Gifting and character: these are the two ingredients for successful leadership. For the world, the accent almost exclusively falls on the former. For the church, there is little difference even though biblical authors are clear that character is central to leadership.
Consider the words of Titus: A leader must be blameless, faithful to one’s spouse, have believing children, not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, and not pursuing dishonest gain. Instead, a leader must be hospitable, love what is good, and be self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. Paul’s first letter to Timothy adds to that, saying that overseers must manage their households well, not be new to the faith, and have a good reputation with outsiders. And Peter tells us that leaders benefit others at their expense and shepherd people (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Where does gifting fit in? In two places: the ability to rule, and the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:7). But those gifts are not emphasized more than inner integrity.
Christian leadership entails the gifts of teaching and ruling undergirded by a deep foundation of character. Without this foundation, gifts are only a thin veneer, easily dented, scratched, and scuffed—and left nearly worthless because there is nothing underneath. But a leader with character, even when scratched and scuffed, reveals something more beautiful and precious. They are weathered oaks, majestic and sturdy, and with the passage of time they become even more venerable.
I fear that the past few years have taken a toll on our world. The pandemic and global unrest have led to broken marriages, depression, anger, fear, and mental health issues. We need people of character to lead because, especially in these times, only character will persist. The temptation, however, will be to double down on gifts because that is the world’s default mode.
If we look at the world’s heroes, they are usually young and famous for being famous, as historian Daniel Boorstin stated 60 years ago in his book The Image (1962). Their gift is getting publicity. Consider, too, the fanfare associated with fame—the Oscars, the Emmys, trophies, and the like. Those are rewards for gifts, not character. In fact, the world seems to altogether separate gifts and character, with gifts catapulted to importance while character is ignored. We need to overcome our modern myopia by rediscovering the wisdom of an ancient witness. If we do, we will see a way forward to bless the world. If we do not, our collective lack of character will destroy what good remains.