The Need for Integrity

[This article is part of the “spiritual leadership today” study/discussion going on this year. For all articles in the series, click the Spiritual Leadership tab at the top of the page. To have them delivered, subscribe to The Brook Letter]

The highest currency leaders trade on is trust. If there is trust between a leader and those he or she leads, any reasonable goal is attainable. Without trust even the simplest objective is a hill too high to climb.

Leaders need a deep understanding of where trust comes from because it does not come out of thin air, and it does not come as the result of the leader asking for trust. Acceptance may be free; trust must be earned. And the earning of trust can begin when there is some basic integrity in the life of the leader.

What comes to our minds when we hear “integrity”? Honesty? Humility? Right motives? Purity of heart? A pretty tall order, particularly given the reality that every leader is a broken, flawed, damaged, sinful creature. People who exercise good spiritual leadership begin with the assumption that they really have no right to demand or expect trust from anybody.

It is what Jesus meant when he asked his disciples to picture two men praying at the temple, a Pharisee who thanked God that he was better than other men, fasting twice a week, giving away a tenth of his money, and a very worldly man who prayed, not even looking up to heaven, but beating his breast saying: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The second man went home right with God, Jesus said. And the operative principle? “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

Yet in our job interviews for leadership positions we are so given to strutting and crowing and bragging. We don’t begin (in the heart) where Isaiah began: “Woe to me… I am a man of unclean lips.” Or where Simon Peter began: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Among all the prophets and apostles, the most major of the major prophets (Isaiah) and the highest representative of the followers of Jesus (Simon Peter) both began at the same place.

So integrity begins with the conviction that we have none. Aspiring leaders must not entertain the slightest temptation to posture as flawless, complete, inerrant. Leaders do not have credibility because of personal holiness, but because of the holiness that is God’s act of consecration–the setting aside–of the leader for God’s own holy purposes.

Once we admit our lack of integrity, God begins to build something new and solid–a new life rebuilt with the broken stones of a prior life put together in a brand new way. Simon Peter the fisherman knew what it was to watch a building arise from the the brokenness of personal failure. Jesus named him Petros, Rock, but only later did Peter understand that God restores broken stones, and makes them integral (i.e. to have integrity with) his great construction project.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:4, 5, 9).

But what really is integrity?

It is important that we understand and remember the core meaning of integrity. In Latin integritas means “whole or intact.” So an “integer” is a whole number like 3, 7, or 10. No fractions, no ambiguity. Integrity is a state of being or becoming whole, sound, consistent, connected. Engineers and architects use “integrity” to describe well-designed buildings, bridges, and towers that will not fall down because the spans of steel, layers of concrete, bolts and screws, glass and silicone work together to create stability and strength. Engineering integrity also includes flexibility. A skyscraper crudely built with immovable material is certain to crack the first time a ground tremor happens. (If you’ve ever been at the top floor of a major skyscraper and felt like it was moving a little with gusts of wind–it probably was.) Integrity, in other words, is not just a matter of building something bulky and stiff, but designed and built with intelligence.

Is it not true that the strongest (and most effective) leaders we know, also choose to flex–with discernment?

And so we have the New Testament analogy of a building, a “spiritual house” that is built with “living stones” in the words of 1 Peter 2. Spiritual leadership is not primarily an exercise in building organizations or institutions, but in building people and communities. And if those communities lead logically and necessarily to organizations and institutions, then that ought to happen. But even then the integrity of the work is determined by the construction that happens at the core human level. Great universities, churches, and benevolent organizations derive their greatness from the person-by-person integrity of building lives, and of bringing “living stones” in contact with each other until a “spiritual house” is built.

[to be continued…]

(Dr. Christopher Wright offered a clarion call for a restoration of integrity, simplicity, and humility today at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa last year. The video is available online.)

What do you think? Does this depiction of integrity sound overly confident? Overly cautious? Why do you think integrity is an issue today? Do you have a suggestion for how we can pursue it? (Speak up! Comment below. Or use SHARE/SAVE below to draw others into the conversation.)

6 thoughts on “The Need for Integrity”

  1. luke 20:18 “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces”

    i love the picture of integrity that you presented, because (if i properly understand your article) after we fall on Christ, He will glue us back together with true wholeness.

    His uses permanent glue, and He also puts our pieces in the right order. I’m not capable of doing either.

    Thanks for your article, it gives me lots to think about!

  2. Sadly in the world there is so little integrity and when one truly has integrity, it does not count in so many instances. That is the reason, integrity fails to exist in too many churches. Leaders and people fail to be honesty with each other and think we can even fool God.

    It is my prayer that all Christians will embrace integrity, but sadly I feel God is going to have to knock us down, in order for us to wake up.

  3. Thank you Mel for your reflection and study.
    Impact to me: God restores broken stones, and makes… his great construction project.
    Spiritual leadership is not primarily an exercise in building organizations or institutions, but in building people and communities.

  4. Mega thanks, Mel. I will be doing the devotions for our churches Stephen Ministry group very soon here in Cary, N.C., and thought the connection between integrity and trust was so very important, and so I will plan to use the salient points of your article for the devotion if that is ok with you. Without trust, a Stephen Minister care giver cannot be effective with a care receiver. So integrity is certainly vital for all care givers. Mega thanks for your thoughts.

  5. I am not a “Christian” per se, but I am a very spiritually connected person who is God-driven. I have asked myself so many times lately, “Why is there so little integrity these days.” I think you can be of any religion and appreciate this piece. I don’t think that people of the past were perfect, but the total lack of integrity I see today amazes me, especially in the way people do business. It seems to be pervading everything. I don’t know. It seems to be a fear or something, a scrabbling to possess and own and consume. Maybe because God is looking to us to really step up at this time and evolve spiritually, egos are rebelling, and it is a sort of a backlash. It is the cry of the ego in a state of terror in a last gasp to save itself. I also think it is something everyone can be vulnerable to being sucked into, too. It would be great to see what others think on this. And who knows, maybe integrity will prosper in those of us who follow, rather than any leaders. We will lead the way for the leaders. Maybe we are tired of waiting for leadership to step up to the plate. And yet, along with the lack of integrity, there is also a lot of love afoot when you least expect it these days, too.

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