Distinctives Part 1: Character
The Person the Leader
Character is that set of moral qualities that distinguishes one person from others. These qualities include things such as honesty, courage, integrity, humility, perseverance, and decisiveness. Yet it’s important to understand that these traits do not just happen. They actually flow from a deeper structure within the individual. In order to be authentic, these qualities must be connected to a person’s identity—i.e., how that person sees and defines him or herself. As the Scripture says, it is from the heart of a person that proper attitudes and actions flow (Proverbs 4:23).
But this identity or sense of self should not be the result of our own invention. It’s not ultimately important who we say we are, nor is it important who others say we are. What is vitally important is who God says we are. This is true especially for leaders, because in time, our true selves will show through to those we lead.
In the life of Jesus, we see ways he viewed and defined himself that have particular relevance to leadership. As leaders seeking to lead like Jesus, we must also desire to assimilate his character and self-definition into our lives.
The character of the biblical leader may be summarized by three images directly connected to who Jesus was and how he led. These images are the ways that Jesus defined himself in his leadership (influence) toward others. They are the images of the servant, the steward, and the shepherd. These dimensions provide the Christian leader with metaphors by which to grasp the Bible’s teaching about how leaders should see themselves. Leaders who seek to walk in integrity and assimilate Jesus’s character into their being will more naturally express traits of moral character as well as be more naturally empowered to know what to do in practice as they go about leading others.
Additionally, we must be careful to apply these images to the idea of character first and not to conduct—lest we fall into the mind-set that so often typifies the world’s approach— namely, that leadership is merely something we do on the outside. The Bible student will make a big error if he or she only seeks to act as a servant, a steward, and a shepherd without becoming those things—that is, without taking on the character of each. Can a person serve others without a servant’s heart? Well, possibly and temporarily. But that equates to acting a part rather than developing a disposition of servanthood in their person. In time, without full integration and character development, the leader is not able to continue to prop up the character traits necessary for biblical leadership. They are simply too difficult to pretend.
Christlike character, then, is the first distinctive of biblical influence. This is true because it is the primary work of the Holy Spirit after salvation to build that character in the believer. Without it, leaders are merely empty shells, actors who play a part, void of substance and lasting spiritual impact. Leaders like this might impress people with their skills and thus gain a following. But they have the potential to enduringly transform others only through character.
When manifested, character creates the credibility for a leader to be respected and trusted and to earn the right to influence others.