The decision to which college or university one wants to go to is an important moment in any high school senior’s life. It was no different for me. Out of the myriad of choices, that decision was solidified when I was reviewing information on the U.S. Naval Academy and read this in their Admissions Handbook:
Midshipmen are persons of integrity; they stand for that which is right. They tell the truth and ensure that the truth is known.
I applied right then, and it was the only school I applied to that summer.
Over the course of my “four years by the bay,” that initial attraction to something greater than myself became solidified through a leadership curriculum, countless lectures, seminars, case studies, and experiences (including competing as a wrestler through college!), and instilled in me an uncompromising need for truth and integrity. That need still drives me to this day, its uncompromising quality being both a burden that causes contention and frustration in my interactions with others, but it is also a strength that makes me the leader I am today.
While my station in life has changed, the necessity of integrity and truth has not. As a pastoral leader, it is both a burden and gifts the same.
Yet so many don’t see the gift, but rather see only the burden….primarily in the form of being a pain in the ass.
There is a dire need for conversation about integrity-based leadership in ministry today. Most of the leadership voices offer tools and strategies on how to influence people for “growth” or to manage conflict and anxiety ensure a level of comfort. Rick Warren, Thom Rainer, Carey Nieuwhof, Andy Stanley – all offer lots of great thoughts on such things. Yet, they gloss over the conversation of integrity with thin platitudes such as “let Jesus lead you” or refer to “biblical” models.
My suspicion is that so many avoid the integrity-based leadership conversation because it requires a level of deep self-criticism, self-reflection, and consistently questions who one is and the motivations behind their actions. Most people avoid this because it’s either simply too painful, too hard, too negative, or they’re just too political.
Yet, so many communities of faith are operating with a lack of integrity behind who they are as “church” and what they call “mission” or “ministry.” I want to change that; I think we need to change that. The challenges the church faces are contextual, but they are also due to the consequences of leadership that lacked integrity. I say this having listened to numerous colleagues in ministry and their challenges, colleagues who have left calls burnt out and way too early, and even my own experiences.
Now I am sensitive to the fact that we all make mistakes and our own brokenness creates leaders of a numerous variety and no one model fits. I am by no means an expert; I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel and I definitely don’t have answers. But I can ask questions. I can raise concepts for further reflection. I can start a conversation, one that isn’t new by any means, yet one that in which God might transform us. Of this I remain as uncompromising as ever.
Pastors must be persons of integrity. They must stand that that which is right. They must tell the truth and ensure the truth is known.
And that quest begins with looking at ourselves.