Following the sorrowful retreat of the rich young ruler, Peter spoke up: "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" (Matt. 19:27). Simply stated, he was asking "What will we get out of our ministry?" This, certainly, was a practical question for ministers then, as well as now.
I can't hear Jesus answering, "Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me shall have $100 per month donkey depreciation; $160 per month hay-and-oats budget; and you will get $360 per month to help you buy .a home. If you have to make a special trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem you will get an extra hay-and-oats allowance. If one of the other disciples rides with you, you may report that to Judas, and you will receive an additional hay allowance. If you stay on my team long enough, and do a reasonably good job, I'm sure that the Executive Committee will soon give you a larger synagogue to pastor. And we really do have a very generous retirement plan!"
Indeed, the ministry is the highest and noblest calling. Despite the secularization of the society in which we live today, clergy are still respected and treated with deference even by most worldly people. A survey some time ago asked people to rank, in order of confidence, the professionals they trusted most. Doctors ranked first; clergy placed third (automobile salesmen came in eighteenth)! But even as honored and honorable as we are, we don't have to look at our own lives very long to be painfully reminded that we are indeed made of clay.
As ministers, we are often called upon by the laity to help them interpret the moral law of God as it relates to present-day life. We all have had people come to us for counsel regarding a questionable situation that could be to their advantage financially or socially. These people have argued all the reasons why this particular thing would be acceptable. But usually a moral or ethical question is involved. And, in most cases, as we have continued to uphold the moral code that should govern Christians, the individual has responded: "I knew that was the answer all the time. I just wanted to check with you."
People look to us to interpret the moral law of God for them. But just as judges and lawyers sometimes bend or violate the civil laws they have sworn to uphold, we ministers are at times tempted to bend the moral law of God for our own selfish ends. Usually, when a minister is found in violation of proper ethics, the problem has centered around the question "What's in it for me?"—financially, professionally, or personally. Rarely do we make these mistakes inadvertently, although, if challenged, we routinely plead ignorance as our excuse.
A member of the board of directors of a local credit union came to me one day and said, "Pastor, what can we do to make our ministers honest?" He went on to tell of one pastor who applied for a loan but whose credit rating was so poor that he couldn't qualify. A minister friend took out a loan for him, and now, together, they could not make repayment! The credit union director continued, telling of the wife of another minister who obtained a loan, not declaring another that she already had, which made her application statement fraudulent. Now, with her business failing, she had declared bankruptcy. "What can we do to make our ministers honest?" His question kept ringing in my ears.
It is tragic when those who have been called to interpret God's standards for others succumb to the temptation to bend or manipulate that same standard for their own selfish ends.
"We have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" Like Peter, we are tempted to feel that because of our great talents, because of what we could have done financially in some career other than the ministry, or because we have accomplished so much good for the church, we deserve just a bit more than we are getting. And so we bend the rules—only slightly, of course—for our own ends. What a tragedy! One who attempts to point others to proper living, himself fails to exemplify the same high standards! We need to subject our lives and ministries to the close scrutiny of the following questions:
1. Do I spend sufficient time in personal study of the Scriptures and in personal prayer and meditation to maintain a continually growing relationship with my God?
Only you can determine how much time is sufficient for this in your own experience. But is your relationship with God as rich as it was a year ago? Five years ago? Your response to that question can provide the answer. Studies show that most people, even professionals, level off, cease to grow, or even regress after they reach midlife. Have you reached midlife spiritually?
2. Do I avoid anything that will weaken me mentally, physically, or spiritually? Whether we wish to acknowledge them or not, we each know, subconsciously, our own areas of weakness, "those darling sins," as one writer has called them. Have we truly surrendered these to Jesus?
3. Do I abuse the authority given me by the Word of God? Am I always an example and a shepherd to those whom God has entrusted to my care?
"Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2, 3). Are we lords or shepherds? Your people will follow a leader; few of them want to be driven.
4. Do I cheapen my calling by seeking special privileges, gratuities, or ministerial discounts?
One minister, who was trying to get a better price on an item from a merchant, pleaded, "You know I'm just a poor preacher!" The merchant replied, "Yes, I know that you're a poor preacher. I heard you preach a couple of weeks ago."
It is truly sad when a minister will squeeze all of the profit out of a merchant for a "good deal," pleading the financial embarrassment of the ministry, and then go about boasting of what a bargain he got on the item.
5. Do I keep with strict integrity all confidences that come to me as a minister?
It isn't always easy to keep a confidence. But what does it mean to you when a person who is agonizing with a sin problem comes to you to share his burden and ease his guilt? He bares his soul to you. Do you tell your wife about it? a colleague? or your closest friend? What is a confidence but a person's trust in you that when he bares his soul to you, you will not repeat that confidence to any other soul?
6. Do I refuse to use information about or from members for personal advantage?
The laity trust that the clergy are a cut above the average person in honesty and integrity. They have a right to expect exemplary behavior of us. They would like to believe that we would be above using our position for personal gain. Don't give in to the temptation to abuse this trust.
7. Do I go into the pulpit unprepared or use it as a platform to expound my personal views on society, politics, or matters unrelated to the gospel?
Probably the cry that most often comes to church administrators is the cry for better preaching and better preachers. The man of God must never be satisfied with his preaching accomplishments. He must always be striving to grow in preaching ability as we'll as content. People will still come to hear good preaching
8. Do I play favorites or ally myself with factions within the church?
The true shepherd is a shepherd to dl the flock, the lovely and the unlovely. We cannot be a pastor to all if we take sides in any church problem. Let us never allow ourselves to be dragged into any church problem that is not a moral problem. And let us be careful that we do not create a moral problem where no moral principle is involved.
9. Do I give prompt aid to members in time of distress or need?
One problem with the clergy is that we feel that we always have to have all the answers. We need to recognize that we do not always know just what needs to be done or said, nor do our members expect us to. Then, let us not go about spilling empty words on people, saying, "I know what you're going through," when we really haven't been through it ourselves, just let people know that you care and that you're available for support and help in time of need.
10. Do I consider seriously the counsel of colleagues?
There are two parts to this question that we must apply to ourselves. First, we should pray for the good sense to ask for counsel from colleagues from time to time. None of us has a corner on all wisdom for the parish. Second, we should pray for grace to accept the counsel we have asked for, if it is wiser than ours and if it is correct.
11. Do I speak disparagingly of my predecessor or advise members of former congregations regarding their relationship with their present minister?
When a minister leaves a church he should leave it. Cut the ties clean! Don't make yourself the exception to the rule. Don't go back into that parish unless you're invited to do so by the present pastor. Don't give advice unless that pastor asks for it. And if he doesn't ask for it, don't think that he has committed the unpardonable sin and that that church will come to ruin. Possibly he just might stumble through and succeed in spite of himself and your worst fears and predictions!
12. Do I encourage or perform professional services in a former parish only upon invitation of the present pastor?
This is simply a variation on the golden rule. It's just good taste, professional courtesy. If a layperson from a former parish asks you to perform a service for him or his family, simply say, "I would be very happy to do so. Now if you'll just channel this matter through your present pastor we will both feel more comfortable about it." That's all that it takes.
13. Am I alert to the physical and/or spiritual needs of a retired colleague who may be a member of my church or who may live in my community?
Let us not neglect the retirees. These people have given their lives to the church. These are people for whom the church has been their life and whose lives have been expended for the church. Let us continue to love them and make them feel a part of the church, even though they may not be able to take an active role any longer.
14. Am I responsive to the needs of my family, recognizing that they are my first responsibility as a servant of God?
Don't forget your wife and your children. They are people too. Give yourself to them and their needs. They are your flock as verily as the larger flock that you have been called to serve. Make them your first work, without neglecting your parish flock.
Ministerial ethics! What a challenge is ours as we attempt to lead our people into a closer, richer experience with God!
"Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have there fore?" (Matt. 19:27). In reply to Peter, Jesus promises that we "shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (verse 29). I receive a "hundredfold" here and now, each time I have the privilege of bringing a soul to Christ. My salary and my benefits are necessary to meet the physical needs of life, but my real bonus comes every time I see a person give his heart to Jesus.
How fortunate I am to have a part in His ministry! I am the richest of the rich, "as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Cor. 6:10).
As ministers, let us live carefully and frugally when necessary, but let us not be cheap, nor cheapen our ministry with unbecoming conduct.