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Character trumps leader’s skills and gifts
The leaders must be a model of character

Character trumps leader’s skills and gifts


The model of godliness with integrity that a Christian leader shows in his lifestyle, challenges others to follow Christ through the testimony of his life. But that is not always the case. A good number of Christian leaders failed in ministry because of character flaws.


I once cried very bitterly for the moral failure of a spiritual leader I had deeply respected. It was at a Younger Leaders Conference in Singapore which was organised by the Lausanne Movement (formerly the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation).

The time for the first session for the main speaker had come. But the conference auditorium was rather quiet. No activity. We waited for a while, then Leighton Ford stepped up unto the podium and read a sad note from the main speaker.

He would not be available for the conference. He had been involved in a case of moral failure with his secretary. He was removed from office and had started a period of counseling and was under Church discipline. His note ended, “Let not this happen to any of you Evangelical leaders gathered in this conference.” What? I was suddenly overwhelmed with grief. My dam of tears burst, and I wept bitterly. He was such a great and very skillful and gifted leader. Sadly, character failure knocked him out of Spiritual Leadership Ministry. I wept for him, I wept for the International ministry he served. I wept for the terrible betrayal we still could be to Christ.

Over the past two decades or more, we have seen prominent National and International Christian leaders in Church and society taken off “the playing field” due to gross crack in character, and moral failure. Some Churches and organisations apply Church discipline more promptly and in line with biblical instructions than others. The Bible requires Christians leaders to live exemplary lifestyles: “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 ESV).

The power of Christ-like character and the power of leadership example is key to success in ministry and public service.

A great example is Prince of Preachers, Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon. Dr Larry J. Michael of Southern Baptist Seminary reviews the importance of character to Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon and his great leadership influence through godly character.

 Traditionally, character has been defined as the “moral constitution of a person.” In other words, “character reveals the true substance of a person; who that person really is, day in and day out, in good times and bad times, over the course of a lifetime”. Contrary to some opinions, character is not one’s title, role or position.

 In its essence, leadership is not a position, it’s a lifestyle. Those who have made the greatest mistakes are leaders who have assumed that their position was more important than their lifestyle. For some of them, the consequences have been tragic or terrible.


The personal character of a leader bears witness to the lasting influence of that leader. Throughout his extended ministry, Rev. Charles. H. Spurgeon exhibited steadfastly the highest moral conduct in his personal and public life. James Douglas wrote in His biography of Spurgeon: “He was great as a man. Great in private with God, and great in public with his fellow men.” The man had a lifelong consistency, and his influence helped to lead thousands of people to follow the Christ he loved and served.

 Authentic leaders exhibit an uncompromising standard of moral character. It is no coincidence that Spurgeon’s legacy as a Christian leader is due in large measure to the fact that he exhibited steadfastly the highest moral conduct throughout his life.

 Christians must never submit to low standards of morality among their leaders.

Warren Bennis contends that character is the “essence of leadership”. Leaders cannot lead effectively without the trust of their followers. When people see hypocrisy, they withhold their trust. When people are betrayed, they withdraw their support. Trusted leaders are consistent in their public and private behaviour. They are authentic in their concern for their followers and they are true to their word.


Spurgeon earned the trust of even the public media by demonstrating a public picture of himself that was matched by a pattern of his private behaviour.

 To make the right case for character regarding leadership, one must consider the consistency of one’s actions, the motives behind one’s decisions, the behaviour in one‘s relationships, the integrity of one’s use of ethical principles and certainly one’s authenticity in lifestyle. But a true character cannot be evaluated properly in the span of a few years or even several decades. To judge one’s character, especially as it relates to leadership, a fully accurate assessment could take a lifetime. A leader might exhibit stellar character in his leadership today, but tomorrow, he might fall.

 Spurgeon was not naïve enough to ignore his own vulnerability. He was the first to admit his own sinfulness before a righteous God and a watching world. His sermons are full of the recognition of his own plight, were he not transformed by the abounding grace of his Saviour. Spurgeon’s secret to overcoming sinful temptation was nothing less than his total submission to the rule and reign of Christ in his life.

Through his unwavering commitment, strong convictions and disciplined lifestyle, Spurgeon’s character remained very much solidly consistent with the faith he professed. Leaders will experience temptation like anyone else but the difference lies in how they respond to such temptation. Spurgeon’s secret to overcoming sinful temptations was his personal relationship with Christ.

 As the entrepreneur of many enterprises including the orphanage, almshouses and other benevolent ministries, Spurgeon could have padded his own pocket at the expense of those organizations. But the evidence is quite clear that, instead, he gave sacrificially to fill the coffers of those groups, never profiting from them personally.


He did not only live right, he ensured that other leaders lived right. Spurgeon kept fairly tight reins on the leadership circles of his church and its extended ministries.

 The leaders must be a model of character. People today want to know that their leaders are credible, and that they can be trusted. Members of an evangelical church want to see their pastor exhibit the personal qualities that he expounds from the pulpit – for example, that their pastor is a truthful leader who keeps his word. They want to know that he is honest in all of his dealings, pays his bills on time, doesn’t cheat on his taxes and follows through with his commitments.

They want not only to see him speak about evangelism but also to know that he is an evangelist personally. They don’t want just to hear preaching on tithing; they want to know that their pastor is a biblical giver. They need to know that when he challenges them to be involved in daily ministry, he too is doing his part. They want to see their pastor demonstrate family priorities, not just proclaim what the Bible teaches about them.

They desire to hear about God’s love, but they want to see their leader practise love. They need to hear about godly priorities, but they want to see their pastor demonstrate holiness and the right balance in his own lifestyle.

 Bishop J. C. Ryle echoes Spurgeon’s sentiments: “Biblical doctrine preaching is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless; it does positive harm. Something of ‘the image of Christ’ must be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings”.

(The author is a consultant in authentic Christian Spirituality and Discipleship and former CEO of Scripture Union)

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