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Today’s post is contributed by Chris Carr, a pastor in Indiana who blogs at Redeeming the Time.

Do leaders need to be holy? Your answer to this question is probably an automatic ‘Yes!” or perhaps ‘Of course!”

And yet of all the resources available on leadership today (there are currently almost 350,000 available at amazon.com) I do find the issue of personal holiness missing from most discussions on leadership, even among those who serve in ministry. There are plenty of books and articles about rules or laws of leadership, keys to leading an effective team, how to be not simply good but great, and how to use your gifts to their maximum potential. But there appears to be few people discussing the vital issue of personal holiness in the life of a leader.

How important is personal holiness in the life of a leader? Before I answer that with my thoughts on the matter, answer it for yourself – how important do you view your own holiness to your success as a leader?

My answer to this question is that personal holiness is the most important issue to leadership success. I realize that this is a fairly bold statement, so let me take a moment to back it up. My belief in the importance of personal holiness comes from the foundational truth that as believers our ultimate goal in life is to bring glory to Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:31, Col. 1:18). Flowing from that, our goal as leaders should be to lead in such a way that our followers are influenced to pursue Christ’s glory as well. Our ability to glorify Christ is in direct proportion to how holy we are becoming (2 Cor. 3:18).

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish pastor in the mid-19th century once stated, “my people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” I couldn’t agree more. Without personal holiness, a Christian leader has no foundation with which to lead.

You might not consider personal holiness to be a vital issue if you aren’t a pastor or a ministry leader. I would challenge you to reconsider. If you are a business owner and your employees (or customers) know you are a believer, you will be unable to lead them effectively if you aren’t living out what you claim to believe. If your integrity or morality is in question (which they likely will be if you aren’t pursuing holiness) you cannot be an effective leader.

So, how do we pursue holiness? First and foremost, we begin by focusing on Christ. Second Corinthians 3:18 tells us that as we look at Christ the Holy Spirit transforms us into His image, with ever-increasing glory. Something about simply focusing on Christ makes us more like him (1 John 3:2).

Second, we must be faithful in our study of the Word. In John 17:17, Jesus prays “Sanctify them by truth, thy word is truth.” We become holy as we get into the Word and the Word in turn gets into us.

Finally, we become more holy through prayer. As we pray and seek the Father’s face, He pours out the Spirit and draws us closer to him (Acts 4:31, Jude 20).

As God is holy, let’s continue to strive to be holy in all we do (1 Peter 1:15), setting an example for our people to follow.

Chris Carr is husband to Eva, father of 4, pastor, and most of all passionate follower of Jesus Christ. For the past 11 years he has served at Bethel Church in Crown Point, IN (40 miles SE of Chicago) as the Executive Ministry Pastor. He blogs at Redeeming the Time.


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10 thoughts on “Do Leaders Need to Be Holy?”

  1. Dave says:

    I’m going to give some push-back and say that the people we serve as pastors do NOT require *our* holiness as first priority. They require *Christ’s* holiness as first priority.

    I’m a bit confused about the first step in the way we go about holiness. If by focusing on Christ, you intend to communicate that we begin by believing in Christ who’s given us what the Reformers called an “alien righteousness,” then certainly, I’m on board. It just wasn’t phrased in a way that communicated the sheer gift status of our holiness, whether leader or follower and seemed (to my eyes anyway) to turn the Gospel into what we do instead of what Christ has given (as per Galatians 3).

    But you’re right to write on this topic. Personal holiness is extremely important in the leadership of a church (or THE Church) and is all too often just assumed or swept under a rug. I know in my own life, I’m very aware of my own deficiencies of holiness and have seen areas that God has grown me in maturity and holiness just in the last year. God is so much more faithful than I, and so will it ever be.

  2. Larry Charlemagne says:

    Thanks for the much needed reminder!

  3. Derek says:

    We have been *declared* righteous in Christ, a category that requires not an alien righteousness, but participation by way of a divine positioning. But without getting into a the (often too intense) discussion of the relationship between “imputation” (as an alien transfer of Christ’ righteousness) and “union with Christ”, I don’t think we should confuse a declaration of a status (received by participation in Christ and not by our righteousness) announced at Christian conception, with personal holy-living in which a person grows and continues to be conformed into the image of Christ so that by grace, through the Spirit and obedience (Gal 5) we can (and should, quite naturally) grow in holiness. Thus we *become* what we’ve been *declared* to be.

    Good post.

  4. Steve Martin says:

    Spot on, Derek!

    You sound like a Lutheran.

    (if you are not, you still sound like one)

  5. A Catholic Lisa says:

    We can receive the gift of holiness through following Christ in humility, suffering, and serving others in love. It’s both the hardest and easiest thing to do, to deny ourselves and give our lives completely to the Lord.

  6. David says:

    Lisa, let me know how that giving yourself completely goes. Bet you can’t because *no one* can.

  7. Andrew Brod says:

    I think better than I write so I’ll keep this short. How about expanding this to: “Do Christians need to be holy?” How do we expect to be effective in sharing the love of Christ with others when they watch our lives and see haphazard, unholy living… So many programs for evangelism give a barrage of steps, verses to memorize, and methods of whatever; how about “be holy” (I think someone’s said something about that before), live a life delighting in Him, while being content and confident, then see what happens…

  8. A Catholic Lisa says:

    David, no one can… but we can try through the self-giving of Christ in the grace of the Holy Spirit. I fail time and time again every day. That is what repentence is all about.

    We will always remain sinners here on earth. But is that an excuse for not trying for holiness? Jesus said, “Be holy”. Empty words from Our Lord? I think not.

    As a Catholic, I believe that at my baptism I have been infused with grace by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s not just a legal fiction that grace has been imputed to me. It’s a fact of faith that grace has been infused in me. There is a big difference between forensic justification and being infused by a real outpouring of grace into your spirit.

  9. Steve Martin says:

    We are Holy because of Christ. he decl;ares us to be Holy. We are Holy, because of Him. Period.

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