Courageous Leaders, Bullies and Weasels

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True leadership demands character.

The other day, I talked about arrogant pastors — a problem that is all too common. As I had both expected and feared, there was quite a response across various forms of social media. People quickly identified with the issue.

I’ve been thinking more about the issue of character. Even this morning, we see what the lack of courageous character can do as we watch government leaders fail to take action and the “sequester” takes effect.

True leadership demands character.

In ministry, that character has to be courageous character. My experience is that it is not celebrated enough and, to be honest, is sometimes lacking in ministry.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Well, it is not a secret that ministry positions can unfortunately become places of power more than servanthood.

Let me also add that Christian ministry often elevates people who can write and speak into positions of leadership and influence before their character is prepared to handle it. In other words, if you can write and speak, you sometimes gain influence without possessing the character to handle it.

But what is character, exactly? It has become a word we sometimes throw around quite flippantly. Almost like the nebulous “it factor,” we can identify those who have it, and we can most certainly identify those who don’t. But it is something we all should display, regardless of our position.

When it comes to ministry leaders, I thought of four things that fit the description. Mind you, it is not an exhaustive list. Just one that has been developed through my observations of those who evidence character, and those who do not. As with yesterday, I’d like to hear your comments on them and any additional traits that you might suggest.

Ministry leaders with courageous character:

1. Always tell the truth.

Most of the time, the temptation to lie, hide or manipulate the facts comes because we want to protect ourselves. A leader of character knows that truth is primary.

In particular, leaders in ministry know that self-protection does not fit with what we know to be true about the gospel. Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners and meet our greatest need. There is nothing left to protect because He has already protected everything for us. Forever. We have nothing to lose and nothing to hide, and with that comes great freedom — the freedom to be transparent and honest.

If you shade or distort the truth, or hide facts and plans for your own benefit or advancement, you are not a leader of courageous character.

Ed Stetzer Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.

More from Ed Stetzer or visit Ed at

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  • Grateful

    Let the church say, “AMEN!”

  • Ryan

    The odd thing about character is that a person really doesn’t know where they stand character wise till it is tested through circumstance. We all would like to think we have good character, but until it has been truly tested, no one really knows where they are. I believe God brings circumstances into our lives to test that, not that God would know where we stand but so that we know where we stand. How else would we know where and how we need to improve and things we need to work on?

    • Hessica1982

      Until character is tested all ones has is ones word. But it has been my experience to believe what a person does and not so much what he says. Sometimes there can be a wide gape in words, deeds and actions.

  • Dalia

    Love this article. Such a HUGE and SERIOUS responsibility undersheparding Jesus’ sheep. Psalm 23 gives a perfect example of how sheep are inspected and protected. Jesus places pastors/leaders before us to lead as His spiritual example. I always tell my husband if ever we are in unsafe territory, do not show fear, act like you know how we will overcome it. By piggy-backing on his strength I can stand too. In a pastor I look for the spiritual authority of scripture and his strength in the Holy Spirit and I feel protected. Now, I know we are to rely on God, Jesus, Holy Spirit strength, and I do. I also know Jesus place leaders before us for the same reason, so we can run to them and they can scare away the big bad wolves. Ryan’s comment regarding testing character has merit. To my remembrance today’s pastors have not ever had to face the evil that confronts them now, the tolerance of homosexuality. There’s going to come a day, and it’s around the corner, where if Prop 8 is not upheld, homosexual marital ceremonies will be expected to be performed in your church or face the absence of tax breaks, of breaking the law by not treating everyone equally. Will a pastor’s spiritual character dig deeper into the foundation, or will he avoid and/or adjust the topic of this sinful lifestyle in his sermons? Stand firm, pastors! God is on your side. You plus God…you’re in the majority!

  • bobbiej275

    Awesome article!