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Pastor's Blog

Ministry And Ethics In Crisis:

Implications For 21st-Century Ministers

An ethical crisis exists in ministry. Some days it seems religious people are not all that religious. With sexual scandals and abuses, homosexuality, and financial irregularities frequently in the news, the world sees an ethical problem. Of greater concern are the less visible ethical issues that tempt ministers daily in their choices, goals, and obligations.

The growing ethical crisis in ministry is seen in the increasing number of resources. Twenty years ago ministerial ethics was seldom discussed. Today, a quick survey of the Web reveals hundreds of sites with policy statements, disclaimers, and resources for ministerial ethics.

When ethics is defined and its theological foundations are reviewed, we can formulate reasons why the crisis is important. The nature of the crisis — its internal and external contributing factors — and informed suggestions for recovering ethical ministry based on a biblical foundation also need the minister ’s consideration.

Definition
What is ethics? “Christian ethics is the study of good and evil, right and wrong. What constitutes good, virtuous, healthy character? How does one discern and do the right thing in various ethical dilemmas? How do Christian moral values play out in a diverse, multicultural, multifaith world? How does one teach and promote moral character and action? ”1

Every Christian is an ethicist on a moral quest for virtue and character. It is not enough to identify and support ethical behavior. As Aristotle, an early ethicist, pointed out, ethica comes from ethos, referring to practices, customs, and habits. Ethics evaluates behavior and asks why we act as we do. How should we determine right actions?

Most of us know what it means to be virtuous. We know when we are persons of character and when we are not. We must never be satisfied with legal morality (I technically keep the moral code). Ethics is not only about morality, it is about character and virtue. Ministers are called to virtue.

Foundations
We must recognize the biblical foundations of Christian ethics. Some wonder whether a Christian ethic is any longer possible in a postmodern world that questions the validity of the organizing tenets of Christian ethics. Hauerwas observes that Christian ethics is being called to exist in a fragmented and violent world.2 Absolutes are still needed in a world that has largely discarded them.

The privatization of religion has made ethical behavior fragile. There is a need for renewed truthfulness in Christian conviction. Abstract ethics is impossible. A familiar behavioral model says behaviors are based on values, and values on the principles or beliefs that in sum make up one’s worldview. At stake in the ethical crisis is the theological base of Christian behavior.3
Some maintain that our world needs to redefine ethics lest morality and virtue disappear.4 No doubt we exist in a world where postmodernism has shaken loose much that was formerly nailed down. We must identify a normative ethic of doing and an ethic of being.5 In the midst of questions about the biblical foundation of our behaviors we must reestablish moral norms, obligations, and values.

True Christian ethics is founded in solid theology — the sovereignty of God, the lordship of Christ, the new righteousness possible in the new kingdom. Unlike philosophic ethics, Christian character can never be considered apart from its religious nature — connected with God, personal, internal, future-oriented, and universally applicable.

Importance
The importance of the crisis may be seen by asking, “What is at stake for ministry, the church, and the world?”
Much is at stake for those who preach and minister. Understanding how and why ministers act is not easy because humans are prone to rationalization, personalities enter power struggles, and honest self-evaluation is difficult. We must admit that hard questions exist, identify them, and encourage personal reflection.

Ministry is not limited to full-time ministers or church workers. Interest in ministerial ethics expands to many professionals and volunteers who serve the church in a ministerial capacity: elders, deacons, pastoral administrators, pastoral care ministers, spiritual directors, youth ministers, campus ministers, directors of religious education, and teachers.6 As the secular world gives increased attention to professional ethics, the church must not lag behind.
While ethics and etiquette are connected,7 ethics in ministry is ultimately about integrity. What is at stake is the integrity of ministry. How can those who are not whole help others toward wholeness? Effective ministry does not demand perfection; it demands integrity.

No subject is more relevant for ministry than exploring how truth, beliefs, and values integrate in Christian living. No ministry can be faithful if it does not help people toward righteous living through the ethical challenges of our time. Ministers must do more than guide others toward ethical behaviors; they must be examples. Ethical standards apply to all Christians, but spiritual leaders have a higher degree of ethical accountability.

What is at stake for the church?
Churches seldom rise above the moral standards and teachings of the person who regularly provides spiritual nourishment. If the modern church faces a spiritual bottleneck that prohibits the church from pouring itself out into the lives of a needy world, the bottleneck is at the top. The church needs spiritual leadership that incarnates the life of Jesus before it can understand the challenge of living out the life of Jesus in our world. Virtue influences our choices, goals, roles, and behaviors. Genuine virtue connects faith and behavior. Virtue is a lifetime endeavor. Christian morality is not built solely on keeping rules. Christians shaped by the church community should have a moral shape.

What is at stake for the church may be summarized in three questions: Will we be spiritual or secular? Will we be God’s presence in this world with a clear word from God, or merely another siren song? Will we be light and salt?
What is at stake for the world?

One need only observe the catastrophe of ministers gone astray to recognize how closely the world is watching those who claim to follow Jesus, especially those who serve in ministry. For the world, salvation, eternity, the gospel, public morality, and ultimately society itself is at stake.
Societies function and are safe because a level of morality prevails. Generally my neighbors do not seek to rob me, kill me, or take advantage of me. I am safe in society because of a prevailing moral standard. However, increased random violence marks the decay of generally accepted moral standards. Prison populations swell. The dignity of human life is diminished in a variety of ways.

The Nature Of The Crisis
The ethical crisis is not limited to ministry. Our nation is in a moral crisis. The crisis in ministerial ethics is part of a larger moral crisis in our nation.
The crisis in ministry is evident in three main areas — false spirituality, false evaluation of ministry, and false expectations on the part of ministers, churches, and the world.

Spiritual ministry is easy to counterfeit. Preachers preach and teach with little or no study.8 Time pressures encourage plagiarized sermons and classes. Bulletin articles are copied without credit, or worse, set forth as one’s own effort. Ministers spend too little time in prayer, in speaking to God, in listening to God, all in the name of speaking for God. Some involved in ministry covertly pursue unethical, immoral lifestyles.

Compounding the crisis, our contemporary society does not appreciate that genuine ministry is not dependent on outward appearances nor external circumstances. The rapid transitions of contemporary society have blurred definitions of ministry. In fact, today’s world often measures ministry by worldly standards. This encourages hypocrisy and the lack of ministerial integrity. Ministry is in ethical crisis. Heightening the dilemma is the fact the crisis is generally unseen, even by many church leaders and ministers.

Internal Factors
How have we arrived at this point? Several internal factors have contributed.

Lack of spiritual focus
Ministry interviews seldom ask about personal spiritual health and growth. Few ministerial training programs require a spiritual-formation component. The significant requirement of spiritual reflection and formation in ministerial training is the exception not the rule. Have we forgotten that spiritual leaders must be spiritual? Are we so busy pursuing God’s work by methods proven in the marketplace that we have forgotten God’s kingdom work is spiritual? How will unspiritual people minister God’s presence effectively in the church when God is barely present in their lives? Without spiritual focus, spiritual famine will come. Genuine ministry is fraught with frailty, frustration, and even failure. The greatest failure, however, may be seeking power for ministry in the physical rather than the spiritual realm.

Misguided evaluation
How should ministry be measured? There are two opposite extremes. On one hand, worldly standards of success often replace spiritual evaluation. Some churches fail to appreciate effective ministry in their demand for numerical results. God’s Old Testament prophets would not have fared well in many modern churches.

On the other hand, some churches and ministers fail to understand the power and potential of effective ministry and suffer because of their low expectations. The ultimate measurement of ministry is faithfulness to God. Ministry that is faithful to God never fails. Faithful ministry brings God’s power to bear in this world, and God promises increase. His Word never returns empty.

Worldly expectations
Our society and churches often buy into the worldly mindset more than we like to admit. We frequently have expectations that do not appreciate the elastic, flexible nature of ministry. We do not know with certainty whether ministers work for God or for churches. We affirm the former, but often practice the latter. We are more apt to clone preachers than allow valid ministry consistent with the minister ’s personality.

External Factors
How did we get here? The ethical crisis is also a truth crisis. Significant shifts in the behaviors, beliefs, and values of Western culture have contributed to this crisis, including privatization, humanism, relativism, secularization, and pluralism. The result is the moral crisis in our nation. Leaders in government, business, and sports are charged with various illegal and immoral acts. Church leaders are caught in unethical behaviors and activities. Our nation has lost its moral footing. Clearly, the crisis in ministerial ethics is part of a larger crisis. An examination of the effects of privatization, humanism, relativism, secularization, and pluralism will explain how this moral crisis occurred.

Privatization
Privatization in our Western world moved religion and ministry from the public to the private arena which resulted in a loss of responsibility.9 The inability to discuss religion in the public arena is one consequence. Once religion is limited to the private arena, sharing one’s faith becomes difficult and responsibility is denied. “What I do is my business.” This attitude has contributed to the loss of Christian ethics both in the ministry and in the pew.

Humanism
Our teaching of ethics has not kept up with the rapid advances in our world. Our world and our churches have experienced a loss of values through humanism. In the past, the church generally taught ethics by focusing on behaviors more than values or beliefs. For example, when my children were young, I taught them not to play between the sidewalk and the street (behavior). Later, I taught them how to distinguish safe and unsafe places and activities (values). If I know what is wrong but not why it is wrong, I cannot make valid decisions when new options are presented.

The value shift in our society must be addressed.10 The private availability of immoral materials has increased. Formerly, exposure in the public arena was a deterrent to pornography and other unethical or illicit activities. In the private arena, such checks are removed. Restoring Christian ethics will demand that we clearly connect behaviors (ethics), values, and truth beliefs.

Relativism
Our world and our churches have experienced a loss of truth, an erosion of the principle base through relativism. If truth is relative, there is no objective truth. If there is no objective truth, no one can say with certainty that any behavior is right or wrong. Despite the discomfort of making truth claims that prove other religions, or even other Christian religious groups, false, the church cannot afford to deny the truth. David Wells has outlined the impact on a society and its future when truth claims are lacking.11 The church must return to the clear pronouncement of objective truth.

Secularization
We have experienced a loss of mystery in the continuing secularization of religion. A poor spiritual focus results from a lack of spiritual training. The ultimate result is a totally secular version of Christianity, a result I fear may not be far away for some groups.

Pluralism
Our churches have lost some of their identity through pluralism. In a world of relative truth, secularized religion, lack of mystery, and loss of values, we hardly know who we are or why we exist. We have limited ability to identify ourselves as a Christian colony characterized by Christian behaviors in our effort to be Christ’s disciples.
The church can only lose if this truth crisis is not addressed.

Suggestions For Recovering Ethical Ministry
Finding a solution to the crisis in ministerial ethics will not be easy. No panacea exists. Encouraging ethical ministry requires focus in two areas — ministers and ministry. How can we develop ethical ministers and ministries? To begin, we must recognize that ethics is not only a minister issue, but also is a church issue. Churches build ministers as much as ministers build churches. Churches shape ministers and ministry by their expectations and demands. Churches must believe in powerful ministry. Ministers must develop purposeful ministries.

We will not restore ethics in ministry until we understand the reasons for its loss. Ethics sits at the top of the principles-values-ethics pyramid. Our worldview (principle base) informs and supports our values that in turn determine our behaviors. A person’s worldview is the assumptions one makes about the universe and how it operates. The foundation of ethics is one’s belief system. Changes in worldview occur slowly in cultures or societies through a complicated process. It is unlikely that we will redefine the worldview of our society quickly or reverse the slide into relativity.

Thus the question is asked how ministers and ministry must change and how the required change can be accomplished. Restoring ethics in ministry demands clear belief systems for ministers and churches, and the identification and reaffirmation of Christian values. We must learn to think like Christ to develop Christian values and behaviors.

The minister
First, we must provide better training for ministers. The church must demand adequately prepared ministers. What is an adequate ministerial training model for producing capable, competent ministers? While it is true that every Christian can serve, and many can stand and talk before a class, ministry demands more. Noyce12 summarizes the responsibility of ministry as three-fold — keeping our promises, honoring our commitments, and maintaining moral lifestyles. A step toward these responsibilities is the inclusion of ethics in ministerial training models. Our ministry training schools must teach that ministry is principle-based and values-driven. We must help ministers develop Christian attitudes and learn how to live by Christian principles and values. We must demand training that addresses the personal spiritual life; develops a Christian worldview that defines and trains for thinking like Christ; and connects beliefs, values, and ethics. Ministers must emerge from their training with a strong commitment to personal spirituality, blameless character, and morality above reproach.

Second, we must hold ministers accountable for their ministry. Ministry does not always produce the desired results, but ministers should be accountable for their lives, study, and ministry activities. We must encourage a greater openness in those who minister, and willingness in the church to let them be human, confess weaknesses, and receive loving support from the church.

Finally, ethical ministry requires ministers committed to ministry, who know that the rewards as the world measures success may be few, but that the job is worth doing and can be done. Only when I believe in what I am doing can I find the strength to develop the mind of Christ and to live by the principles and values of Christ.

The church
Churches must commit to developing better support systems for ministry and better understandings of ministers. Churches build ministers more than ministers build churches. The church’s interest in ethical ministry extends to every Christian servant. What steps should the church take to help recover ethical ministry?

First, the church must demand the integration of principles, values, and ethics in the lives of those who minister. Ethics is concrete; every Christian is responsible for character.

Second, the church should focus on and demand accountability for the task of ministry rather than the results. Churches must be prepared to support ministry and to help set reasonable expectations for accomplishment.

Third, churches must strive to develop an open atmosphere that encourages honesty and vulnerability among all Christians, including those who minister, allowing all to be human. Ethical ministry demands that members and ministers go into the world guided by Christian ethics.

Fourth, we must develop better support systems within the church for those who minister.

Fifth, churches must develop a better understanding of ministry. Each fall, I preach at least one sermon on the nature of ministry. My church needs to understand ministry and to understand my ministry. I am accountable to them; they are my support system.

Sixth, the church must develop a fellowship that allows the minister to become an authentic part of the local congregation.

Finally, the church must ever be ethical in its treatment of ministers, members, one another, and the world.

These simple steps will not solve every problem, but they can start the church down the road to restored confidence in ministry. Ministers will live better, preach and teach better. Ministers will be better ministers. Ministers’ families will benefit. Ministers will find a support base from church leaders, a better understanding of their role, and will be better able to meet the challenges of their congregation. The church will enjoy better teaching and preaching. The church will benefit from powerful ministries that touch lives. Finally, the world will be encouraged by ethical ministry to believe in Jesus.

When ministers believe in themselves and churches believe in ministry, the result will be a world that believes in Christ.

Conclusion
Ministers must act responsibly as we wrestle with our theology and ethic of ministry. We are called to be moral guides to help form a moral people.13 This involves reforming the church and transforming the culture, but it primarily involves forming moral people, beginning with ourselves.

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Trust in the Lord with all your heart! Prov. 3:5-6

In a world where most of us get beat up to one degree or another, many people come out of these beatings with a problem in being able to trust anyone else – ever again! All you have to do is watch the daily news and it is one tragic story after another.

Our neighborhoods are no longer as safe as they used to be. Bizarre, random and senseless type crimes seem to be on the increase with all of the shootings that have occurred at our high schools, and now in our churches and in the courthouses themselves with the latest round of senseless tragedies that have just occurred.

All of us, to one degree or another, have been wronged in some way throughout the course of our lives. And for some, these wrongs have been vicious, nasty and sometimes extremely traumatic – especially those who have been victims of crimes such as rapes, assaults, robberies, and actual murders of close friends or loved ones.

These are some of the end time events that will lead us up to “The 2nd Coming of Jesus,” the Bible has already predicted that the love of many will grow cold as we enter into end times. The Bible says that many will become lovers of self, unholy, proud, unloving, without self-control, brutal and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God and His ways. Paul talks about these traits in 2 Timothy 3:1, and says that all of this will occur in the last days.

Being brutal and without self-control may help explain some of the really bizarre crimes that we are starting to see more of with the random type shootings that are occurring in our schools and other public places. Even our own government has to keep reminding us of the dangers of possible further terrorist activity anywhere and at anytime, and that we have to keep a lookout just within our own natural surroundings as you never know when the next land-mine may go off. All of this kind of heightened activity can really start to erode a person’s ability to be able to trust anyone.

For many others, they have a hard time in being able to trust anyone as a result of some degree of physical and/or verbal abuse that they have suffered from either their parents or their spouses. Spousal abuse in this country is still out of control with the number of women who are being severely beaten by either their husbands or boyfriends.

Many people have been so badly beaten and abused during the course of their lives, that they no longer have any ability to trust anyone – including God Himself! A dog can only take so much of a beating. After a certain amount of time, the dog will no longer trust anyone, including his own master.

As a result of the curse of Adam and Eve that is still in full operation on this earth, there is always going to be a certain amount of wrongs that we will all have to put up with – no exceptions! Nobody comes out of this life unscathed with all the people who have chosen with their own free wills to live this life on the dark side. However, for Christians, no matter how badly you have been beaten up in your past, the one thing that you cannot have affected is your ability to trust in your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and our heavenly Father. As a result of the beatings that some of God’s people have taken over the years, some of these people have literally lost their ability to even trust in God Himself.

It is one thing to have faith in God, to know that God exists, and that He is all-powerful and that there is nothing that He cannot do or accomplish – but it is quite another thing to be able to completely trust God with your life and to completely trust Him to properly handle it for you, especially if everyone in your past has let you down in one form or another.

For those of you who are have having problems in being able to fully trust the Lord with your entire life, I will give you 15 very powerful and profound verses from the Bible showing you that not only does God want you to fully trust Him with your life – but that it is a vital necessity that you learn to how to do so.

I believe that faith and trust go hand in hand. They are like a one-two punch. First you must have faith that God exists, that He is who the Bible says He is, and that you are truly saved under the shed Blood of His Son Jesus Christ. However, there is now one more big step you must take after you have this kind of faith in God.

Once you are saved, then you must be willing to fully surrender your entire life over to God the Father so that He can then enter you into His perfect plan and destiny for your life. You must become both saved and surrendered, not just saved.

God has a specific purpose and plan for each person’s life. Your life is no longer your own. You have been bought at a price and God now wants to do something very specific with your life. Many Christians already know this, but they are still having a very hard time in actually trusting God to handle their lives for them. Even though they know God is totally perfect and that He can perfectly handle, control and direct their lives much better than they can – they are still having a hard time in making that leap, in clearing that final hurdle to completely turn the reigns of their live over to God the Father for Him to fully handle.

Rev. Andrew Muthemba

Pastor, UBRC

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Message 2 - TRUST in the Lord with all your heart
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Message 3 - coming up

 
 
       
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