The whole conversation thing seems to continue for me, and lately, everything has been about leadership. The big buzz topic at Luther Seminary these days is leadership: “How do we shape, form, and provide leaders for Christian communities/churches/congregations?” Everyone’s got their ideas on what’s essential to be a Christian public leader in today’s world.
I attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD for my undergraduate education. The Naval Academy’s mission, culture, and curriculum is built around its Honor Concept. The Naval Academy expresses this rather simply:
“Midshipmen are persons of integrity: they stand for that which is right. These Naval Academy ‘words to live by’ are based on respect for human dignity, respect for honesty and respect for the property of others.”
I call it “relational integrity.” It is doing the right thing always, considering the dignity, worth, and respect of the other. Integrity is the most important thing…if you lose it, compromise it, or never have it in the first place, you will essentially fail as a leader. What it boils down to is trust. Persons of integrity can be trusted. They will make mistakes, say the wrong thing at times, but persons of integrity will always take full accountability for their words and actions, and the subsequent consequences. They do the right thing simply, because it’s the right thing to do, and they do the right thing in all situations. It means doing the hard thing, making the tough decision, even if it is painful; even at personal cost to you, whether it be loss of job, title, privilege, or even relationships.
Let me clarify that last one: relationships. That can be a tricky thing to navigate – as leaders in ministry, everything we do is relational, or for the sake of relationship, in one way or another. One has to be very careful not to sacrifice another’s human worth and dignity for the sake of preserving one’s ideologies. Integrity is always balanced by relationships….however, it is a relationship of mutuality.
I remember during a lecture during my time at the Naval Academy, the Commandant of the Marine Corps (highest ranking officer in the Marine Corps) came and spoke. He spoke of integrity, and gave this example: “When I was a student here, as seniors, we had the privilege to go out in town, but had to be back by midnight. They checked to make sure everyone had made curfew. As the watch officer came to take roll, I knew my roommate was still out in town. When asked where my roommate was, I could’ve simply said I don’t know…I wouldn’t have been lying. But I knew where he was, so I told the watch officer he was still out in town. It was the right thing to do.”
I struggled with this example (perhaps you did too). There’s the moral/ethical dimension to this: loyalty to person or to ideology? The Commandant went on to say the consequence was he lost that friendship. I would go on to say he probably lost trust as well, and that proves my point about the relational aspect of integrity: one considers the dignity and worth of another, but if it is a true relationship, one has to acknowledge the same for you. The Commandant’s roommate compromised his integrity by placing him in that position. However, was there another way to maintain his integrity while maintaining the relationship as well? That may not always be possible, but the challenge is: how do we live with integrity in relationship with others?
All this holds true for Christian public leaders as well: how do I live with integrity while leading others relationally? How do I garner a true sense of trust, for the sake of preserving the integrity of the Gospel? And that last question is important too, because one’s compromise and loss of integrity and trust as a leader doesn’t just affect them, it affects the integrity of the Church and the Gospel as well.
In my life, I’ve had both good friends as Navy and Marine Corps officers – good, intelligent people – sacrifice their integrity, and they never regained the same trust. And, they couldn’t lead effectively anymore. It wasn’t that they couldn’t reconcile, move on and weren’t good people, but the loss of trust meant they could never hold that privilege to lead again. And, I’ve also known pastors and other leaders in the church as well. You likely can recall a situation where integrity was compromised, and trust was lost. And, you can probably recall a situation where trust was lost because relationships were sacrificed at the alter of personal ideology as well.
Here’s my thing: relational integrity isn’t just a skill leaders in the church should simply acknowledge with lukewarm feelings. It IS the essential thing of leadership. Is it hard and complex? Yes. Will it cost you something? Definitely.
Here’s the thing: most leadership skills and concepts can be learned: from a book, lectures, discussions, etc. However, character is formed and developed only through a culture…..it has to be a way of life. However, as one considers the challenges facing the church in this day an age, can we afford not to be about this? And as future leaders are trained for service and work in the church, can we afford not to form a learning community that values a culture of character development above all else, especially in light of so many breaches of integrity and trust in the whole Church?