has never even believed the gospel at all.

The church is a group of people who have believed and are being shaped by the gospel, so we should expect that the gospel will be central to the lives of the church’s leaders—not only in what they believe but also in how they live and lead. Indeed, Paul’s qualifications for pastors/overseers and deacons indicate that this is exactly the case: the leaders of the church must live and lead in a way that is shaped by the gospel.

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