My computers died recently. That's right, I used the plural; both my home and church PCs went the way of all flesh pretty much back-to-back. I had backed up everything from my home computer. The stuff from my study is apparently gone forever. (A moment of silence, please.)
While re-loading and re-organizing my data on my new computer, I found myself flipping mindlessly through some old files, mostly papers from college and seminary. Some were painful to read, others surprisingly articulate. If you've ever spent a couple hours going through old files, you know how fun it can be to discover something you'd completely forgotten. This happened for me with the below “Code of Ethics,” written near the end of my Ministerial Ethics class in 2004.
When I came candidating at Judson, I gave the search committee a slightly modified version of this document, but mostly it was intended for my own benefit. Having been in full-time ministry for the better part of a decade, there are some items that I would nuance if I were writing this document today, but for the most part, it represents the kind of uncompromising principles that Scripture demands. As I read it through, I see a couple areas I need to work on (as well as a few with which I've struggled in the past and, with God's help, recovered). All in all, I was glad to have this document brought back to my attention. I intend to update it and post if somewhere in my office.
Do you have a code of ethics for your professional, personal, and family life? When I was a youth minister, I used to rip off some famous conference speaker's line and pretend it was my own (I didn't have a code of ethics back then), telling the teens that they should “decide in the cool of the afternoon what they were going to do in the heat of the night.” Of course, I was referring to partying, sex, alcohol—that sort of thing, but it could be applied to a shady business deal, missing a little league game, or talking a customer into a financing plan he or she can't afford. I encourage you to take some time soon—using Scripture and your own goals and values—to prayerfully lay out a code of ethics, and to give copies to some people in your life who can hold you accountable. It certainly won't make you perfect, but like Job who made a covenant with his eyes or the Nazarites who kept their vows to the glory of God, it pays to decide in the cool of the afternoon what you will do in the heat of the moment—whether in the board room, the bedroom, or the classroom. And I've found that having something succinct down in black and white helps to keep me from pulling a fast one on myself.
- I will strive to maintain an attitude of servant-leadership. I will always remember that I have given up any life of self-fulfillment or self-seeking in order to serve God by serving my congregation. I will think of them in love and lead them with gentleness. I will avoid extreme forms of leadership, being neither dictatorial nor easily manipulated. I will serve my congregation by helping them grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus.
- I will balance preaching, teaching, discipleship, evangelism, and other duties. I will do my best to fulfill all facets of my job description. I will not put an undue amount of time and energy into any individual facet to the exclusion of the others. Still, I will recognize that my primary role is that of preacher/teacher and will give it the appropriate emphasis. I will never knowingly misuse a text to fit my agenda in preaching. I will strive to always exegete, not “intro-gete” the Holy Scripture, paying careful attention to the original language, historical and cultural context, etc.
- I will maintain a heightened professional sense of confidentiality. I will never break the confidence of a counselee, colleague, or parishioner unless they plan to harm themselves or others. I will never use a counseling session or church conflict experience as a sermon illustration.
- I will respect the traditions of the church I am serving. I will seriously pray and seek wise counsel when considering changes to an existing tradition in the church. When such a change does take place, I will do my best to implement it gently and lovingly, understanding that traditions are important to people and often serve as aids to worshiping God.
- I will not use my status as a minister to my personal advantage. I will not use the pastorate as a tool to gain deals, freebies, or preferential treatment. Nor will I use my pulpit or position to advocate particular political parties or positions. To do so would be to trivialize my call to Gospel ministry.
- I will not show favoritism in dealing with my congregation. Recognizing that I will undoubtedly develop closer relationships with some church members than with others, I will not allow my ministry to be corrupted through the exchange of favors, preferential treatment of friends, etc. in the context of church business and ministry.
- I will cooperate with other Christian churches and denominations as much as possible. I will teach my congregation about the vastness of the Kingdom of God through joint worship, service, and fellowship with other Christian churches. I will not attempt to recruit members from other Christian churches.
- I will take on additional responsibilities (beyond my role as pastor) only if I can fulfill them without a negative effect on my ministry. Pastors are in a unique position to be salt and light to the community. I will always consider carefully my motives in taking on such additional roles and make certain that I have the time and energy to carry them out.
- When I leave a church, I will do it for the right reasons and will not come back without the consent of the new minister. Although churches are usually happy to see a former pastor, I will bear in mind that, in order for my successors to be effective, they need to develop relationships with their people without competition from former leaders. I will always seek God through serious prayer to ensure that I never consider leaving a church for purely monetary or status-related reasons.
- I will not use my ministry as an excuse to neglect my own physical, mental, and emotional needs. In order to be a good steward of my body and in order to be the most effective minister possible, I must take care of my own needs as a fallible human. I recognize that there will be a temptation to become a “martyr” for my ministry by ignoring personal needs. I will overcome this temptation, God being my helper. I will regularly exercise my body, maintain a healthy diet, and get adequate sleep in order to remain physically fit. I will allow myself to forget about ministry pressures and responsibilities for set periods of time to keep myself from mental and emotional overload. I will make wise use of advanced planning on a calendar or planning device to secure the time needed for these activities.
- I will continually seek God in order to grow in faith and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through personal study, prayer, and continued education. I may be tempted to neglect my own spiritual development because of the demands of helping my congregation with theirs. I will never stop studying God’s word, seeking His will through prayer, developing my theology, and enjoying personal times of worship. I will take part in seminars, conferences, and classes that will help me in my personal spiritual formation as well as those that will help me as a pastor and leader. I recognize that all Christians are called to a lifetime of continued maturing in faith.
- I will respect the Fourth Commandment by devoting one day out of seven to rest, reflection, and prayer. Although I may always be on call for emergencies, I will make every effort to rest regularly. In addition to weekly rest, I will try to have regular retreats both with family (vacation) and alone (sabbatical, study).
- I will honor God with the way I conduct my finances. As good stewards of the gifts God has blessed me with, my wife and I will always live within our means and cheerfully give the Lord a tithe of our income.
- I will pursue friendships outside of the congregation I serve. In order to maintain a healthy personal life and avoid burnout, I will maintain friendships with some people outside of my church and denomination. These friendships may or may not be evangelism opportunities, but evangelism will not be their only goal.
- I will not take advantage of the freedom afforded by a career in ministry. I recognize that although a career in ministry offers some flexibility and less direct supervision than most, ministers are more accountable to God and man. I will not take advantage of this flexibility and fall into the sin of laziness. If I do, I will confess it immediately and seek God’s help in correcting it.
- I will remain humble in any successes, reminding myself that it is ultimately not my ministry, but God’s. I will continually pray for God to strengthen me against the pride that can plague ministers. Should I find that I am becoming prideful, I will ask God to break me of my pride, knowing that He will do so.
- I will avoid inappropriate conversation and gossip. As a minister, I will be privy to information that should not be shared in casual conversation. I will decide before the fact what I will and will not discuss with others, based on the factors involved.
- I will take part in a clergy accountability group. Because a cord of three strands cannot be broken, I will seek out a group of at least two other ministers for the purpose of accountability, mutual edification, and encouragement.
- I will not be alone with a woman to whom I am not related. (Except eldery women, shut-ins, etc.) Because Satan gains footholds through such indiscretions, no matter how trivial they seem, I am committed to avoiding all such situations in order to remain above reproach and maintain my reputation. I will never counsel a woman alone unless others are present in the vicinity and able to see us at all times.
- I will always recognize that my first commitment is to my family. Because a man must first have his own house in order to be eligible for ministry, I will always make my family my first priority. I will do whatever I can to keep my ministry from becoming a source of conflict within my family. I will block out, in advance, regular times devoted exclusively to my wife (and any future children) and protect these times from sources of competition.
- I will not use my vocation as an excuse to impose unrealistic expectations on my family. I will communicate to my church that my family is a normal family and must be allowed to operate as such.
- I will respect my wife’s gifts and talents. I will not look to my family as an easy way to fill a position or need within the church unless they are gifted in that area of ministry and feel a call to it. Should we have children, I will not communicate to them any expectation that they will go into professional ministry unless they are called by God.
- I will secure permission from family members before using them in sermon illustrations. Because the pastor’s family should not be expected to always open every detail of their lives up to the church, I will be very judicious about my use of family situations as sermon illustrations.
- I will maintain a healthy boundary between “work” and “home.” Although a minister can never (and should never) completely separate his personal life from his “work life,” I will respect my family's needs and develop boundaries with the church as to when I am available and when I am unavailable, save true emergencies.
- I will maintain an open and honest relationship with my wife. I will not hide personal and pastoral failings from my wife. If I violate an area of my personal or family ethical code, I will tell her immediately.