Ministerial Ethics

The minister of Jesus Christ is called to adorn the doctrine of God. The pastor’s life and conversation, every word and deed, should reflect the glory of God. The clergy must be a person of integrity, compassion and love.

The minister is a human being, but in a measure is not just another person. The pastor has recognized a call from God and has been set apart by the church. As a leader, the clergy has accepted the marching orders of his/her faith and the Church. Although still subject to all the normal limitations and frailties of life as are others, the minister must live up to higher expectations than most. This is by reason of the high calling, acceptance of the church’s ordination, and personal commitment to the message and ministry of the Church. The resources of the God who calls and the church that has set the minister apart are to provide grace and strength to meet those expectations.

It is expected that the pastor take into consideration all the ethical principles of the church. Ethical behavior is not alone a matter of personal choice. Behavior in a given situation must satisfy more than personal judgment for there is the standard of ethical judgments made by the church as a body. This standard represents the wisdom of larger community of faith and was made under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Is there no place for a personal ethical standard? There is. But when a personal ethical standard diverges radically from that of the church, the pastor must accept the standard of the church. If such acceptance is not possible, it is a matter of integrity and good ethics to be in consultation with the body that ordained the pastor through the appropriate commissions. The clergy should work to seek direction in the matter.

The high calling in Christ carries general expectations. The pastor…

  • Faithfully proclaims the gospel.
  • Fully affirms the church that has ordained him/her and fully supports its ministries.
  • Accepts responsibility for the defense of the Church against individuals and forces that would seek to destroy unity and mission.
  • Is held accountable for all personal actions and must never violate the confidences and sacred trusts of others.
  • Should enhance his/her ministry by further study and development of skills
  • Respects the ministry of colleagues within and without the fellowship.

A generally accepted code of ethics relates to the work of the ministry:

  • The pastor, in biblical terminology, is a keeper of the flock. Boundaries are assumed. One pastor does not tend another’s flock.
  • When pastoral services are requested by members of another church because of friendship or other reasons, including weddings, funerals, communion, hospital or home visits, these ministries should be cleared with the pastor of the church to which the member belongs.
  • Visits of a pastor to a former parish, even for personal reasons, such as a strong friendship developed while ministering there, should be infrequent and with a clear understanding developed with the pastor of that parish.
  • Proselyting is not ethical nor beneficial to the Church. Persons do have the right to choose. They may find a greater sense of fulfillment or opportunity to grow in one congregation than another. This is their decision. A pastor’s responsibility is to minister to those who are under his/her care.
    Those seeking that care, even though from another parish, can be ministered to without special attention designed to separate them from that other parish. A good relationship with fellow pastors can make fruitful ministry possible for those who may desire a change of congregations.
  • Time management is essential for everyone. A minister is accountable not only to the Lord, but the church and the conference that ordains him or her. In pursuit of ministry, a pastor often works independently. An unusual amount of time spent in community affairs, recreational adventures, hobbies, etc. can be a “theft of time” and thence, unethical. A pastor is on call constantly. Hours cannot be fixed. Time must be managed in keeping with the high calling of the ministry.
  • A pastor holds an influential position. People place confidence in the leadership and counseling provided. They respond with gratitude to the pastor’s services, visitations, and affections. These should never be used for personal gain or aggrandizement.
  • As servants of the Lord, ministers bear responsibility to uphold all His servants. The use of the pulpit, press, classroom or private conversation to judge another pastor to strengthen one’s own image is wrong. Theological, ecclesiastical, and sometimes moral stances differ among pastors within and without one’s own communion. Ministers have a responsibility to affirm their beliefs and practices, but affirmation is not made credible by defamation of another.

Many circumstances are not and cannot be covered in this brief article. A general and yet precise directive is given by the Lord in Matthew 7:12 (NIV), “In everything do to others what you would have them do to you.”