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March 29, 2017Leadership

The Integrity Challenge

Organizations that name the name of Christ must communicate truth consistently.
The Integrity Challenge
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Every Christian with a heart to please Christ faces a daily challenge to maintain and even grow in integrity—to be as good on the inside as we may seem to others on the outside. The measure of character, as has been wisely observed, is what we do and think when nobody is looking. While accountability relationships can be helpful, this is a challenge that must ultimately be faced individually.

In the same way, there are integrity challenges that every organization must face. These challenges have the same root as those that individuals face, centering on honestly being who you say you are and doing what you say you will do. Good organizations face them head on and address the issues publicly and with transparency, normally employing outside auditors to affirm their claims, at least with regard to financial issues.

Less quantifiable issues generally receive much less attention, but it is often these that are most telling for organizations that name the name of Christ.

Some of the most important of these issues might include:

  1. Making clear to all what the organization is in business to do.
  2. Providing a track record of how the organization has gone about achieving its purpose, and what the results have been.
  3. Being explicit about its faith commitments, especially concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.
  4. Explaining how the organization navigates the most divisive issues of the day, whether they are within the Body of Christ or vis-à-vis the society generally.
  5. Being clear about the kind of people the organization wants to join with them, and what discriminatory disqualifiers the organization will not tolerate.

While it would be possible to suggest some organizations that may not have fared so well with some of these issues, doing so would neither be fair, nor particularly helpful. More important is to ask how an organization that is truly Christian should go about addressing these issues, and how they can respond well to these challenges that we all face.

The tension that exists between presenting one’s organization well, and being completely open about one’s struggles is ever with all of us. The most important ingredient for all five of these issues, and many others as well, is to communicate truth consistently. This includes what is said and what is not said. It includes what is said in small conclaves, and what is written to the widest possible public audience.

Whether the organization spokesperson or leader is speaking to an individual, through a podcast, or through an advertisement in a periodical, what is said must ring with truth (“the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”), not just catchy slogans.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? But it usually isn’t. For instance, it is almost impossible to provide an accurate report on how the organization has gone about achieving its purpose, and what the results have been, if there is no structure and methodology established for doing so. If little effort has been made to capture and report that information throughout the orbit of the organization, chances of it happening are very slim.

There is also the problem of doublespeak, or even triplespeak, in which there are different descriptions for the same phenomenon, depending on who the audience is. Describing an event in a format that local participants will see or read should not be different in substance from what financial supporters thousands of miles away will see or read. Integrity demands the same truth for all, even if the specific goals may be different. Emotive appeals that would embarrass participants, for example, cannot be justified because of their potential impact on donors.

Another challenge to integrity is the temptation to leave the viewer or reader with an impression that is not true, but doing so without saying it explicitly. A common example here is focusing exclusively on your own organization’s role in some ministry success without ever mentioning that the results came about through the combined effort of several organizations or groups. This ought not be.

Where circumstances arise in which there is significant debate within the evangelical missions and/or church community, it is important for agencies to honestly and publicly acknowledge where they stand, or how they function, in regard to that issue. This is very different from saying you have to take sides, but it does mean you have to at least say how you deal as an organization with that issue. If your policy is simply to leave the issue up to the individual missionary or the missions team in a particular geographic area, then that should be forthrightly said. Whatever the policy or practice, if potential or current donors, candidates, partners, or other stakeholders know it, they can then knowledgeably make up their own minds how they might want to respond.

Perhaps a good way to summarize the matter is simply to appeal to the golden rule: whatever you wish organizations in which you invest would do to inform you, do that for others who invest in you. Maybe it really is quite simple.

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