There is a curve in the road about 4 miles from our house that I travel through nearly every day. And there are almost always skid marks in the road, and the grass on the shoulder is often in various states of disrepair. Drivers who go too fast there will mishandle the curve and skid onto the shoulder or into the ditch. I often see the homeowner out there working, trying to repair the damage. I found myself on his property a few winters ago on an icy day; I was not going fast but I hit some black ice in the curve, my car did a 360, and I ended up on the side of the road. I was able to drive away and get to my meeting with my iron man group. Another man in our neighborhood, on his way to the same meeting, came along a few minutes later, hit the same patch of ice, and his truck ended up in the woods.
The thought occurred to me as I drove through there recently that “leaders live in the curve.” I was thinking about the church and the vital role that leaders play as they shepherd people through their struggles. The truth is, church leaders are going to have messes in their front yards. The guy down the road who lives on the straightaway? His ditch is perfectly clean, there are no skid marks in front of his house, and he has no idea what the fuss is all about just a quarter of a mile down the road.
There is another danger to consider, as well. Because leaders live in the curve, they have to pull out into it every day. They can easily become a liability to anyone coming their way if they get careless. One moment of negligence can cause others to wreck. If a member of the church falls into sin, it affects some. When a leader in the church falls into sin, it affects many. As the saying goes, when a tall tree falls in the forest, it takes many smaller trees with it.
Church leaders set the standard, and it is also true that a church will begin to take on the personality and the character of its leaders. If the leaders are warm and friendly, the people will be warm and friendly. If the leaders are cold and aloof, the people will be, too. If the leaders love the Word, so will the people. Just like the influence of a father on his family, the leaders set the tone for the church.
Perhaps these reasons help explain why the standards for church elders are so high. If you read 1 Timothy and Titus, you will notice that the qualifications for elder are almost all character qualities. Only one of the fifteen qualifications is a skill; he must be “able to teach.” All of the other qualities describe his character, which will give him a platform from which to teach.
Men in other arenas have testified to character being the indispensable qualification for leaders. General Norman Schwarzkopf said, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.” Aristotle wrote more than 2000 years ago that a leader’s credibility is comprised of two components, character and competence. He also said that if you could only have one, choose character because all the competence in the world cannot make up for a character deficit.
Do you aspire to leadership in the church? Build your character, not your resume.