Friday, 3 August 2007

Book Review: 'Integrity' (Jonathan Lamb)

'When leaders at any level fail to live with integrity,' writes author Jonathan Lamb, 'the fallout is deadly serious. It poisons the community, destroys trust, torpedoes a coherent and unified mission and, most seriously, betrays the cause of Christ's gospel and dishonours the God whom we serve.'

'But,' he goes on, 'when Christian leaders live their words, keep their promises, serve their community - in short, show us Jesus Christ - then Christian community is built and Christian mission is enhanced.'

One of the most powerful parts of the book Integrity, by Jonathan Lamb, is when he outlines quite what is at stake in whether we live or not with integrity. Not only does a community without integrity see trustworthiness soon disintegrate, but it has a massive effect on our outreach too. As he commonly does, Lamb looks to society to provide his illustrations:

In a recent speech at Georgetown University in Washington, Tony Blair called on the West not to give up on its moral responsibilities to the subjugated peoples of the world. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown commented in The Independent that this was 'an idealistic message immediately contaminated by the messenger. His words sounded fraudulent, because he had lied over Iraq and was contemptuous of the UN. The resulting cynicism has spread from east to west.' Whatever our view of the intervention in Iraq and its aftermath, we understand her point: this was an idealistic message apparently contaminated by the messenger. People stop listening. They become cynical not just about the messenger, but also about the credibility of the message itself.

Jonathan Lamb is clearly passionate about integrity, and that shines through in his book. Outlining in the early chapters what he means by the word 'integrity' - that is a commitment to the sincerity of pure motives, the consistency of living life as a whole, and the reliability of seeking to reflect God's faithfulness - Lamb then goes on to show how the apostle Paul lived this out in his own life. The majority of Lamb's content comes from Paul's writings in 2 Corinthians, where the apostle was under pressure. He was accused of being completely unreliable, promising to visit the Corinthians and then not turning up. He was accused of acting deviously and insincerely: instead of being transparent, he had been accused of being evasive. And so Paul's defence of his integrity in 2 Corinthians can teach us a great deal about the subject of leading with integrity.

There are several stand-out chapters in this book: I was helped tremendously by the chapter on confronting failure and humbled by the chapter on status and true ambition. There are useful chapters on showing integrity in handling money and in exercising authority. Perhaps above all, though, I will remember the section on Paul's sacrificial love and parent-like concern for those amongst whom he ministered. Lamb introduces what he calls the 'for your sake' test: Is my first concern for the best interests of others? Will I go to any length to care for others? When such service is thrown back in one's face, it's difficult to keep persevering in love. But, as Lamb writes,

Serving others, even those who reject us, is part of our Christian calling. We are doing nothing other than following the service of the Master. Jesus made the connection between service and rejection when he spoke to his disciples. 'For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many' (Mark 10:45). [...] So is my attitude 'here I am' or 'there you are'? It will not be easy, but it is worth pausing regularly to evaluate your motives. You are holding a responsibility in the church which perhaps takes a great deal of time and energy; you give up other things which you would have liked to do in order to take on thr role; and you are then faced with criticism. I am afraid it happens. It is not always intentionally hurtful, but when you have given of your best, and you are tired and drained, the critical reactions of others can be very wounding. That is the best time to assess if you are truly following in your Master's footsteps. That is a test of servant leadership.

I would commend this book as a great read for anyone in Christian leadership of any sort, within a local church, CU or other form of Christian ministry. It's not a quick read, nor will it be painless, but it will make you ask godly questions of your character regarding your personal integrity.

See also An Authentic Servant by Ajith Fernando - available for purchase here.

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