5 Ways To Effectively Protect Your Integrity
By: Brian Dunks
Over the past year, the news has been filled with stories of people who have lost their reputations and the respect of others due to allegations of harassment, misconduct, or moral failure. We're human, which means we are all going to make mistakes. But what are some practical steps we can take to maintain our integrity as we lead ourselves and our teams?
According to Rory Vaden, founder of Southwestern Consulting and recent guest on the Vanderbloemen Leadership podcast, integrity is “the congruence of your words and your actions.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”
You can only lead people if they trust you. Leadership is a privilege, not a right, and it is earned by making choices that are consistent with your words. Do you practice what you preach? The most damaging mistake pastors can make is betraying the trust of their families, staff, and church attendees by making choices that run contrary to their principles.
So how can you make integrity a priority? Here are five steps you can take to help you maintain your integrity in your ministry:
1. Pursue humility
Each of us is vulnerable to making choices that are dishonoring and hurt our integrity. No person is immune from making mistakes. The first line of defense is a humble spirit. Proverbs tells us that “pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before the fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The prophet Jeremiah stated “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” So many of us believe “nothing will happen to me” or “I’d never behave like that” or “I won’t fall.” We should have a holy awareness that we are not above temptation.
How do you develop and carry a sense of humility? It’s imperative to monitor your level of commitment daily. Examining your life and maintaining a daily walk with the Lord is crucial. While Satan says "no one will ever know," the truth is, God knows and is always with you.
2. Set up preventative measures to protect yourself
We need to go the extra mile to protect ourselves. When we are at our best, we need to prepare for our worst. Jesus said to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). His words warn us to avoid situations of temptation.
What are some practical ways to protect yourself? The first is self-awareness about particular issues that one might struggle with more than others. Know yourself and set up healthy boundaries in your life to protect yourself against what might distract you from staying the course. For some, this might be unhealthy dependencies on alcohol or sex. For others, it might be money. Self-awareness about areas where you struggle are key to helping protect yourself from potential downfall.
A couple of practical strategies specific to ministry may be making sure you set healthy boundaries in a counseling situation. Another could be avoiding prolonged periods of time alone with someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse. It is wise to surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable. It is more than whether you may give in our not; it’s a matter of using wisdom to protect yourself and your church.
3. Shield your eyes and guard your mind
David wrote, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3). Paul tells us to “take on the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17). That helmet protects the mind and keeps it pure. Jesus said, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). The Bible is specific: The battle with sin is waged through our eyes and in our minds. Yes, we are to be in the world but not of the world. What are some ways to shield your eyes and guard your mind? You can begin by monitoring your media intake. What’s on your playlist? What are you watching? Who are you following on social media? When you sow a thought, it will eventually bring about action. We must guard what we think about and what we look at.
4. Focus on your relationship with Christ, your marriage, and your family
Ultimately, integrity is a heart issue. Simply setting up boundaries doesn't correct your heart. Take action to be intentional about growing and developing your relationship with Christ. In ministry, it can be easy to neglect your own time with the Lord when you're pouring it into others.
If you’re married, make sure that relationship is growing and developing. Often pastors are so busy managing and repairing other marriages that they neglect their own. Too often pastors neglect their own kids and sacrifice them on the altar of ministry. Boundaries help us bring balance in our lives. What are some ways you can focus on your marriage and family? Perhaps read together. Pray together. Date regularly. Vacation often. It’s important to share life together.
5. Remind yourself of the ramifications of moral failure
Watch the news and you can see how moral depravation can destroy the lives of so many and the people around them. The Bible says “when sin is finished it brings forth death” (James 1:15). We see the results of sin every day. Randy Alcorn, founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, created a list of consequences resulting from a moral tumble. He wrote: "Whenever I feel particularly vulnerable to sexual temptation, I find it helpful to review what effects my action could have: grieving the Lord who redeemed me; dragging his sacred name through the mud; one day having to look at Jesus, the righteous judge in the face, and give an account of my actions; following the footsteps of people whose immorality forfeited their ministries and caused me to shudder; losing my wife's respect and trust; hurting my daughters; destroying my example and credibility with my children; causing shame to my family; losing self-respect; forming memories and flashbacks that could plague future intimacy with my wife; wasting years of ministry training; undermining the faithful example and hard work of other Christians in our community; and on and on."
Paul says, “This is our boast. Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world…in the holiness and sincerity that are from God” (2 Corinthians 1:12). When all is said and done here on earth, we all want to be able to say, “I established boundaries. I guarded my mind. I walked in humility. I blessed those closest to me. I ministered with integrity.” And then God will welcome us with the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." These are the marks of a true leader.
There are some clear biblical truths for maintaining moral integrity in the ministry. Titus 2:6 tells us the first qualification of being a leader is to be blameless. Ephesians 5:3 warns that there “must not even be a hint of sexual immorality or any impurity or greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Our actions must align with our words if we are to live a life of integrity. Do yours?
How can you protect your integrity in the ministry and remain morally pure?