How Pure Must a Leader Be? Becoming A Person Of Integrity
By Chuck Swindoll
Popular author and educator Chuck Swindoll, who also pastored for many years, discusses the importance of integrity in the life of a church leader:
Is integrity visible? Can you recognize a leader who has it?
Chuck Swindoll: With a person of integrity, you feel something solid. That’s the idea in the Hebrew root word; there’s something solid, of substance. It isn’t a veneer.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul tells Titus that overseers are to be “blameless,” and yet we’re all sinners. How pure does a leader need to be?
The words “without reproach” and “blameless” are a sweeping way to start that list. I don’t think we can take “blameless” to mean simply “without blame, without sin”; in that sense, I’ve never met anyone blameless. I’m certainly not. The point is that when we do fail, we say it. Integrity means we don’t hide our stumble; we don’t act like we didn’t.
Of course, there’s some point on the spectrum of sin where disqualification for church leadership occurs. When you can sin and live with it, you’re in trouble.
To what extent does the person’s attitude toward the sin figure in disqualification?
Paul says, “Lest, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” I’m convinced certain sins reveal such a breakdown in integrity, the fallen one is disqualified from returning again to high-profile leadership.
I don’t think repeated acts, such as sexual immorality or extensive cover-up, are only a matter of sin. I think they reveal a character flaw. People say, “Well, aren’t sins forgiven?” Absolutely. I don’t think it’s a matter of forgiveness anymore; the person lacks the substance required of that office.
The only reason I am able to sit in this room clothed and in my right mind is that I have been absolutely forgiven by Jesus Christ. But for people in high-profile leadership, there are stricter requirements. As James says, we will be judged “more strictly.”
But what about King David in the Old Testament?
That incident is the only case in Scripture where a leader guilty of moral misconduct was left in the same high-profile role of leadership. But after Bathsheba, his life turned sour. He was confronted, and he came clean, but he lost on the battlefield, and his family went crazy. He never reached the pinnacle he once had reached. I’m haunted by that.
I’m also haunted by the fact that not another person in Scripture had a high-profile leadership position, sinned sexually, and was put back into that position.
To whom should a leader be accountable?
I have carefully selected a group of three men with whom I meet. There’s confidentiality, objectivity, and freedom for all of us. The purpose in meeting is not to dwell only on sin, but also to be friends. It’s not for my benefit only, but also for the others.
I am regularly accountable to my staff and officially to our elder board, though the larger that gets, the more unwieldy it gets. With some board members, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t tell, and to others I’m not as close. I’m certainly also accountable to my wife and our grown children. All the Swindolls feel the freedom to address any area or offer any warning. I admit it is occasionally painful to hear, but being in ministry doesn’t shield me from straight talk at home; it requires it.
In selecting people to hold you accountable, isn’t it a temptation to choose people who see things your way?
Absolutely. I love yeses. But I need people like the man who leaned over my desk several years ago. A raw-boned construction guy, he looked right into my eyes and said, “Swindoll, do you have anybody to lean across this desk, look you right in the eye, and say, ‘B.S.!’? (only he didn’t say ‘B.S.’)”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’ve got several.”
“Good,” he said. “I see our rapid growth, and I get real scared that you can get alone in this office and start believing your own stuff.”
I have a very small group of people to whom I voluntarily expose my inner being. With them, a trust has been built over the years.
1. How can someone determine whether you are a person of integrity?
2. What sins disqualify a person for leadership in our church?
3. How can we as a team of church leaders grow in accountability with each other?
4. Often spiritual sins such as pride and sloth go unchecked in church leaders. What are some ways we can challenge each other in these areas?
This article “How Pure Must A Leader Be?” by Chuck Swindoll is excerpted from Building Church Leaders, 2000.
CHARACTER OF A LEADER/INTERVIEW continued