(Photo: Willow Creek Association)
The National Association of Evangelicals has developed and released a "Code of Ethics for Pastors" document and is asking church leaders across denominational lines to sign and uphold its outlined principles in their lives as ministers.
"This is to remind people who they are in ministry and how important their personal integrity, their personal conduct and lifestyle really are for what they are trying to accomplish," Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Fla., told The Christian Post.
Hunter, who is a board member of the NAE and one of several pastors who have already signed the code of ethics, said that the document is an important way to reemphasize that those in ministerial leadership need to live above reproach.
"Personal conduct is as important as any theological knowledge – the medium is the message," he said. "With a lot of people coming into the ministry these days without a lot of training or a lot of growing up in the church, many ministers may not be aware or may have forgotten what the expectations are of someone in ministry. It's a great teaching device as well as a reminder."
The document does not describe specific rules or infractions, but does include five primary admonitions. It suggests pastors should pursue integrity, be trustworthy, seek purity, embrace accountability and facilitate fairness. Bible verses are used to support the principles.
Specifically, pastors who sign on to the document vow to, among other things:
- Exalt Christ, not self
- Interpret the Bible accurately and apply it discerningly
- Be honest and prudent in regard to personal and ministry resources
- Avoid sinful sexual behavior and inappropriate involvement
- Build God's Kingdom in cooperation, not competition, with other local ministries
"We don't want to be legalistic. We are not into a bunch of rules," Hunter explained. "What we wanted to do is give people a way to commit their life to holiness and excellence looking to Scripture as their standard."
According to a survey of NAE leaders earlier this year, 71 percent of evangelical leaders are not required to sign a formal code of ethics. NAE states that some evangelical leaders noted in the survey that ethical expectations are implicit in doctrinal statements and other organizational commitments that they sign, but the documents include issues outside ethics and don't expound thoroughly on issues of ethics.
The Code of Ethics for Pastors was developed over 18 months through the work of a taskforce that included ethicists, pastors, editors and denominational leaders. The NAE Board of Directors reviewed the document several times throughout the drafting process and unanimously adopted the NAE Code of Ethics for Pastors on March 8.
It was officially released this week after being endorsed and signed by several leading pastors in the Christian community. Pastors that have already signed the document, include Charles Blake, West Angeles Church of God in Christ; Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Community Church; Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church; Max Lucado, Oak Hills Church; John Ortberg, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church; Samuel Rodriguez, New Season Christian Worship Center; and Bryant Wright, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church.
Church strategy consultant Ron Edmondson, who is a co-founding pastor at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tenn., told CP that he sees nothing wrong with the document, but is not sure of its impact on pastors and churches.
"It's only going to be as good as the character and the heart of the ones who sign it. But it's a step in the right direction and a good positive move for evangelicals to get behind it. We can all agree with everything that is on the list," Edmondson said. "I don't believe just writing it and signing it is going to necessarily improve some of the struggles that we have right now with defining morals."
However, Hunter believes the Code of Ethics for Pastors will certainly have a positive effect and is encouraging other pastors to sign the document.
"When you understand that a public commitment many times is not only a good thing as far as making your congregation feel like you are being your very best for them, but it is also a way of outwardly reminding yourself that you aspire to the best ministry possible in order to represent the Kingdom in the best possible way. I think it has a personal motivational power that is beneficial," Hunter said. "It tends to hold us to a higher standard instead of if we just have this kind of vague idea that 'Hey, I just want to be a good minister.'"
NAE President Leith Anderson stated that most pastors are highly ethical, but few have signed a written code of ethics.
"This is every pastor's opportunity to know, commit and tell others about a personal and professional standard of biblical pastoral ethics. I invite every pastor and every church board to put this code of ethics on the agenda for an upcoming meeting. Discuss. Adopt. Live these standards," Anderson said.
The NAE plans to commission a similar document on ethics for churches. The Code of Ethics for Pastors is available for download and to sign at www.naecodeofethics.com.