Ministerial Ethics

Ministerial Ethics
By T. F. Tenney

It is my assumption that since this Seminar is structured for District Boards, my subjects should address the various ethics that are related to the operation of that Board. The word “ethic” means “a moral philosophy, a system or code of morals of a particular religion, group or profession.” The word “ethical” means “conforming to the standards of conduct of a given profession.” We are therefore addressing the philosophy, moral code, and standard of conduct that should emanate from our District Boards.

I am fully cognizant that there are diversity of opinions concerning ethics. I have never appreciated the man who thought that his was the only way, or “it was not smoke unless it came out of his stack.” Please accept my remarks within a framework of the sincerity with which they are dispatched. Anything observed here is certainly open for further study, clarification, and even disagreement. One thing for sure: nothing is more important than the ethics of a District Superintendent, District Secretary, and members of the Presbytery.

Ethics Of The Servant’s Heart

The concept of a servant’s heart is the guiding philosophy for all ministries. We are in the people business. Our Master said if any of us would be great or chief, we must be willing to be servants and ministers. We must be initiated into the order of the towel. It is consequently the responsibility of the District Board to keep itself servant oriented. Organization must ever be our servant and not our master. It is a priority. It is the focal point of the Kingdom. The unity of the Body of Christ is much more spiritual than it is organizational. We have long ago learned that the machinery can clank on long after the oil has drained out. There is no group who can exert more influence on projecting the servant concept to a district or section than members of the District Board. They must always see us as humble servants of the Lord Jesus Christ and of His Church.

Personal Ethics

Each of us must ever give priority to our personal walk with God. Whenever our lives are in tune with Him, He is able to produce harmony in a Board Room. Our private devotion, times alone with the Master, are a must. We should not come to our Board meetings without a time of fasting and prayer. We are constantly asked to lose ourselves for the Gospel’s sake and for Christ’s sake, yet there have been officials who have taken on such a goal only to end up burned out and bitter. The morgue of former Board members is filled with people who kept giving long after their own personal resources had been exhausted. To me, one of the finest methods for discerning the will of God is to get as close to Jesus as you can and then do what you feel like doing. The task we are called to do can produce problem-oriented thinking. We can become more conscious of the problems around us than we are of the power within us. The outward hostilities of the demands of our office must be counter-balanced by the inward thrust of prayer.

Within the framework of personal ethics, each of us needs a good self-image. God made us as we are to use us as He planned. There is no need for me to ever wish that I was somebody else. I am unique! I am God’s! He has a plan for me!

The ethics of confidentiality cannot be overstated. Many things are shared in a Board Room that should never leave that room. There are some preachers in our districts and sections who think that their Presbyter or Superintendent is an open door to all that goes on in the Board Room. Brethren, this should not be. The tongue is a dangerous member of the body. The souls of men are at stake. Marriages are at stake. Children are at stake. Guard the confidentiality of your office.

Before repeating anything, someone has observed, it should go through three golden gates:

1. Is it necessary I tell it?
2. Will it hurt anyone if I tell it?
3. Will it glorify God if I tell it?

My personal ethics must dictate that I am dedicated to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, not to the kingdom of self. We cannot pray “Thy Kingdom come” until we have first prayed “my kingdom go.” A Presbyter or Superintendent must always forego the temptation to build a kingdom around himself; be it in a section or a district. We are only stewards of the things entrusted to us and will someday give an account.

There is the ethic of my understanding of my fellow laborer. In a section or a district, “they are my brother” is always above “they are in my section or district.” We must always be willing to press the flesh, to know how they live, breathe, bark their shins and die. The philosophy of I Corinthians 13 is the highest ethic of service I know anything about.

What are my convictions towards the Articles of Faith of the United Pentecostal Church? It would not be ethical for me to serve as an official for this movement if I did not believe in their doctrines. This can bring us to conflict with ourselves as opposed to our office. We all may hold personal convictions that are not embraced in the Articles of Faith. That is well and good. However, when we sit on a District Board our judgment on a man doctrinally must be based entirely on the Articles of Faith; plus nothing, minus nothing.

The Ethics Of Family Relationships

Believe it or not a man’s office can, if he allows it, interfere with his family relationship. Someone has wisely observed that if you go around the world to save the lost and lose your own family, what will it profit you? Our lives must give certain priorities to our family.

I’ll give you the advice that one old sage said his wife gave him, “Nobody can plan your schedule but you. I can’t take time off for you.” So, if you value the relationship you have with your children and your wife, you’ve got to learn to set priorities on your time. Some of us have learned to block out segments of time on our calendar for our families. Consider this as important as anything you do. Actually, it could be far more important than anything else you may do. Someone else has said, “In the economy of God, duties do not conflict.” Therefore, it is necessary to determine how, as a father, I can meet the needs of my wife and children; and consider the time I do this of highest priority, while still involved in the ministry. After all the scriptures do tell us to rule, manage well our own homes. This is one of the criteria for officialdom.

Ethics Toward The United Pentecostal Church International

What is the UPCI? It is nothing less than a fellowship of churches and ministers banded together in like precious faith. We are divided functionally into an international body, districts, sections, and local churches. We must never forget as officials that the local church is the base. If we have a pyramid of operation, the local church is not on the bottom, it’s the top. The total body must value this. We must always convey this ethic to our brethren. Sometimes they have misconceptions about what Boards really do and how they function. We must do everything we can to let them know that we value the local pastor, minister, and church above everything in our organization. We must respect the pastor’s right to operate his local church. It is not the responsibility of the District Superintendent, Secretary, or Presbyters to set standards for the local church. The Manual of the United Pentecostal Church International, Article 19, Section 1 on page 95 states:

“All true Pentecostal believers associating themselves in local assemblies, and accepting their full personal share of responsibility for maintenance and promotion of scriptural order in the local body shall have a standard for membership. This standard may be determined altogether by the local assembly itself, providing it does not conflict with the Articles of Faith of the United Pentecostal Church.

It is recommended that each assembly affiliate itself with the United Pentecostal Church for the sake of identification, fellowship, cooperation and protection.

Each local assembly so affiliated has the right of self-government under Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. It shall have the power to select its pastor according to the form of local church government it has adopted and which was approved by the District Board at the time of its affiliation. It shall transact all other business pertaining to its life as a local unit. It shall have the right to administer discipline to its members according to the scriptures. It shall have the right to acquire and hold title to its property, either through the trustees or in its corporate as a self-government unit.

The fact that a local assembly is affiliated shall in no wise destroy its rights as above stated.”

Since the Manual is so explicit on this, it is the responsibility of the District Superintendent to see that this right is protected for every pastor and his church. As long as a man’s convictions do not violate the Articles of Faith he is free to doctrinally operate within his local church. It would do us well to study afresh the Articles of Faith to make sure we know what they say and what they don’t say.

In our Constitution certain authority is left to the international body, and certain to the District. Just as we expect the national organization to serve the districts, we must be loyal and ethical toward the parent body. It is not a “them” in Hazelwood and “us” in the district mentality. Unity can filter down through the Superintendent, Presbyters, to the sections and churches just as quickly as disunity. As District Superintendent, I must represent the General Board and the UPCI to my district. I must do all that I can to build bridges of communication, allay rumors, and foster unity. Immediately after General Conference we launch into our fall banquets. At these banquets we present to our brethren all of the resolutions passed at the General Conference. We go over any other business of interest. We also give a report of the spiritual progress of the general body. Oftentimes rumors circulate through the district about certain things that are supposed to be transpiring from Headquarters. If I do not know, I feel it is my responsibility to find out and not fuel the fire of the rumor mill. There are oftentimes within the general body that I do not personally agree with what has been done. That is not a license for me, as Superintendent, to constantly foster disunity. Neither does it muzzle me from expressing my opinion within the proper forum. However, to me, the proper forum is not under every shade tree at the Louisiana Camp Meeting.

Ethics Toward The District And Section

Note that I did not separate these two. I do not think that within the philosophy of our ethics I am eleven sections with one district. Rather, I believe I am one district with eleven sections. As the District Superintendent, one of my primary responsibilities is that of a member of the Board of General Presbyters. This Board has the general oversight of all activities of the organization, both spiritual and material. It is their responsibility to see that the business of the organization is carried out according to this Constitution (Article VI, Page 34). I note that it does not say “according to my personal concept” but “according to this Constitution.”

The further duties of the District Superintendent are outlined in Article II, under District Constitution, page 101 of the Manual. The duties of the District Presbyters are outlined under Section 2, page 102. The duties of the District Secretary are on the same page under Section 3. The duties of the District Board are further noted under Section 4, page 102.

We must always realize that ethics demand that we may have our say, but we don’t always get our way. This attitude should be fostered right down into all the sectional meetings. Loyalty is a spirit that is caught, rather than taught. If our brethren see unity and loyalty in the members of the District Board, then it will assist them in emulating that spirit.

The Superintendent, Secretary, and Presbyters must be loyal to one another. There will be good times and bad times. It is important for us to understand the function of each of our offices.

It is especially noteworthy that the pastoral change of a local church is under the jurisdiction of the Superintendent. He may delegate this to the Presbyter, but this chain of command should always be respected. It is my understanding with our Presbyters, if they find a church is open, they automatically call me. And if I receive the information, I, in turn, notify them and give them instructions as to what to do. The same is true if there is a problem in a local assembly or with a minister.

The highest ethics must also be remembered in the securing of pastors for local churches. This is always a very touchy area. You cannot over-communicate your methodology in handling this with your District. On several occasions I have communicated with our brethren through our District “Communique” how we handle the changing of pastors.

Problems in a local church are always a sensitive area. Pastors are usually quite resentful when they find that a deacon or member of their church has called the Presbyter or Superintendent. We must understand that this is a normal reaction. May I advise that when you receive a call from a complainant, let the first question be, “Have you talked to your pastor?” If they have not, very tactfully terminate the conversation until they do. Inform them that you can do very little for them until they have first conversed with their shepherd. If they have already talked to the pastor, then it is wise to ask, “Do you speak for yourself or for the church board?” Official complaints really should come through the church board. I personally follow the above procedure unless it is a moral charge. I use greater latitude and discretion if a moral accusation is involved. Other than for a moral charge, I will always tell the complainant, “As soon as I am through talking to you, I am going to call the pastor so that he will be informed of this problem.”

Another sensitive area that needs to be brought to our attention is the Superintendent-Presbyter relationship with local church members. After you have had several pastoral changes in a church, you might become rather close friends with some of the leadership structure. The new pastor must never feel that there is a “buddy-buddy” relationship between members of their church and district officials. This can breed unnecessary suspicion.

Within the concept of the ethics of the section and district is, of course, the District Board. District Board sessions are often misunderstood by many of our brethren. It is so vital that they understand how the Board operates. Again, we cannot over communicate in this area.

The Superintendent and Secretary should have an orderly agenda prepared before any Board meeting. They should know if all of the applications are in order, and if the applicants, according to our constitution, have previously met with their Sectional Presbyter. In my opinion, all Board sessions should begin with prayer. Talking about God must never substitute for talking with God. A time of devotion sets the pace for the day. All Board members should be active on the Board. They should feel free to ask questions, make statements, give in-put, etc. There comes a time when a decision must be made and just about all that can be said, has been said. It is then the Superintendent’s responsibility to call for action. Time is of the essence. Some people will steal your money and others will steal your time. I feel it is important, as much as possible, to have specific times for applicants and others to meet the Board. I know it is quite irritating for individuals to have to wait for hours to meet with us.

We have found organizing our Board into Committees to be helpful. We have four standing committees: Budget Committee, Divisional Program Committee, District Program Committee, and Applicant Committee.

Sitting in a Board session when judgment upon men’s lives must be made is a solemn responsibility. The highest ethics and philosophy must be adhered to. We must always act redemptively. Those who fall are not condemned for life, though they often think so. Let us do all we can to lift a man, even if he has confessed to a moral sin. His soul is the ultimate objective.

Whenever individuals meet the Board concerning problems they must understand the solemnity of the occasion. I have a personal conviction that when Holy Ghost men sit in that type of council, they sit with Apostolic authority. If a man lies to us, he has lied to the Holy Ghost. I believe he can carry on his ministry and function, cover it and appear to do well. But remember, he has lied to the Holy Ghost–he is in danger of eternal judgment. They must be made aware of this.

In dealing with sin questions, the Board is always consciously aware of a man’s family, wife, and children. For their sake, no more information than necessary should be disseminated through the fellowship. There are so many people who delight in a discreditable report. We must not foster this. We must also set the example for our brethren in our redemptive acts toward those who have failed. You can accept and love someone without approving of what they have done.

Astute ethics must be involved in handling the judicial procedure. My personal advice is, if you can stay out of a judicial procedure, avoid it. Go brother to brother. Try to arbitrate. If you have to utilize the judicial procedure, do it to the best of your ability. Always be ethical in letting the pastors know, if they are under investigation, and if you have to meet with some of their people to receive complaints.

It is also vital that the section and the district function as one, and support one another. Presbyters, Superintendents, and all officials should support the district with their tithes and other program cooperatives. There should be an inner-working of calendars between the sections and the district. We must always know what is going on. It is incumbent on the Superintendent to do all within his power to keep the Board informed. Men tend to help defend what they help create. A district or a section is no place for a dictator. We are brethren!

Ethics Between Districts

It is understood that our districts are autonomous of one another, yet we are all members of the same body. This must always be remembered. I think it is ethical for surrounding districts to try to coordinate their Conference and Camp Meeting schedules. I think Superintendents should remember to check with one another before installing a man from another district as a pastor. He must have his Superintendent’s recommendation.

I think we should remember: if a man is out of fellowship in one district, he is out in all. This is not always easy, but we must respect one another’s judgment. However, we must also understand that things can happen in a district, men can come in and preach and the Superintendent can be totally oblivious of it. The Superintendent must also have complaints before he can take action.

We as Superintendents and Presbyters can assist one another between districts if we will communicate concerning some malicious rumors that occasionally crop up among us.

And now I close with this. There is a penalty for leadership. Theodore Roosevelt said:

“DARE GREATLY” It is not the critic who counts; nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself M a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement: and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

We want to do what we do well, but we do not need the air of professional secularism. Professionalism in the ministry is performance without concern; proclamation without passion; preparation without prayer. Professionalism specializes in knowing how without knowing why. Gentlemen, when the bottom line is written may it be said of us and our work, “These be true men.”

Article “Ministerial Ethics” written by T. F. Tenny is taken from an unknown source.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”