It is critical that spiritual leaders strive to maintain a life of integrity. Boiling it down, integrity is the consistent harmony of convictions and conduct. Leaders who unswervingly live according to the principles they claim as inviolable are full of integrity. The opposite, of course, is hypocrisy. For spiritual leaders, the word of God is our incontestable standard! Our convictions must come from scripture and our conduct brought into conformity with its directives. Where there is doctrinal compromise there has already been a contentedness “with unbiblical notions that raise [the] comfort level and either justify or overlook…sins.” Integrity is having an untarnished moral character both publicly and when no one else is around.
Years ago, I heard a story about a traveling salesman who was delivering a compelling presentation to the executive manager of a large company. As he was about to unveil the “bottom line” cost of his offer, the executive excused himself for a brief moment. In his absence, the salesman’s eyes caught his rival company’s letterhead on the desk. Noticing that it was a proposal, he strained to see his opponent’s cost figures at the bottom of the page, which were unfortunately covered by the executive’s soda can. Unable to restrain his curiosity, and seeking to gain an advantage, he quickly lifted the can which suddenly unleashed hundreds of tiny steel pellets, sending them all over the desk and office floor. The shocked salesman hung his head, promptly packed up his proposal, and slipped away in shame. His integrity had been tested, and he failed. The anecdotal tale graphically illustrates the importance of cultivating a heart of honesty and sincerity—a reputation for saying and living the same thing. Leaders can become adept at disguising reproachable conduct, hiding behind moral slight-of-hand techniques, intimidation, or important titles. Eventually, dishonest men convince even themselves of their “invincibility” until their hypocrisy is exposed in some scandal. When a spiritual leader’s mask comes off and God’s people are forced to deal with the fallout, there often is the recognition that certain “signs” of diminishing integrity were overlooked. During the months following a character-crisis at the leadership level, it’s been a common tendency to imagine that an otherwise decent leader simply stumbled one day into moral weakness, caught of guard by an overpowering temptation. Such conclusions are naïve.
A close ministry mentor and friend, John MacArthur, has said to me on numerous occasions that “when a man falls, he doesn’t fall far.” In other words, a serious breach of leadership integrity does not occur in a vacuum. Men who have, by the grace of God, forged a pattern of moral veracity are not suddenly seduced by a life of lies and hypocrisy. Betrayal of this sort slowly percolates in the heart over time with a host of smaller, undetected compromises. When an integrity scandal breaks, the fall of that leader is more like a short hop! This is not to suggest that godliness makes us immune to Satan’s schemes or our own fleshly appetites. MacArthur is right, however, implying that where genuine biblical integrity has been refined there is the strong traction of spiritual discernment and fortitude which prevents sudden moral plunges. Before enticing interests gain a foothold, pure men have already unmasked the lie and fled the scene as fast as possible (1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22; Heb 5:14). On topic, Spurgeon’s eloquence is unmatched: “When we hear of a man who has ruined his character by a surprising act of folly, we may surmise, as a rule, that this mischief was but one sulphurous jet from a soil charged with volcanic fire; or, to change the figure, one roaring lion from a den of wild beasts.”