Ministerial Ethic or Guidelines? That is the question!!

I just attended the latest session of “Boundaries Training”  for The Christian church (DOC) of Kansas.    This is required for “standing” in our denomination  every three years just in case we ministers have forgotten them.   Most of what I heard was what I have always heard.  It was presented well, and I have no problem with the presenter.   The problem I have is with the Ministerial “Code of Ethics”.   

I find many problems, a few I will mention here:

1.   The “code” is too rigid and plays into the hands of those whose thinking is rigid.   It is written with the insecure minister in mind who doesn’t want anyone to mess with his relationship to his congregation.   All along, I’ve been under the mistaken impression, apparently, that the congregation is God’s faith community, not mine.     I failed to realize the congregation was  solely to be  owned by  the current ministers .   I apparently misunderstand when I read Paul’s words—“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the increase”.   Somehow I have the mistaken idea, apparently,  that all of us are ministers together for the glory of God, and not our own.  We all need the help of God and each other to effectively carry out our role as pastors.

2.    We need guidelines as ministers, not a strict code, because every probken that we face is one that is unique in the way it involves us and our parishioners and our faith community.  Instead, we spell out the “code” in great detail—-sort of reminds me of the Pharisees Jesus spoke to rather harshly—-we go into great detail as to what a minister can and cannot do, but fail to see the “spirit behind the law,” a guidelines that says, whatever you do it must be done in love for God, your parishioner(s)  your fellow servants and yourself.      I say to you—-Jesus rolled all the law and prophets into a single verse—the Shema—“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself” to quote him loosely.     This is what we need to consider doing.   The Code of Ethics leaves out love for God, love for self, and love for neighbor (including fellow-pastors) and instead installs rules of behavior—-similar to all the rules that the Pharisees spelled out resulting in “an approach that is often counterproductive in the life of our  individual church members and of the faith community.  We say, for example, that we should never, I SAY NEVER go back and do a funeral at a previous church, regardless of pleading from one of your former sheep who is grieving and for whom we were a shepherd for many years.    Is this the way we  show Christ’s love  to our parishioner?   Is this the way we show Christ’s love to the community of faith?  Is this walking the path that Jesus walked? In other words, is this what is best for our parishioner, the community of the faith, and ourselves? I need some convincing! I always welcomed former ministers back in this role, asking only that I be a part of the service since I need to do the followup bereavement work.   After all, we are co-laborers in God’s vineyard. 

 3,   I propose that we revisit the entire code  of ethics with the iintent  of simplifying it and making it  more humane” and I daresay “Christian” or “Christlike” for ALL  who are involved—-ministers and laypersons.    I feel that as it is now, it , like the Pharisees, too often PREVENTS EFFECTIVE MINISTRY rather than FURTHING EFFECTIVE MINISTRY.  

I realize there is a need to “cover our exterior” , district-wide and regionally, from those who behavior might not follow these or any of  the guidelines or codes that we might produce.    There always will be those few who go ahead and selfishly act regardless of ANY   guidelines or code that may be in place..  

I propose that some of what I heard said at the Friday Boundary presentation be implemented in our ministerial guidelines; i.e.  (1) Is it good for the congregant;  (2) does it build up the body of Christ.   And I would add:  (3)   Is it Christlike?  

Give us  a break!     If ministers are not secure enough in their role  and not smart enough to make good decisions using a few guidelines rather than a code of rules of behavior for ministers. then perhaps we need to take a look at our ordination requirements.  Let me know what YOU think.

One response to “Ministerial Ethic or Guidelines? That is the question!!

  1. A Wandering Pastor

    Interesting take Jim. I find myself (I attended at Saturday’s session) somewhere between you and the code of ethics. I understand the need for the code given the failure of too many pastors to use good judgement. I am of the school of thought that we prize common sense so highly because it is not all that common. That said, we need some strong guidelines – call it a code if you wish.

    I would agree that there must be flexibility that gives a pastor room to work in difficult or unusual situations. The key to many of these trying pastoral issues seems to be good communication practices (perhaps an oxymoron like “common sense”?), sufficient transparency and attention to issues of trust. At the same time, engaging in pastoral ministry with no or highly fuzzy boundaries seems dangerous beyond reason.

    Perhaps an answer is frequent and formalized conversations between the pastor and trusted leaders in the church – Elders? Pastoral Relations? Executive Committee? This along with pastoral support groups or having a pastor friend from another church or denomination in the community to bounce around issues.

    For what it’s worth, I too don’t mind a former pastor playing a role in a funeral service, as long as the communication goes through me and everything is clearly agreed to. For a former pastor to take on a funeral service without the current pastor’s knowledge and approval would be in clear violation of ethics codified or not.

    Peace – Kelly

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