by LD Campbell
We’ve heard it over and over, “America is suffering an integrity crisis.” And we all agree. And we are comforted in blaming political leaders for the moral mess we are in.
However, Christian leaders must bear the greatest responsibility for the moral mess in which we find the world, our country, and our churches. The largest Christian denomination in the world has been rocked again and again by the lack of moral integrity of its leaders and now is losing members by the thousands. Recently, the biggest protestant denomination in the United States is coming to terms with the lack of integrity among its leaders past and present. It will be interesting to see how the members of that denomination react to the revelation that revered leaders were not so “obedient to their calling.”
There is no way to lead without integrity. But what is integrity? Everybody agrees we need more integrity, yet hardly any of us explain what we mean by integrity, or how we even know that it’s a good thing, or why our culture needs to have more of it. The problem is, it means something slightly different to each of us.
Perhaps the best definition of integrity I have seen comes from Yale’s Professor of Law Stephen Carter, in his great book called Integrity:
Integrity, as I will use the term, requires three steps: (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong. The first criterion captures the idea of integrity as requiring a degree of moral reflectiveness. The second brings in the idea of an integral person as steadfast, which includes keeping commitments. The third remind us that a person of integrity is unashamed of doing the right.
Carter is on to something. What if all of us who lead the church, pastors, elders, deacons, ministry leaders, small group leaders not only believed Carter’s definition of integrity but practiced it? This kind of integrity can only be accomplished by obedience, simply learning to do as we have been told, primarily by the Word.
Carter also said: “The wholeness that the Christian tradition identified as central to life with integrity was a wholeness in obedience to God, so that the well-lived life was a life that followed God’s rules.”
And he goes on: “But obedience to what? Traditional religion teaches that integrity is found in obedience to God… Everything that you do, do for the sake of God.”
Obedience pure and simple is the beginning of “soul care.” One of the best books I’ve ever read on the ministry is The Pastor As Minor Poet by M. Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Theological Seminary. In it he writes that “There is nothing that pastors (church leaders) do for the congregation that is more important than taking care of their own souls.”
The church does not expect its leaders to be perfect, but they do have the right to expect us to be models of integrity; integrity that results in being obedient to the One who was obedient even unto death. They have a right to expect that a church leader’s obedience will lead them into a life of holiness – an unused word in our time.
I can still hear my grandmother saying to me, “When will you learn to do as you are told?”