Worthy of Your Calling… Integrity to Lead

I recently read a disturbing article about abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. In fact, I actually listened to a Catholic Priest who preached a related homily from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians on leading a life worthy of your calling.

What happens with an unworthy life

The central point of this thought-provoking homily was to ask and answer the question: “What happens when you fail to lead a life worthy of that calling, particularly when you’re a leader?”

The pastor highlighted what happened in six Pennsylvania Dioceses. Evidently, a recent grand jury report includes dozens of testimonies from victims (mostly boys) amounting to decades (over 70 years) of sexual abuse by some 300 clergy. The report also uncovers a pattern of systematic cover-ups by senior church officials.

I will spare you with the gory details, but in his remarks the priest called out church authorities, and said that when we fail to lead a life worthy of our calling, people stop listening to us as a respected authority. That’s because leaders lose credibility when they fail to act according to the very principles they espouse.

It occurs in other places

This criticism is not limited to one Christian denomination. Consider the series of articles recently appearing in the Chicago Tribune. They documented the actions among leaders at one of America’s largest protestant Mega-churches, Willow Creek. Founded by Pastor Bill Hybels, the church has grown exponentially both in membership (26,000 weekly) and influence.

In his writings and seminars Hybels himself has said, “Every time you compromise character, you compromise leadership…your culture will only ever be as healthy as the senior leader wants it to be.” If that’s true the culture at Willow Creek must be both compromised and sick right now. Consider that a group of former pastors and staff (backed by several accounts from alleged victims) confronted Hybels, accusing him of a long pattern of sexual misconduct and harassment.

Though he denies it, Hybels recently resigned from the church, as did his elders. Right now that community is reeling. It’s understandable, particularly when leaders entrusted with the lives of others, abuse their power and take advantage of their position for their own selfish benefits.

What the priest said in his homily is absolutely true. When leaders fail to lead with integrity, they lose credibility and people stop listening to them. Why should they listen when leaders violate a sacred trust?

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples where leaders have done just that and it’s not only limited to the church. Consider Presidents Nixon and Clinton and their indiscretions; Lance Armstrong using steroids; Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults; Brian Williams fabricating his Iraqi experience, or the Enron executives. The list goes on and on.

Leaders Influence Others Beyond Themselves

It’s not just leaders who are affected by unethical actions. It’s the many people around them; their family members, parishioners, associates and workers. Leadership indiscretions cause uncertainty; uncertainty about what happened…uncertainty about the future. Leaders are responsible for the culture, and when the culture is askew stakeholders suffer.

I know many priests, ministers, teachers, healthcare specialists, businesspersons and more who are mostly hardworking people of integrity. They respond to their calling and work selflessly. Unfortunately, they too are painted with the same brush as the violators.

Clearly, what leaders do has a multiplied effect. But leaders also have a choice that should always be considered. They can act with integrity and create far reaching positive effects or they can do the opposite. The problem is when they willingly do the opposite, they also run the risk of hurting themselves and a lot of other people in the process.