Character Matters

Character Matters

by Dan Baumgartner

Just so you won’t have to wonder as you read this first paragraph, I’m 62 years old. Barely. Okay, with that out of the way…John Stott is gone. Dallas Willard is gone. Eugene Peterson is gone. Some of the main people I have read, quoted, learned from, and admired over the years are now with the Lord. Many others–Fleming Rutledge, Dale Bruner, Frederick Buechner, Wendell Berry–are in their 80s or 90s. And still others–Richard Hayes, N.T. Wright, Tim Keller–are in their 70s. So it is inevitable I would wonder–what comes next? Or rather, who comes next?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not despairing for the future of the Church. God has always raised up leaders. God will always raise up leaders. When I look at so many young people I have connected with over three decades via church staffs, interns, the ordination process in presbyteries or simply friendships, I am very encouraged. God continues to nurture new leadership. I’ve been part of two ordination/installation services in the last few months, both young people who absolutely belong in ministry.

Nonetheless, it’s still hard not to ask who will replace the kinds of folks I listed above. Who will combine quality scholarship and pastoral sensitivities?  Preaching and humility?  Influence but not the seeking after it? Who will be content to pursue the art of pastoring?  Serve in the kingdom of God rather than construct their own power base?  Be the same type of leader in a church of 2,500 or one of 75?

Many of you reading this are pastors, but others are academics, businesspeople, church staff, elders and chaplains. My question applies to everyone. Who will step into being the kind of leader the Church needs in coming years?  More precisely–could it be you?

It could. Absolutely could. Regardless of whether you are fully engaged in leadership right now, or already serving as a role model or mentor or example to younger people (whether you know it or not), I wonder if you have thought lately about your calling. I’m going to be bold and ask some questions. Basic questions, but critical ones for ministry.

-Do you take regular time to reflect?

-Can you admit when you are wrong?

-Do you have someone to talk to about temptations in your life?

-Are you okay with regularly doing things, important things, difficult things, for which you will never be thanked?

-Are you okay with regularly doing things, important things, difficult things, for which you will be opposed and even occasionally disparaged?

-Do you have people in your life who will ask real questions of you?

-Do you need to compete or compare yourself with other churches or pastors?

-Do you know the difference between being transparent about challenges, and constantly sharing failures with people?

-Can you wonder what God might do in someone’s life even as you hear the story of it falling apart?

-Do you regularly sit with the scriptures totally apart from preparing sermons or classes?

-Do you tell the truth?

I ask these questions partially because I’m tired of reading about, hearing or knowing leaders who disintegrate spectacularly in ministry. Sometimes these are well-known celebrity types (three more in the last few months), but more often they are just ordinary pastors and leaders. “Moral failure” is what is often cited as the reason for a person, a marriage, a family or a church crashing into uncharted breaches of trust. Divorces, addictions, affairs, pornography, financial scandals, power plays and on and on. I’m so, so tired of it.

The truth is, if we are going to be leaders among God’s people and help the Church prepare for the future, we have to be better than that. We just have to be. Our inner lives have to be far deeper. Far more centered in Jesus. Far more interconnected with people who help us live well. No, of course we’ll never be perfect. I read something the other day from Carey Nieuwhof that gets at what I’m talking about. He said “Work twice as hard on your character as you do on your competency.” I like that.  We need competent leaders, of course. Elders, worship leaders, preachers, counselors with good gifts they have nurtured and honed. But competency can be overblown. Character, on the other hand, is what God forms in us… maturity of ego, depth of soul, attentiveness to God’s presence and voice, the ability to see others, selflessness–these are the things that must mark the leaders of the Church of the future. These are the things that impact the people around us, inside and outside of our churches.

We have enough celebrities and luminaries and CEOs. We’ve had more than enough disasters. We need leaders whose character exceeds their competencies. I desperately want that to describe me. And every leader being raised up for God’s people. Let us pray.


Dan Baumgartner is the senior pastor at The Cove in Santa Rosa CA and serves as a member of The Fellowship Community Board.