I just recently spent several days and many hours teaching on the subject of Ministerial Ethics at a Bible School overseas. I think that we would all agree that we generally want our ministers to behave in such a way that does not publicly bring dishonor to the name of Christ and His church in the earth. Over the years, we have been embarrassed by the indiscretions of men and even women that have stood in ministry as leaders and have failed so publicly. We read about it in magazines and newspapers, we see it all over the internet in terribly vivid detail and it even occasionally makes the evening news on the television.
When asked to tackle this important subject, I thought long and hard about how I wanted to approach the teaching. My mind immediately was drawn to the most obvious passages on the subject written by Paul to his young protégés Timothy and Titus. He was instructing them concerning qualifications they should look for when appointing people to various positions of leadership in the church. However, in praying about how I was to address the subject I realized that we often approach this subject a bit backwards and that could at least in part explain why we are not seeing the results that we desire. You see when we look for specific behaviors to define a person's abilities to stand in a position of leadership, we often overlook what is most important--the character that underlies that behavior. Someone once observed, "Conduct is three-fourths of life, however Conduct of itself is merely the outward expression of character and character is deep-seated in the person". Therefore, if we are to transform the three-fourths of our life (behavior), it is this one-fourth of life (character) that we must turn our attention to.The reality is that ministers, just like everyone else, are people with either a character of quality or of deficiency. A person's behavior is simply a reflection of character. Jesus told us in Matthew 7 that we should be able to look at the minister's life and judge the minister by the quality of the fruit his life produces. He states that a good tree will bear good fruit and a bad tree will naturally bear bad fruit--period. The question is what is the standard (fruit) we should be using to judge these ministers and their ministries by. First, we are told what it is not. Jesus states that many will come to me at judgment and say "We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name". Jesus' response makes it very clear that ministry activity, no matter how "fruitful", is not the measure we should be using for judging the minister. Herein lies part of the problem, we have done just that. In our society popular ministers with apparently successful ministries can fail morally and there is now little thought given to it. Why? Because we assume that successful ministry is a mark of God's approval on the minister, that their success in ministry is an indicator of Godliness. Friends, the Scripture is clear, the fruit we are to judge our lives by is the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), the character of Christ that is being formed in us as we are being transformed by a dynamic interactive relationship with our resurrected Savior. Right behavior is a reflection of right character and right character is formed by the work of the Holy Spirit over time. This is one of the reasons that Paul admonishes Timothy that when choosing leaders, do not choose leaders that have not been long in Christ (1 Tim. 3:6). Let's look for real fruit in our ministers lives and let's give time for that fruit to form before we judge their ministry as "fruitful or successful". Like Paul, we want our ministers to meet a set of socially acceptable standards for behavior, but what we really should want is for their lives, their behavior to reflect the type of character that will produce Christ-like behavior. What we want is not for our ministers to meet a minimum standard of behavior but rather live lives that reflect the inward transformation they are experiencing living in relationship with Christ. We need to focus on character formation and heart transformation. I believe it is time we start concentrating our efforts on developing in our ministers the right heart, rather than teaching Ministerial Ethics as a specific set of do's and don'ts. We often seek to enforce holiness by defining for people what constitutes right and wrong behavior. However, I do not believe that we are going to change people's behavior through decrees. This approach will result in either rebellion or outward compliance with no real heart change (which produces animosity over the long run and as soon as the pressure to change is removed, they revert right back to previous patterns of behavior). If we take a legalistic approach to Ministerial Ethics, we will only have a group of leaders that might or might not follow the letter of the law. Unfortunately, sinfulness in man cannot be curtailed through a specific set of prohibitions; the sinful heart always finds a way to satisfy sinful desire and justify doing so. I am convinced that what Christ wants from us is not compliance to a list of rules and regulations but rather that we allow the Holy Spirit to produce the necessary heart change that would result in making right decisions and living a right life. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the only one that can bring about this transformation, but it has to occur on the inside and work its way outward. We have already seen it will never work the other way around.