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Lessons in Ethical Leadership


What differentiates Christian leadership from secular leadership? It is important to note that the difference between a Christian leader and a secular leader is who and what forms the individual leader’s character, and therefore, guides the individual leader in her ensuing choices and conduct. Consequently, the subject as well as the source of ethics should be considered.


According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “ethics” can be defined as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation; a set of moral principles, a theory or system of moral values, a guiding philosophy, a consciousness of moral importance; a set of moral issues or aspects (as rightness). However, William M. Tillman, Jr. (author of Understanding Christian Ethics), gives a more cohesive definition within the context of ethical leadership as it relates to Christians in all facets of life. He asserts that, “Christian ethics is in one sense an emphasis study. That is, it, more than any branch of theological study, is geared specifically toward matters of virtue, character, rightness and wrongness, and application of such knowledge to the multiple circumstances of life in all of its personal and corporate relationships … Christian ethics is applied Christianity. It is that point where word becomes deed. It is the call both to believe and behave, since ‘faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead’ (James 2:17, RSV) and all Christians are called to ‘be doers of the word, and not hearers only’ (James 1:22, RSV).”


The foundation of our Christian ethics stems from the basic formation of our character.  Why do we make decisions the way we do?  Who were and are our character builders, role models, heroes and heroins? Whose style of leadership do we follow and why?  How do we and others we know and have known express Christian ethics in daily living?


As followers of Christ, let’s consider the ethics of Jesus and how He conducted Himself and related to others as a result. Jesus addressed and therefore emphasized personal ethics more than social ethics in the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament. He gave personal directives as lessons that we should grasp regarding the following topics (and I encourage you to ponder the accompanying scriptural references related to each topic as well):


* Righteousness as an Internal Attitude and not an External Act (Matt. 5:20 & 6:33)

* Forgiveness (Matt. 5:21-25)

* Love (Matt. 5:43-48 & 22:34-40, John 13:34-35)

* Materialism (Mark 9:33-37)

* Duty to the State (Matt. 22:15-22)

* Exemplifying the Character/Goodness of God (Matt. 5:48 & 7:11)

* Following the Example of Jesus as His Disciple (Mark 1:17, 2:10, 3:14, 4:10, 8:34 & 10:45, John 13:14, Matt. 10:1-15 & 12:28)

* Denouncing/Avoiding Anger & Lust as Sin (Matt. 5:21-30)

* Accepting & Valuing Others (Matt. 1:40-45 &10:13-16, Luke 8:1-3)

* Accepting the Call to Serve (Mark 10:42-45, John 15:6)

* Obedience for Mission without Motive (Matt. 16:27, Matt. 6:1)

* Faith Demonstrated by Action (John 4:50, 5:9 & 6:35)


All of the aforementioned directives were demonstrated by the life of Jesus so that we can have a character benchmark to reach for and emulate. Character and conduct are intertwined and cannot be separated, for one determines the other. Therefore, our character will also determine how we conduct ourselves as we relate to other people in our personal and professional lives. Lessons in ethical leadership can be extracted from Jesus’ example as well, particularly as we examine His ministry, methods and management of the minorities, the marginalized and the masses that He served. In so doing, we can learn what is needful in our own unique spheres of influence and adjust ourselves as well as our ethical leadership styles accordingly.

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