Character is the point where emotional health, leadership, and discipleship converge. I'm curious, have you ever noticed that life is really hard at times? Of course, you have. Everyone experiences hard life. There are many challenges and painful circumstances that come at us, and it's usually during the toughest of times that the worst comes out of us. I know that I've witnessed this in my own life.
Scripture is very clear: Following Christ doesn't make all of the hard things go away. Consider what Paul said about some of his hardships in 2 Corinthians 11:23, "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft." Paul graciously suffered these many difficulties even while taking care of the New Testament churches.
Paul endured much as a leader and a minister of the Gospel, yet he still retained his love for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:31). How could he respond to these amazingly difficult circumstances and still maintain such a good and healthy response? How could he struggle in life and in service to Christ and still express his love for Christ and others? What did he know that we don’t? What is the solution to going through the tough stuff in life and leadership and continuing to produce phenomenal fruit? I'll give you a hint: Most of Paul’s success has to do with his character.
Most people think that character is about morality, but there is quite a bit more to character than that. In this series called “Grow Your Character,” I’m going to share some insight with you about character that has the potential to change your life. Specifically, in today's post, I'll introduce the topic of character, but I'm going show you that there’s so much more to character than what you may think.
Before we get started, I want to mention that I have created a great new product called The Christian Leader Blueprint. The Christian Leader Blueprint is a solid model for leadership development. If you have been looking for something to help you or your team members develop in leadership, look no further than this resource. I want to give it away as a gift to you. Simply go to ChristianLeaderMadeSimple.com and download it for free today.
Just the other day, Carey Nieuwhof posted a quote on Instagram that resonated with me. He said, "Ultimately your character, not your competency, determines your capacity." He went on to say that your talent may get you in the room, but your character is what is going to keep you in the room. For me personally, my character growth has been one of the hardest and yet one of the most important parts of my leadership journey. As Carey put it, I've had to wrestle down my character issues, blind spots, and leadership risks so that I can lead better and, ultimately, live better.
The way we interpret the challenges of life has a drastic impact on our character. We can’t always control what’s happening around us, but we can change the way we navigate through difficult circumstances. The more we work to improve our characters, the better our reactions are going to be during those tough situations. The person you are on the inside is the person you will eventually portray on the outside. You can fool most people for a period of time, but ultimately, when you’re under extreme stress, tired, and filled to capacity, you won’t be able to hide that internal struggle. The character flaws on the inside of you will start to become visible on the outside of you.
This is the point where our pain surfaces, revealing the negative fruit in our lives. Negative fruit can manifest a number of different ways. We may begin to detach from people, pushing them away. We may become temperamental, cynical, anxious, or passive aggressive. We may develop into people-pleasers or even acquire narcissistic behaviors, becoming egotistical and arrogant; however, the negative fruit in our lives is deeply rooted in our character.
Almost everything I know about character structures comes from scripture first, but also from Townsend Institute at Concordia University, Dr. John Townsend's institute for executive coaching. Character structure was drilled into my head through this great program. Many of you may have heard of Cloud and Townsend. These men wrote all of the books on boundaries as well as other phenomenal resources that have helped me better understand the concept of character. Two of my favorite books from them on character are Hiding from Love by John Townsend and Changes that Heal by Henry Cloud.
Character is what defines the internal morals of a person. Dr. John Townsend explains character as "having a set of abilities required to meet the demands of reality.” In other words, character is the personality traits that determine how you respond to people, circumstances, and environments. The Bible would probably define character as the heart or the soul of a person. Matthew 15:19-20 states, "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man. . ." Matthew 7:16-17 says, "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." And in verse 20 Matthew states, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
Character is the deep-rooted soil in a person's life that either produces positive fruit or negative fruit. I would bet that since you are reading this post, you most likely have positive fruit in your life; you generally don't struggle with negative things arising in your leadership and personal life. Negative fruit is probably not routine for you. In fact, you may be thinking about skipping over this post because you don't think it applies to you, but hold on just a minute. I can also say, with confidence, there's not a person reading this post that doesn't occasionally see unwanted, negative fruit rise to the surface in his or her life. I know this is true because I know that only Jesus is perfect. I believe that every one of us has opportunities for growth in our lives. We are all in process, and we'll remain that way until the day we die.
What if you could understand your character and this growth process enough to help expedite your growth? What if I were able to give you a few aspects of character that could help you identify specific opportunities for growth within you? Would you want to hear that? Today, I'm going to wrap up this post by giving you the big picture for character growth; and in the next few weeks, I'll breakdown each of these components one at a time, going into a little more depth.
In their books, both Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud agree that there are four major components of good character. They back up their claims and research with scripture. I've changed the names of these components somewhat to make them better fit my preferences. They are listed below.
1. Healthy relational connection: The ability to trust and be vulnerable as well as bond to important people in your life.
2. Healthy separation (or boundaries): The ability to have your own voice, make your own choices, and freely express yourself.
3. Integration (reality): The ability to embrace the truth that there are both positive and negative realities in your life.
4. Adulthood (maturity or authority): The ability to be confident in who you are and why you exist.
Again, I’m going to break these components down further in the coming weeks, but I want to share with you how these elements have impacted my life. Character is vital to leadership. I’ve worked on these issues for many years now, but it wasn’t until I was provided this model that I developed tremendous focus and clarity around the growth that was needed in my life. This model revealed the deficits that created those occasional sore spots in my leadership. I couldn’t figure out why I would sometimes go days with a downturn in my emotions. I couldn’t understand why I would occasionally become so moody that my family couldn’t stand to be around me. I didn’t know why there were periods of time that I would want to detach from the key relationships in my life, even those relationships that were vital to my ministry and leadership. It wasn’t until I understood and learned how to decrease my deficits in these four character-structures that I started seeing significant and routine growth in my life. I began overcoming things that I didn’t think were possible.
The beautiful thing about all of this truth is that it is deeply rooted in scripture. Paul exampled it and wrote about it. At its core, character growth is simply a deeper level of discipleship and maturity. Understanding the issues involved with character growth allows us to overcome those deep-rooted problems that sin has brought upon us and live whole and fruitful lives as Christ intended.
Next week’s session will discuss healthy relational connections. Thank you so much for reading, and if you found value from this post, I would greatly appreciate you sharing this content on your favorite social media sites.
Copyright © 2021 Ryan Franklin. All rights reserved.