National Association of Evangelicals Proposes Code of Ethics for Pastors

The Story: The National Association of Evangelicals is urging pastors to seek a common moral ground by uniting under a consistent code of ethics, reports the Religion News Service.

The Background: A team of ethicists, pastors, and denominational leaders worked over an 18-month span to complete the Code of Ethics for Pastors. The code includes five primary admonitions: pursue integrity, be trustworthy, seek purity, embrace accountability, and facilitate fairness.

“In some ways it’s the Wild West out there in terms of the context of preparation for ministry in the evangelical world,” says David P. Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. “Any effort to raise the moral bar and establish a minimal set of expectations for clergy — or any profession — is a very good thing.”

Why It Matters: A NAE survey taken in March found that 71 percent of evangelical leaders are not required to sign a formal code of ethics. “For many churches and Christian organizations, there are unspoken rules, or guidelines, for ethical behavior,” said Leith Anderson, NAE President. “The problem with unspoken rules is that no one has agreed to a standard. That yields many missed expectations.”

While some denominations have formal code of ethics, they “tend to be truncated in scope or overly legalistic and rule specific,” says Luder Whitlock, who chaired a drafting committee for a National Association. As Whitlock recently told Christianity Today, “Years ago we realized we needed to outline financial accountability for organizations, so the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability came about.”

Whitlock adds, “Strangely, no one has done the same for clergy’s ethical behavior. Everyone kept assuming, ‘We know what’s right. People know it, why don’t they do it?’ But really, when you have a world that’s swirling with change like ours and so few people know the Bible well, it’s all the more imperative to come up with something like this.”

  • RN

    So it’s sortof like a modern version of the Jerusalem council from the book of Acts, just this time involving ethicists. Nothing goofy about that, right…?

  • John Carpenter

    It used to be that most church members (not just the pastors) were expected to acknowledge a “church covenant” which specifically and Biblically listed the expectations on them. That was when Christians understood that the church was for accountability and disciple-making. Now they think it’s an institution akin to a restaurant or theater, or, for some, a school.

    The problem with the idea is the inherent clericalism: that the pastors are a different class of Christian who have to be treated differently.

  • mel

    This is confusing to me. When did the bible become a set of unspoken rules?

  • Robert Reed

    Why is it Mercer University “popped” out in this discussion? hmm…maybe it was,-Mercer-collaborate-to-offer-conference-on-sex

    When you surrender the authority of the Scripture as the Word of God as being the final arbiter in decisions of right & wrong, you have only one option available … write your own.

    This is not a question of pastors not knowing the Scripture but of ethicists, pastors, and denominational leaders preferring their own wisdom to the wisdom of God revealed by God in the Word of God.

  • Abby

    ” . . . when you have a world that’s swirling with change like ours and so few people know the Bible well, it’s all the more imperative to come up with something like this.” Isn’t this PASTOR’S we’re talking about? And they wouldn’t know the Bible well? And if the people going to church don’t know the Bible well, where does that fault lie?

  • RDRussell

    Oh boy! A brand new law to break!

  • Anar

    Isn’t 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1 a good code for pastors?

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  • Steve Cornell


    Thanks for posting this! I commend those who worked hard to produce this tool. It would make a good discussion focus for pastoral staff retreats. Some comments strangely (and unnecessarily) read this as “competition with” or “a replacement of” Scripture. These points simply make applications from Scripture. If a particular portion contradicts or adds to Scripture, it would be more helpful if respondents expressed a specific concern.

    Strangely absent from this code is reference to family life, conduct as a husband and father. “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (I Timothy 3:4-5).

    • Al

      Probably because the ethics stated cover this area of life any way and some of those affiliated to the NAE would recognise women as well as men to be pastors.

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