Jeff and Terra Mattson on Shrinking the Integrity Gap to Prevent the Next Christian Scandal

Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks at the second annual Turning Point USA Winter Gala at the Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, on Dec. 18, 2019. Photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

Jeff Mattson and Terra Mattson are founders of Living Wholehearted, where they coach leaders and counsel individuals. Their forthcoming book is “Shrinking the Integrity Gap: Between What Leaders Preach and Live.”


(RNS) — When Jerry Falwell Jr. inherited the presidency of the university his father founded, he was a reluctant leader, according to a recent Washington Post profile. Yet in his 13 years in the president’s chair at Liberty, Falwell has slowly expanded his influence from Liberty University’s campus to the national political scene, and shown that leadership can be leveraged for good or cause great harm.

Currently on a leave of absence from Liberty University because of some controversial social media posts, Falwell has also demonstrated that as a leader’s influence grows, so must his or her commitment to integrity.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the longer leaders remain in leadership, the more relaxed they become about their principles and convictions. They lose sight of their original purpose, living disconnected from what they preach to others. Words do not match actions. Private lives do not match their public life. The next scandalous headline is just waiting to be written.

Every leader gets to choose when, and if, they will face their own humanity and commit to leading with greater integrity. The sooner that happens, the better. Healthy leaders do the hard work to get their baggage down to carry-on size, which prepares them to handle greater influence.

Unhealthy leaders, on the other hand, choose to ignore their integrity gaps: the expanding distance between what they preach and how they live. For those leaders, it’s a matter of time before they — and those in their wake — pay the price. Christian organizations often suffer integrity gaps harder than others, as respect for leadership can override accountability.

Many churches and Christian nonprofits leave their leaders to wrestle on their own with personal ego, addiction to power, or unresolved trauma. Some of these organizations actively dismiss anyone who dares to question the integrity of a high-profile leader. They put leaders on a pedestal, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.

Pastors, school presidents and other high-capacity leaders can be vulnerable, as we all are, to blind spots, temptations and minimizing their own stories, especially when their performance is impressive. Many leaders use achievement and performance to distance themselves from their own stories and in this way, power can become a form of addiction, shrouded in deep shame. And inevitably, a leader’s unresolved brokenness will leak out.

The problem isn’t the fact that leaders are human; the problem is not being honest about a leader’s humanity.

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Source: Religion News Service