We’re continuing our exploration of the ethical dimensions of vocational ministry. If we give ourselves to “the virtues” (essentially understood as the fruit of the Spirit), those qualities of life produce character in us.
Character is the word we use to describe a person’s disposition and dependability—what we can assume to receive from him/her in a given situation. When you hear someone say, “Mary is an honest person,” they are describing an aspect of her character. Character is the overall sense of trustworthiness that we ascribe to people.
That’s why people are so wounded and discouraged when they are mistreated by people whom they had come to trust. Most counselors will tell you that when trust evaporates, human relationships erode.
To be a person of character is to be trust-worthy. And we build a reputation of character through the repeated practice of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Character is not what people ascribe to us on the basis of what we do, but rather what they ascribe to us on the basis of who we are.
Ordained ministry rises or falls in relation to character. When people do not believe they can trust us, they will not listen to what we say. They will not follow us—at least not out of a sense of respect. The worst thing that can happen to any leader is to lose the respect of those he/she is trying to lead.
This is why the writings of classical Christianity are filled with references to the establishment and maintenance of character. The saints knew that this alone is the bedrock upon which our deeds are constructed. Without character, we may still accomplish many things, but we will never people who are admired.