Ethics for the 21st Century – Wayne Matheson

man whispering in earRev Wayne Matheson is the Assembly Executive Secretary, and this is the first of a two-part series written by Wayne on ethics in the Church.

For the past four years in my role as the Assembly Executive Secretary, one of the privileges and pleasures has been running the Ethics and Risk Management workshops with co-presenter Jane Zintl. While available for all, it’s mostly ministers who attend. We start each session by looking at the Code of Ethics – but there are somethings I notice before that.

As I listen in these settings some things strike me: who does not attend; who is there for their growth and well-being, and who is there to tick the box that they have attended; what is said in both large and small group times; what side conversations take place. I see and hear from emotionally healthy and self-aware people. I hear from people that are not.

Paul says it well in Ephesians 5:15: “So be careful how you act; these are difficult days” (The Living Bible). We should not expect to determine our responses each time we encounter a potential pitfall. We need some guidelines to help us uphold our ethics as we work with, and alongside, people daily.

Three things strike me…

Accountability. We must all be accountable to someone. The problems I see can develop from attitudes of arrogance and isolation. Supervision is required – yet too many are trying to fudge their way in this area. Our Book of Order states: “A minister is responsible for nurturing and practising his or her own spiritual life and for undertaking ministry development…”. Good supervision is essential – with a qualified and competent person. We can talk about the joys and struggles – talk honestly, sharing feelings, identifying areas for personal and spiritual growth. Supervision is an important step to maintain accountability, self-care and a high standard of pastoral care.

Responsibility. It should not have to be said – but it does – we should be living out the highest standards of professional behaviour. The truly healthy leader is able to balance this with a broader sense of responsibility that encompasses personal roles and relationships. There is the need to balance the demands of church leadership with the demands of family and personal life.

Integrity. Foremost is the issue of how we use power. Do we share our power? Do we use it with compassion? What motives drive these decisions? Second, is the issue of honesty. True integrity requires not just honesty with regard to finances, but also justice in the use of authority, graciousness in what we take credit for, and compassion in how we gain and use privileged information.

As I reflect on those three areas, some questions could help us do a quick stock-take:

  • Have I attended to my own emotional and spiritual needs and integrated them into my daily walk with God?
  • Have I been totally honest in all my dealings with people today?
  • Have I acted appropriately toward and with all people I have interacted with today?
  • Have I been transparent in all my financial dealings today?
  • Have I fulfilled all my responsibilities without compromise and with a willing spirit today?
  • Have I spent sufficient quality time with the people I say matter most to me today?

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