Far too often we wonder how anyone in ministry could use their position as a place to hide. Far too often we have been blindsided by a feeling that something is not right, but we all love Jesus so it will be okay. And far too often, someone finally shares about concerns regarding a ministry leader and they are ignored out of fear of what it might mean.
Far too often.
Jeff’s first paid ministry position was as a youth pastor in heart of Seattle, WA. The youth group was made up of teens from the International District. Twelve of the fourteen spoke English as a second language.
We both served these kids with our whole hearts, giving them what we thought was the heart of Jesus. One day, the associate pastor was found missing and it soon became clear that he had left with the church’s entire savings in hand.
Yes, this man had plotted for five years, even marrying a woman in the church. We later found out he was a professional embezzler, and this left the entire church traumatized.
Welcome to ministry.
The Integrity Gaps
Though not every ministry leader has experienced such wreckage, this story is just one of far too many where leaders are not who they say they are.
Leaders can find themselves justifying their own integrity gaps because “we all fall short of the glory of God” and we’re doing Kingdom work after all so let’s focus on that. We get too busy “doing” the ministry and miss the gap between who we say we are and how we are actually living.
Or we might find ourselves justifying another’s integrity gap in the name of grace.
Jude 1:4 says, “They are ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”
The Bible is clear that there are people who will claim the doctrines of our faith but will live their lives using grace as a reason to sin. We must stay alert and on guard against this temptation.
Friends, if you are serving in the body of Christ and love your God and the Church, how you live and lead matters. Who we are matters more than what we do.
Perfection is never even an option for us humans, but growing in the knowledge of our common struggles, limitations, and our desperate need for trusted relationships will only help us lead with integrity. In fact, if you are serving in the church at any level, your integrity gap not only impacts you, but it impacts everyone you lead.
We all have a gap. When your gap is closing and you lead with integrity, trust and grace abound. When you lead and ignore your own traumas, triggers, shame, arrogance, blind spots, isolation, and maladaptive coping strategies, everyone in your wake of influence will pay.
It’s just a matter of time.
The Effects of Trauma
Most ministry leaders say they love Jesus. Most say that integrity should be a given. However, we have found after twenty years of being leaders, working with leaders in the confidential spaces, and helping organizations with leaders who have really struggled, most high-capacity leaders are trauma survivors.
Trauma is often the last thing we consider when we think of leaders, but due to the nature of trauma, it causes any person to choose a road of victimization or over-performance in order to numb the pain of shame.
Compartmentalization and escapism can become a common way of life. And before long, a talented leader can find themselves achieving in ministry without ever addressing the core wounds of their story. Unresolved pain and trauma in our lives will eventually catch up to us, causing pain in a leader’s marriage, parenting, and ministry teams.
The Lifestyle of Integrity
Shrinking our integrity gaps is a decision to intentionally live what we preach—time and time again. Integrity is a lifestyle. When we tell others that Jesus loves them, leaders have to also face the reality that Jesus really loves them too.
It’s a sad reality that many ministry leaders have not truly received the love of Jesus in every area of their lives but are good at telling others the good news. When the Holy Spirit, or those in our trusted sphere of influence, begin to speak to us about areas we need to grow, we must act now.
If everyone sings your praises, consider finding a few who will love you enough to see beyond your performance. High-capacity leaders often mesmerize others with their charisma and skills but are left with few who will speak truth. Be diligent to find a few, even if it’s a trusted counselor or spiritual director to begin the journey.
The church is in desperate need of leaders. And not just shepherds who lead with humility and gentleness, but leaders who finish their race well.
Whether you are a seasoned leader or emerging leader, consider reading Shrinking the Integrity Gap: Between What Leaders Preach and Live, alongside someone else you trust to help you grow in integrity toward wholehearted leadership.
It’s time for a generation of leaders who are able to give away what they too have received: wholehearted leaders have allowed God and a few others to know and love all of who they are, in mind, heart, body, and spirit, with nothing hidden. It is then that we can lead with integrity—living honest lives, rooted in grace, and propelled by the power of love.