Jeff Christopherson on Why a Christian Leader’s Character is More Important Than Everything Else

Jeff Christopherson is a church planter, pastor, author and Missiologist at the Send Institute – an interdenominational church planting and evangelism think tank.

A careful observation through the history of almost any city demonstrates that the single greatest source of a church’s catastrophic implosion (and the further emanations of spiritual darkness over the landscape) comes not from imperfect theology but from deficient character.

To be sure, there is a connection between the two, but aspiring to right ideals are not enough. Our character must be transformed by a biblical theology that is lived.

Our most lofty public preaching does not have sufficient long-term lift to overcome the enormous gravitational pull found in our personal brokenness.

Our sin, however carefully concealed, will more accurately describe the dark nature of our real theology than our well-rehearsed creeds and confessions. And worse, this year alone painfully highlights that the swath of casualties hemorrhaging from our leaking character broadens as our leadership’s influence grows.

When it comes to leading Jesus’ church, character trumps everything.

It should be instructive to realize that in the New Testament ‘belief’ is not a noun, but a verb. We can never own a belief; we only can live a belief. Our best theology is never truly believed until it is first integrated into our daily lifestyle.

So however we slice it, our character reveals the true nature of our theology.

The Character of Christ

Implicit in Jesus’ call to discipleship was a call to personally take on the radical character of Christ. When Jesus ushered a fresh charge to his pre-disciples with these celebrated words, “follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men”(Mark 1:17), he was with one breath describing both his Kingdom assignment and the only process that makes that assignment possible. ‘Follow me’ always precedes ‘fishers of men.’

Taking on the responsibility of leading the charge for disciple-making without first allowing the character of Christ to transform our personal brokenness can only lead to an unhappy ending.

Conversely, the character necessary for multiplying true disciples of Jesus grows directly in proportion to our personal follow-ship of Jesus.

This pattern of ‘following me’ and newly derived ‘character’ is clearly revealed when Jesus declared; “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

This ‘light of life’ is the very authentication of our character as we follow and therefore resemble our King. The process of following Jesus is the only spiritual discipline that can transform the darkness of our broken character into the very image of Christ himself.

What Does the Character of Christ Actually Look Like?

Reflecting on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount one sees a three-dimensional picture of Kingdom character that warrants a lifetime of study and personal application.

John observed firsthand that Kingdom character and the glory of God were displayed in Jesus through the perfect blending of two spiritual realities – ‘grace’ and ‘truth’; “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Grace and truth eternally and inextricably fused together. In Jesus, grace and truth were not a balanced duo, nor one moderated by the other, but both dished out lavishly and unreservedly toward an undeserving humanity.

It was as extraordinary of a sight in the first century as it is in the twenty-first. The very character of our eternal Father fleshed out before us in the person of Jesus Christ. All grace. All truth.

So, it stands to reason that the process of following Jesus should build a life branded by the character of Christ. So why is our character often so very different?

Enter Sin

Sin, by definition, is missing God’s intended mark.[1]What is his mark? Grace and truth.[2]Our deviation from God’s mark causes us to embrace one and reject the other. Our damaged character finds appeal in one of two insidious and character distorting forms of sin:

i) The Sin of Sensuality (license).Sensuality is seeing ourselves small and therefore living in a way that is lessthan God created us to be. This is deviant grace without truth. A life of sensuality leads to a character damaged and enslaved by obsessive addictions of every shape. In Jesus’ parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15), this is the youngerbrother.

ii) The Sin of Pride (legalism).Pride is seeing ourselves large and therefore living in a way that is greaterthan God created us to be. This is smug truth without grace. A life characterized by pride leads to a character deformed by an arrogant self-righteousness and pseudo-spiritual superiority. In Jesus’ parable of the Lost Son, this is the olderand equally lost brother.


Growing up and learning to navigate the icy winter roads of Canada, one of the first things my father taught me was the danger of oversteering. Oversteering is the tendency to overcompensate when starting to lose traction and begin to spin. It seems at first like a natural response – but soon leaves the inexperienced driver completely out of control.

Instead of correcting a slight skid, he finds himself spinning much faster in the opposite direction. The proper correction is a minor change back toward the center of the road.

We can readily see spiritual oversteer at the heart of our discussion of the Kingdom character of grace and truth. It may come from an attachment to a historical movement (“this is truth”), or following a personality (“this is who I want to be”), or spiritual lethargy (“this is who I am”), or from the need to over-define mystery (“this is who God is”), or from the desire to make personal applications universal (“this is how you should be”).

Attempting to correct without the character of Christ as our guide usually leaves us in worse shape than when we started.

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Source: Christianity Today