Undeniably one of the most influential leaders in the history of…well, history, is Abraham Lincoln. The man took a great stand against slavery and led the United States through a civil war. He made all kinds of incredibly difficult decisions. He made a speech that became one of the most famous words spoken by any man, ever. But beyond all of these things, the late President had an extraordinary amount of wisdom hidden underneath of that top hat. He once made a statement that happens to highlight the focus of this entry:
Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
So what does your tree look like to other people, and how does that relate to what they see in your shadow as well? Does you shadow look more like a huge oak tree, when in reality you’re only a sunflower? Is the image that you give people of yourself reflective of the image that God sees when He looks at you? Do you have integrity?
One of my high school teachers spent almost an entire week on the topic of integrity. The class itself was a government class, so it was pretty ironic that he taught on integrity, but regardless, he had some decent points. One of them was NOT the illustration he gave using a duck and an eagle. Somehow, he illustrated how some people have integrity and are eagles, and some people don’t have integrity and are ducks. I don’t remember where on earth he got that from, but I promise not to use any weird metaphors like that on you. Still, he did say something that I found intriguing. He defined integrity as a fancy word for honesty, and taught us that if we were honest with everything that we said, including to ourselves, then we had integrity. I have often wondered about that (along with the duck and eagle thing), and whether or not that is really what integrity means. I think that integrity is one of those words that everyone uses but has no real good idea of what it actually means. Webster’s dictionary defines integrity as “Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” To me, this really says just about nothing, but Webster tends to be good at that. We’ll go to a much more reliable source and ask UrbanDictionary, which defines integrity as “Doing the right thing even when nobody’s looking.” Ah…something we can actually understand.
However, these definitions only hit on part of the answer we’re looking for. Henry Blackaby gives what I think is a fairly accurate definition with the combination of two of his quotes:
“Integrity is not a gift. It is a reward of discipline, honesty, consistency, and doing what is right no matter the cost.” and “Integrity is not automatic. It is a character trait that leaders consciously cultivate in their lives…it happens on purpose.”
Thus, integrity is not something that we have based on one single act. We cannot obtain integrity by doing one thing right even when others aren’t looking, nor can we have integrity by simply having morals…or…painting…or something like that.
Integrity, as Blackaby points out, is a character trait that is both purposeful and continuous. It is the result of not just being honest, but of being disciplined and consistent in everything that we do. This is so incredibly important to the Christian leader because it gives credibility to our authority. Leaders influence other people to do things. Christian leaders influence people to grow closer to the Lord through obedience to Him. But if you do not have integrity, then you do not have influence. And if you have no influence on the lives of people, how exactly are you still leading them?
It was Warren Weirsbe who said that “Apart from character [or integrity], ministry is only religious activity, or even worse, religious business… No amount of reputation can substitute for character.” You cannot simply have a great reputation to have great influence. Eventually, people will find you out for who you really are. They’ll be able to see past the shadow to see you for who you really are. And the problem with that is, once they see you for who you really are, they completely ignore the shadow. Even though before they saw the real thing they could only focus on the shadow and ignored the real you, once they see you in reality, they’ll never be able to look back. When you mess up once, rarely will you get a second chance. Even though in a church setting there is the process of church discipline and then forgiveness and restoration, outside of the church there is no such thing. If you as a spiritual leader offend a nonbeliever because they see you for who you really are, you won’t get a second chance with them, and they may never give the Lord a second chance either. How important is a single soul to you, much less God? If you have any respect for the souls of those who disbelieve God, or even those who have never heard of Him before, then you will strive for integrity with everything you have.
However, striving for integrity does not mean that you should strive to hide the person who you really are so that people will never be able to see past your shadow. For one, people will probably be able to figure you out regardless of what efforts you make to hide your lack of integrity. Instead, striving after integrity means that you are determined to get people to see past your shadow and get them to see you for who you really are. That person, though, should not be someone that will turn them away from Jesus, but one that points them directly to Christ, and nobody else, including you. As Blackaby speaks on this topic once more, we learn that “An unmistakable sense of authority accompanies leaders with integrity.” When people see you for who you really are, and the person that you really are points them to the Lord, then you have an incredible amount of authority and influence that can change a person’s life to likewise reflect that of Christ.
So, you want this kind of integrity, but how do you get there? What do you do to get integrity? There are two different uncomplicated but still ridiculously complicated things that you can do right now in order to gain the integrity that both you and the Lord desire for your life:
1-> Search through the Word of God for what He has to say about what your life should look like. Look at the life of Jesus, and try to reflect it as best as you can. Look at the lives of great leaders in the Bible and emulate their lives. Then take a look at the commands that the Lord has made in Scripture and make the radical changes necessary in your life that the Lord requires from them. One such place that is a great place to start is in Colossians 3:12-17:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
– Colossians 3:12-17, ESV
There are more great passages similar to that one (Romans 12:9-21, Ephesians 5:1-21), but dig in yourself as well, and find out what Christ desires that you act and look like as His follower. Beyond that, if you are leading other, then at some point you probably teach or preach to either other Christians or nonbelievers, or both. So, if you are preaching or teaching, then make sure that what you say is also what you do. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:23).
2-> In addition to what the Word of God says, you have your own personal convictions that may or may not be based on Scripture. You need to be able to stay consistent with these as well.
Make sure to check yourself, not only based on the Word, but also based on what you believe morally and how you interpret Scripture. You must be consistent in both areas. Otherwise, you could be teaching on one verse in the Scripture, interpreting it one way and believing a completely different thing about it. Or, you could be telling people to act in a certain way when you yourself do not act that way. That is not integrity, that’s inconsistency.
So what are you going to do? You should already be going through the Word of God, looking for His commandments, and pursuing obedience in those areas of your life out of love for God and a delight in His rules. Stay consistent in that, and make sure that you are not trying to hide that. If you’re not there yet, then go back and re-read the first paragraph or so of my previous post. Please don’t neglect this. Those who depend on your leadership need the real you, not your shadow. Stop trying to be someone you’re not for the sake of reputation, and start trying to be the person that God wants you to be for the sake of souls. Emulate the honest truth of who you are.