Awakenings / Culture / Formation / Global Church / Mission / Witness

The Essential Need for Integrity in Leaders and Systems (Part 1)

In Berlin, the Reichstag is the German capital building. Much of the history of the German nation can be traced to what happened to, in front of, and in that very building. The building has existed since 1884 when Germany had emperors. In 1918, from its balcony, Philipp Scheidmann announced the collapse of the German empire and the beginning of democracy. 15 years later on January 30th, 1933, Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor. One month later, the parliament center of the building was destroyed by fire and by 1939, WWII was raging. 

70 million people died because of WWII. And when you look at this building, the beginnings of that worldwide destruction took place inside. Across the front of the building was engraved in stone “Dem Deutschen Volke,” which means “For the German People.” And yet it turned out not to be for prospering and protecting the German people, but for the beginnings of hate, division, and murder. 

The sign betrayed its purpose. What on the outside was meant to be for good, became a place of profound corruption on the inside. Integrity is about the sign and the true expression of its meaning. 

In our country, we have Lady Liberty standing in the upper New York Bay. She is universally recognized as a sign of freedom. The statue was set up to celebrate the abolition of slavery and to be a beacon of hope for immigrants. 

Our sign is broken.

Political leaders lie and call it democracy. News organizations lie and call it free press. Gun manufactures make killing machines and call it the freedom to bear arms. We villainize immigrants and profit from their cheap labor. The white system of privilege and power has trampled into the dirt the voices of others, and we are not disturbed. We have lost our way as a country. 

And I think we are losing our way as the people of God as well.

We have all read and grieved the news of Christian leaders and faith institutions who have failed to be like Christ on a staggering global stage. For fame, sex, or financial gain, some leaders have lost their way. With a judgmental self-righteousness, some churches and ministries have distorted the meaning of following Christ. With a desire to shape the world in our image, we have taken control of the will of God. 


The sign betrayed its purpose. What on the outside was meant to be for good, became a place of profound corruption on the inside. Integrity is about the sign and the true expression of its meaning. Click To Tweet


Christ came to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and proclaim the favorable year of the Lord (Isaiah 61:1-11). Jesus came to liberate individuals and systems from sin and death, to set us free from our need to control and be as God. This was the mission of Christ. The sign is the cross.

The mission of Christ is our mission. The cross is our sign. So, does our sign – Christian – point to Christ or to us? Are our churches the brides of Christ or the brides of our own theologies and political and social agendas? 

Integrity is not just about being a good person. Integrity is that our sign matches our behaviors, our embodied living presence in everyday life. We are Christians. We have died and been buried with Christ with our baptism. We were raised up to take on his identity and mission. We are to be like him. We wear the sign of Christ.

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Being a Christian is not a seasonal or occasional thing. It doesn’t matter whether we are in ‘season’ or not. As Christians, our sign means fruit. We should be feeding people and institutions who are hungry for freedom and goodness. Click To Tweet


At the end of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew and Mark both recount a series of stories: Three acts of Jesus, three events with few words. They go together: (1) The Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11), (2) The Cursing of the Barren Fig Tree (Mark 11:12-14), and (3) The Cleansing of the Temple from the money changers (Mark 11:15-19).

  1. The first act is Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11). He comes as the exact fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!…See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.” He does not come as a conquering king into the city. He does not intend to set up his throne in the seats of government. He doesn’t intend to come into our broken world to take control. He comes into our broken lives and calls us to serve his broken world, not rule it. His posture is gentle.
  1. When Jesus curses the fig tree in his second act, he names the result of ignoring his posture and his purpose (Mark 11:12-14). Jesus came upon the fig tree when he was hungry, but it did not have any fruit. It wasn’t the season for fig trees to bear fruit, but Jesus cursed the tree anyway and it withered and died. The fig tree is a symbol of integrity. The sign says ‘fig tree.’ It looks like a fig tree, smells like a fig tree, has roots, branches, and big shiny leaves like a fig tree, but no figs as fruit. Being a Christian is not a seasonal or occasional thing. It doesn’t matter whether we are in ‘season’ or not. As Christians, our sign means fruit. We should be feeding people and institutions who are hungry for freedom and goodness. 
  1. The Cleansing of the Temple is a third symbolic act of refuting what we create, where we benefit, where we have control (Mark 11:15-19). His house is to be a house of prayer, not a house for privileging, not a house for status and profit, but for seeking God. His house is for glorifying God, not for growing our egos or bank accounts.

Jesus, in this trilogy of strange events, shows his disciples and us our posture and our purpose – like him we are to bring salvation and peace as servant leaders and churches. As Christians we are to be the fruit of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5: 22-23). 

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The mission of Christ is our mission. The cross is our sign. So, does our sign – Christian – point to Christ or to us? Are our churches the brides of Christ or the brides of our own theologies and political and social agendas? (1/2) Click To Tweet

Integrity is not just about being a good person. Integrity is that our sign matches our behaviors, our embodied living presence in everyday life. We are Christians. We are to be like him. We wear the sign of Christ. (2/2) Click To Tweet


Integrity is not merely a conversation about character and ethics; nor psychological and spiritual maturity. It is about the very heart beat of our work.

If we are not like Christ…

…if we do not walk into a room as Christ’s presence…

…if we are lost in our broken lives, and we have systems without backbone or pathway…

then there is no light on a hill…

…then there is no salt on the table…

…then there is no blood in the cup.

Integrity is more than the inside of the cup looking like the outside of the cup. It is about doing whatever is necessary for Christ-following leaders, churches, organizations to be the body and blood of Christ wherever we are, whatever we do in season and out. 

And there is so much at stake. Character is a fine thing, but even the blasphemer can be a person with character. Integrity matters to secular leaders and businesses as well. Business people know very well that when customers trust your product, they will come back for it. In our churches and denominations, we reduce the gospel message to knowing the ‘truth’ and yet we don’t deliver on the promise – the purpose and posture of the gospel. So, when we don’t deliver on our promises, when people see that the church is a sullied bride full of broken people, the message isn’t that we are like everyone else.

No, the message is that Christ doesn’t make a difference. Following Christ is no different than dedicating yourself to any other goal or god. The message is that Christ doesn’t set you free. Christ doesn’t choose you as his beloved, or give you power to resist this world’s fleeting treasures. Christ doesn’t give you courage to battle systemic oppressions. 

Integrity as Christ followers is our fundamental work. Today, words and wonders mean little. I have heard so many words, but they fill the air and drop to the ground when they are not rooted in a life radically committed to being like Christ. I have talked with a person raised from the dead. Miraculously healed, and today he pursues his own need to be important and seen. 

Integrity is not something we have. Integrity is something we pursue. 

Integrity is about unconscious daily choice-making. Integrity begins as a choice in the mind, and lives expressed in the body. Our bodies instinctively make daily choices which indicate our loyalty – loyalty either to Christ, or to our personal fears and aspirations. 

Every time you enter a room, every time your church or ministry opens its doors, do others meet Christ?

Jesus trusted us and sent his very Spirit to live within us, not to tabernacle in the inner sanctum of a building but to tabernacle in our very beings. Therefore, no matter what fears, anxieties, angers, or carnal passions that drive us to place ourselves on the throne, instead, we choose Christ. Our bodies are given as Christ’s body was given, as an offering. Integrity is not found in triumphal glory, but in the suffering obedience of a servant surrendered wholly to God.  


*Editorial Note: Part 2 of MaryKate Morse’s piece, “The Essential Need for Integrity in Leaders and Systems,” will publish on Thursday, May 16th. ~CK


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MaryKate Morse, PhD, is professor of Leadership and Spiritual Formation at Portland Seminary. Currently, she is the Lead Mentor for the Doctor of Ministry in Leadership & Spiritual Formation. Raised in the Air Force, MaryKate lived in various states and overseas. With family, she lived in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Peru doing ministry and social projects with the Aymará Indians. MaryKate completed her doctorate at Gonzaga University where she studied the characteristics of renewal leadership as modeled by Jesus. After her doctorate she planted two churches and served in various administrative positions at the university, including Executive Dean of Portland Seminary most recently. She is a spiritual director and leadership mentor and coach, conference and retreat speaker, and author including Lifelong Leadership: Woven Together through Mentoring Communities, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence, and A Guidebook to Prayer. MaryKate is married to Randy and has three adult children and five grandchildren. She enjoys being with family, hiking, reading, exploring new places, and playing with her puppy, Tess.


Integrity is not merely a conversation about character and ethics; nor psychological and spiritual maturity. It is about the very heart beat of our work. Integrity as Christ followers is our fundamental work. (1/2) Click To Tweet

Integrity is more than the inside of the cup looking like the outside of the cup. It is about doing whatever is necessary for Christ-following leaders, churches, organizations to be the body and blood of Christ wherever we are. (2/2) Click To Tweet


*Editorial Note 2: The plenary keynote lecture above, entitled “The Essential Need for Integrity in Leaders and Systems,” was given by Dr. MaryKate Morse of Portland Seminary, a Missio Alliance Leading Voice. ~CK

  • Purchase the “The Essential Need for Integrity in Leaders and Systems” video plenary here.
  • The full Awakenings 2023 Gathering bundle is available here.

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*Editorial Note 3: Awakenings 2025 returns to the DC area this coming March 6th-8th, 2025! Our theme for our 6th biennial National Gathering will be “Wholeness and Beauty in the Life of the Church.” Missio Alliance is thrilled to announce that our first featured speaker is none other than the esteemed Dr. Willie James Jennings.

Sign up here to be notified via email when registration goes live!

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