Is Boris paying the price for our low standards of integrity in leaders, or are we?


2022 has been a year of scandals for the UK Conservative government. Lockdown parties have led to Boris Johnson becoming the first serving Prime Minister in UK history to be sanctioned for breaking the law. Whilst initially keeping his head above water, further public fury over his appointment of Chris Pincher as Deputy Chief Whip despite being aware of his previous allegations of sexual assault proved the tipping point for his resignation.

But this is old news, what's important now is that we don't make the same mistakes again. With the final ballot determining whether Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss becomes our next Prime Minister set to take place on Friday, we must ask ourselves: what aspects of leadership should we actually be looking for in our leaders?

For too long, leaders have been chosen because of their charisma and rhetoric, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. This has been true whether it's in the church, government or elsewhere. However, whilst both are important aspects of leadership, they do not a leader make, as Boris' downfall has so proved.

Boris swept into power with the biggest majority in over 30 years, and many church leaders have succeeded in attracting thousands to their services, only to collapse in a sea of scandals and resignations. If you don't know what I'm talking about listen to 'The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill' podcasts.

My recent interest in leadership was sparked when I was preparing a talk for Langham Partnership following the range of public support for Boris expressed by Cabinet ministers ahead of the no confidence vote. Their joint assertion was that 'he got all the big calls right'. I almost responded to them with, 'I assume these big calls are referring to integrity, honesty, humility, self-sacrifice, transparency, equity, and justice, right?'

Biblically, these are the 'big calls' of leadership. Character. Moral integrity. 'What does the Lord require of you?' enquires Micah 6:6-8. 'To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly,' was his answer. Somehow, I think my question would have gone unrecognised and unanswered.

But hallelujah! This is not a list of rules and 'obediences', but rather a challenge to the heartfelt pursuit which builds a relationship with God. On another level, this presents a far more profound belief and behaviour challenge, especially in leadership where time pressure can sap the ability to protect the time to prayerfully reflect on responsibilities before the Lord. Indeed, the sheer number of responsibilities in leadership can compromise the ability to seek justice, mercy, or humility in and of themselves.

In a Christian community, I am encouraged by Hebrews 13:7 and 13:17 which exhort support for leaders. However, these verses appear to presuppose that the leaders in question were godly, that they spoke the word of God and opened the scriptures diligently and correctly, or had a faith that could be observed and imitated.

This is not usually the case in a secular community where, for whatever reason, justice, mercy and humility don't seem to attract a mass audience. Rhetoric has reigned and personal failures have been ignored, encouraging leaders to seek personal advancement instead of community vision. Even exhortations of 'common good' which used to be a sign of a good leader – think 'ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country' by John F Kennedy – seem not to attract the UK electorate's attention.

Has Boris paid the price for our low standards of integrity in leaders, or are we still paying it?

The twin temptations of personality cults and prosperity gospel can only be challenged by encouraging our pastors and leaders to engage more regularly and deeply in scripture, and develop accountability structures to provide both support and scrutiny. This is the purpose of Langham Partnership's three main programmes - Scholars, Literature and Preaching.

These issues are not just 'UK local'. Our global Langham networks share related reflections. As the introduction to a book Langham recently published by Langham Scholar Dr Sunday Bobai Agang indicates, "The erosion of moral values on a global scale has left nations vulnerable to greed, power, and violence as the shaping forces of culture. In the absence of an ethical foundation, corruption reverberates through public life, destabilizing countries and undermining human flourishing."

Leaders anywhere can scratch the veneer of those values and aim to wear them through.

If we really want to see Biblical leadership modelled in our homes and churches, as well as in our workplaces and government, then we must hold our leaders to higher standards of moral integrity and discover the mutuality inherent in leader/led roles as laid out in the Hebrews verses mentioned earlier.

So, who will it be: Rishi or Liz?

John Libby is National Director of Langham Partnership UK and Ireland. To find out more about Langham Partnership, visit: