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While society might value qualities like ambition, intelligence or sporting prowess, at Australian Christian College we prioritise cultivating personal character in our students. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with striving for excellence in academics, creative pursuits or any other field of endeavour. However, good personal character should underpin all such efforts.
God’s word consistently highlights the importance of developing personal characteristics such as wisdom, humility and a teachable spirit.
By supporting our students with their personal development, we hope they will become young men and women with godly character traits that equip them for lives of significance and service.
Personal character is hard to define but is something we recognise when we see it. This is key – personal character reveals itself in actions.
As personal development website Live Bold & Bloom points out, many of today's role models, such as celebrities and sports stars, are more likely to display egocentricity and foolishness than godly strengths.
Although developing good character traits may seem to be out of fashion, they remain essential attributes for healthy self-esteem, good relationships, and life satisfaction.
There are two types of personal character:
- Moral character (actions)
- Intellectual character (thoughts)
Your moral character consists of your actions and behaviours which reflect who you are. As such, moral character is developed through repeated behaviours that shape who you are becoming. Exemplary moral character is evident by displaying ‘right behaviours’, consistently.
Your intellectual character consists of your inner attitudes and dispositions toward things like truth, knowledge and understanding. It is the cognitive (thought) dimension of personal character. Exemplary intellectual character is evident through a devotion to seeking the truth.
Moral and intellectual character are linked as moral failure is typically the outworking of defective intellectual character. Our thoughts guide our actions.
For example, if we think of others more highly than ourselves (Phil 2:3), we will treat them with respect, dignity and equality. In contrast, if we are selfish and envious, we will more likely be judgmental, rude or critical (Jas 3:16).
Surveys show that people crave relationships with others who display character strengths such as integrity and honesty. For example, this survey by Ranker.com asked people to list the most desirable personality traits in women and men.
First on the list was trustworthiness, closely followed by loyalty. “Loving”, “moral” and “compassionate” completed the top five. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, given that God asks us to trust him completely (Prov 3:5-6), and made us for loving, loyal relationships with himself and others (1 Jn 4:19-21).
Some of the vital character traits we foster at ACC include:
- Courage – one definition of courage in the Cambridge Online Dictionary is the ability “to be brave and confident enough to do what you believe in.” It isn’t easy to go against the grain in a culture that teaches there is no such thing as absolute truth and values outward appearances over traditional virtues. Young people need courage to stand up for what they believe in and not succumb to peer pressure or bullying. It can help to teach children about biblical characters, such as King David and the Apostle Paul, and also historical characters, such as William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose confidence in God allowed them to stand strong in the face of opposition.
- Reflectiveness – by thinking through material they have learned, students deepen and embed their learning. Reflection helps them to make connections between different subjects and things they have discovered in the past. It also prepares them for the workplace, where they will benefit from contemplating what works and what doesn’t. Reflectiveness enables us to celebrate successes, learn from mistakes, and find ways to improve.
- Curiosity – you only need to watch a baby to see that humans are born curious. Children have a natural thirst to know and understand their world, often expressed by toddlers with the question “why?” We desire our students to become life-long learners, so encourage them to ask questions and seek answers. Rather than simply accepting what they hear or read, we support them to challenge assumptions, explore alternatives, think deeply and research thoroughly.
- Humility – this wonderful quality is embodied in the life and service of Christ and is at the centre of a life lived for Him. Humble people minimise their self-importance to elevate the significance of those around them. We aim to foster servant leaders who, with hearts captured by the Gospel, seek the good of others even at great cost.
- Compassion – this quality, so beautifully displayed in Jesus’s interactions with people, leads to loving concern and empathy for others. People with hearts that have been transformed by God’s grace can care for and serve others out of a genuine desire for their good.
- Creativity – as the ultimate creator, God has given us the privilege of being co-creators with Him. We support our students to develop their creativity in a broad range of contexts – from problem solving and critical thinking to creative and performing arts.
- Resilience – resilient young people have the resources to cope with the normal ups and downs of life. They can take appropriate risks, manage stress and see challenges as growth opportunities. Being able to persevere despite adversity helps students develop the confidence to overcome obstacles and live a fruitful life.
- Gratitude – this attitude springs from a heart transformed by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Freed from sin and death, we can be thankful, joyful and content. Life’s hardships can be viewed with optimism, because we know that God works even these for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).
Of all the character qualities, generosity is perhaps the most counter-cultural in a world typically obsessed by “what’s in it for me?” However, God’s ways are again proven best, with research highlighting the many benefits of being a generous person.
For example, studies show that people who regularly give of their time and energy are happier, have better physical health and experience greater life satisfaction and sense of belonging.
Again, this shouldn’t be surprising, given God’s unfathomable generosity in sending his Son to die for sinners (Rom 5:8). Hearts and minds captivated by God’s goodness are compelled by thankfulness to give generously to others.
Indeed, God instructs those who have freely received his grace to proclaim His message and perform acts of service (Mat 10:5-8). Contrary to the message of contemporary culture, those who give generously will be the most blessed of all. At ACC, one of our key goals is to equip students to be courageous and articulate in communicating the generosity of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, your personal character will determine the quality of your relationships. People are looking for characteristics such as integrity in their friends. In this article for Psychology Today, Dr Suzanne Degges-White – professor and chair of the Counselling, Adult and Higher Education department at Northern Illinois University – describes the vital qualities comprising what she calls the “friendship quotient”.
The first group she calls “traits of integrity,'' which includes trustworthiness, honesty, dependability, loyalty, and the ability to trust others. She points out that trustworthiness is often the “make or break” quality, because a trust breach can destroy a relationship.
She adds that honesty means being able to speak openly from the heart, or what Christians might describe as “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).
Being dependable means your friends can rely on you to do what you have said and being there when they need you. Loyalty involves standing up for our friends and refusing to gossip in their absence.
Friendship is a two-way street, and so it’s also important that we can trust others. If we are uncomfortable being vulnerable and honest, it’s difficult to build anything more than a superficial relationship.
Dr Degges-White calls the second group “traits of caring”, including empathy, the ability to withhold judgment, effective listening skills, and offering support in good times and bad. She notes that developing these character traits requires personal insight, self-discipline, and unconditional positive regard for our friends. Again, this mirrors God’s call for us to be self-disciplined and love others deeply (1 Pet 4:8).
The third group are “traits of congeniality”, including self-confidence, a sense of humour and being fun to be around. She adds that “this trio of traits has also been associated with overall well-being and happiness in life.” Who doesn’t want to be around others who have healthy self-esteem, a positive attitude and a joyful spirit?
It’s important to remember, too, that who we spend time with shapes our character. As the Bible says, bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor 15:33) but keeping company with the wise helps us to become wise (Prov 13:20).
Developing your moral and intellectual character leads to wise decisions and actions throughout life. While personal character development starts in childhood, it never stops – for better or worse. The Bible is replete with examples of people – like Kings Solomon and Uzziah – who started well but fell foul of idolatry and corruption.
Many others made mistakes, but recognised their sin, repented and turned back to God. It’s never too late and no sin is too great to prevent anyone from receiving God’s grace and starting (or renewing) the process of personal development.
Our goal is for all our students to continue growing in personal character, until the day they are perfected in glory with God, whose love and generosity knows no bounds.