Character Still Matters

by gary weedman

If your congregation is like the one where I grew up, the preacher preaches a sermon or two on the qualifications of an elder before it’s time to choose these leaders each year.  The sermon usually focuses on the 16 requirements for elders mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  The discussions that follow often include exactly what some of those qualifications mean.  Does “the husband of one wife” disqualify an otherwise godly and faithful widower?  Does “hav[ing] faithful children” eliminate a man who demonstrates the other 15 characteristics but who never had children?  Should the title be “bishop” (as in Timothy) or “elder” (Titus uses both terms)? 

Furthermore, while the two separate lists have overlapping requirements, they are not quite identical.  Why does Timothy include three not mentioned in Titus, which has one not mentioned in Timothy?
These are interesting questions, but if we understand the passages to be some sort of check list, which, when “ticked off,” qualify someone to be an elder, we have missed Paul’s point.  These lists are examples – important but not exhaustive – of the core principle of character expected of those who lead.
Should character be a prerequisite for leadership?  The question has become one of popular discussion in our current political atmosphere.  Can we overlook the character of potential leaders if they can produce some desired result regardless of character?  What long-term, unintended consequences follow such a choice?  Some believe that even evangelical Christians have accepted that character can be ignored in leaders if they can bring about an otherwise desired outcome.
Yet, important voices cry out that character still matters.  Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has spoken extensively about the importance of character as it relates to leadership.  In his article, “Character in Leadership – Does it Still Matter?” he reminds readers that in 1976 Jimmy Carter (as candidate) created a scandal by agreeing to be interviewed by Playboymagazine, a move criticized by many Christian leaders in spite of the fact that Carter strongly affirmed biblical principles for personal morality.  Mohler contrasts that scene to one 40 years later when a prominent evangelical leader (the first among many) chose to endorse a presidential candidate with his framed picture on the cover of Playboy proudly displayed in his office.  What difference four decades can make! 

[Link to Dr Mohler’s character piece:
Indeed, some concern about the ultimate importance of character still exists.  Journalist David Brooks recently published a book, Road to Character, much of it the core of his popular ethics course at Yale University.  In the work he affirms the importance of what he calls the “eulogy self” as opposed to the “résumé self.”   What is more important in our lives: character traits for which we would like to be remembered at our memorial service, or check lists of accomplishments that bring temporary acclaim and applause from the culture?  The “eulogy self” is our true character.
Not to be outdone by Yale, Harvard professor Michael Sandel has taught, for over two decades, the most popular course in Harvard’s history – “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” Nearly one thousand students crowd Sanders Hall each year to participate in Socratic dialogue about how to make ethical choices that transcend utilitarian purposes – proof that many still search for truth grounded in something beyond the mere useful and temporary.
Yes, character still matters.  It matters in leadership in any enterprise, and it matters most of all in the Church.  Yes, those 16 listed characteristics are important, supremely so because they point to something larger than any individual item listed.  They illustrate the incredible character needed to lead well – being “above reproach,” “blameless,” “an example” – as Paul and Peter described (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6, 1 Pet. 5:3).  They describe a “eulogy self” rather than “résumé self.”  May our congregations demonstrate that character still matters as they choose elders who first of all value the “eulogy self.”

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