A Coffee Cup’s Lesson on Leadership and Character

September 8, 2012 — 5 Comments

A coffee cup

A leader's character is more important that a leader's abilityIt was just a coffee cup sitting at the edge of his desk. Several months later, it became a picture of something more sinister, yet also a valuable lesson in personal leadership which I’ve carried for over 25 years.

It was mid-September and I was interviewing for an associate pastoral staff position in a large size, influential church. When my wife and I arrived, the receptionist / secretary came out to greet us, sat us down and told us that the pastor would be with us shortly. We ended up waiting in the silent, empty and cavernous sanctuary for about 45 minutes until she came out again and brought us to his office. Walking into that office, I noticed it almost immediately… the memory is still with me… a lip-stick stained coffee cup just sitting on the edge of his beautiful mahogany desk. At the conclusion of our interview (I don’t recall how long it lasted), he said he would not be taking anyone on staff until after the “first of the year”, but would definitely get back to me. One month later, I discovered he had hired someone else. And then, 6 months later, I found out that he was no longer in ministry on account of a moral failure with his secretary. It was then that I remembered that coffee cup.

Your personal life as an individual is more important than your pastoral life as a leader. One of my mentors, once told me: “Dave, God is more interested in building the man than he is the ministry!” So true. I wonder where that pastor might have been had he heeded that truism.

So, to help us be leaders of character and integrity, here are four questions each of us should regularly ask ourselves as we move forward in Pastoral ministry:

1) Who am I?

We are a unique product of our genetics as well as our upbringing. These things have been instrumental in shaping us to be who we are today. Knowingly or unknowingly, they are somewhat of a determining factor in how we respond to life, the choices we make, and the goals we set. Considering this, a good question to ask is: Who has been influential in making me into the person I am today? The answer may be a person from your distant past or even a more recent relationship.

2) How am I?

Our interior life is truly “where the rubber meets the road”. The strength of our walk with God, the health of our interpersonal relationships (especially with those closest to us), and our physical health are each important to the quality of our leadership. Where might there be need for improvement?  Here’s another good question: Who are you when no one is looking?

3) Where do I want to go?

The psalmist wrote: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” (Psalm 37:4 NLT). As we keep our heart in tune with God, we become increasingly aware of how he has gifted us and the nature of our personality. Our purposes become more aligned with his. Questions like “What are my personal goals? What are my strengths? My weaknesses? How have I been uniquely gifted by God?” become important.

4) What am I being called to do?

Honestly answering the first three questions, makes this fourth one the easiest. Truly knowing who we are, how we are, and where we want to go is probably the best way to understand the particular calling the Lord has on our lives. But, how might we be operating outside of that calling? How might we be doing things that are hindering us from maximizing the purposes of God for us?

Continuously ask yourself these four questions. Write the answers in a journal or notebook. Notice how your answers change from season to season. Then, go ahead and lead with character and integrity. And may there not be a lip-stick stained coffee cup on the edge of YOUR desk!


QUESTION: How often do you ask yourself these questions? Which is the most difficult to answer? Why? Let me know in your comments below.


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David Peterson


  • GreggTJohnson.com

    Great insights, Dave. I especially like the line, “Your personal life as an individual is more important than your pastoral life as a leader.” Too often, we base our worth and self confidence on our professional achievements.

    • Thanks Gregg! And you’re right. We both have seen the damage done by those who have sacrificed their integrity on the altar of personal and professional success above

  • Eric Stokesberry

    Good stuff brother. I have to remind my self often that being the right person is more important then preaching a great message.

    • You’re right on, Eric! God is more interested in who you are than what you do. That doesn’t excuse poor preaching and lax preparation. It does, however, mean that biblical preaching is a matter of both the “heart” and “head”.

  • Julie Rivera

    Love and Miss you my Spiritual Father! So glad I found your blog!