(Amended by Synod 2022)
Note: The Code of Conduct, as amended by Synod 2022 with the addition of a line to the “Spiritual” section, is currently before the classes and churches for review and input and will be presented with any recommended changes to Synod 2023 for adoption.
Download Code of Conduct for Ministry Leaders
In Philippians 2 the apostle Paul brings to his Philippian readers the words of a hymn in which Christ Jesus is acknowledged as being, in his very nature, God. Among other things, this means that Christ is the one to whom all power belongs.
The hymn goes on to say that Christ did not consider equality with God as something to be used to his own advantage. In fact, he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, and humbling himself toward a life-sacrificing kind of obedience. In other words, he used his power for the thriving of others.
All of us who are united to Christ by faith and who serve in the life of the church are called, in this passage and others, to this way of being. Jesus himself, in response to the desire for power expressed by his disciples, called them (and us) to use power to serve people, a way of holding power that confronts and contrasts with the ways that the world uses power.1
Not only do we have this call from Christ, but we actually have Jesus living and growing within us (Gal. 2:20). As a result, we find ourselves being transformed into the kind of people who hold and use power in a Christlike way.
That being said, until Christ returns and brings us to perfection, we will continue to wrestle with the urge to misuse power and abuse others. Ugly realities such as verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse are found among us. The power that we hold by virtue of our person or our position can always be twisted into the project of building our own kingdoms at the expense of others. This is true for pastors, lay ministry leaders, and church members alike.
In awareness of these ugly realities and in the beautiful hope of Christ’s transforming work, the following code of conduct is offered for ministry leaders. It is shaped by Scripture and by commitments found in our confessional statements and contemporary testimonies.2 It emerges out of a response by Synod 2018 to patterns of abuse that had been brought to its attention3 and is aimed at preventing such abuse in the future. May God’s peace be among us.
Code of Conduct
Abuse of power is a misuse of position, authority, or influence to take advantage of, manipulate, or control. Abuse of power occurs when a person with power, regardless of its source, uses that power to harm and/or influence another for personal gain at the other’s expense. All abuse by faith leaders within the church is also spiritual abuse and has spiritual impacts that often heighten the harm caused to individuals and to the family of God. (For more background, see Acts of Synod 2019, pp. 587-615).
As a ministry leader, I commit to the following:
I will use confidentiality appropriately, which means I will hold in confidence whatever information is not mine to share.
I will not use information shared with me in confidence in order to elevate my position or to depreciate that of others.
My use of confidentiality will also be guided by mandatory reporting as required by law.
I will speak and act, in all my personal and professional relations, in ways that follow the pattern of Christ, who used his power to serve (1 Pet. 5; Mark 10; Phil. 2; 2 Tim. 4:2).
I will conduct myself with respect, love, integrity, and truthfulness toward all—regardless of position, status, race, gender, age, or ability.
To the best of my ability, I will contribute to an environment of hospitality.
I will ensure that funds are used for their intended ministry purposes.
In all financial matters, including the acceptance of gifts, I will act with scrupulous honesty, transparency, and appropriate accountability.
I will appropriately use accepted accounting practices and regular reviews and/or audits.
I will maintain standards and appropriate boundaries in all relationships, which are informed by the Scriptures.
I will keep all of my professional relationships free from inappropriate emotional and sexual behaviors. This includes not engaging in inappropriate intimate contact or a sexual relationship, unwanted physical contact, sexual comments, gestures, or jokes.
I will actively promote a safe environment where all persons are respected and valued, where any form of abuse, bullying, or harassment is neither tolerated nor allowed to take place.
I will report known or suspected cases of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect of minors to the proper government authorities.
I will support adults who disclose physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in a way that appropriately empowers the person who has been victimized.
I will acknowledge the use of Scripture and the Spirit’s work in the community of the church and, therefore, refrain from presuming to be the sole “voice of God.”
I will teach, admonish, or discipline in ways that are biblical and Christlike, and I will seek other people’s well-being (Matthew 18; Colossians 1:28; 3:16).
I will use my position as a way to serve the body of believers, rather than myself, for the common good and the cultivation of the gifts of the Spirit.
I will work within my professional competence, especially in counseling situations, and I will refer individuals to other professionals as appropriate.
I will promote truthfulness, transparency, and honesty in all of my work.
I will disclose any perceived or actual conflict of interest.
In all that I do, I will seek to use my position, power, and authority prudently and humbly and in nonexploitive ways.
In the event that I misuse my power, either intentionally or unintentionally, as a ministry leader, I will acknowledge the harm that has been caused and the trust that has been broken, and I will actively seek restoration with justice, compassion, truth, and grace. I will humbly submit to the insight and accountability of others to ensure that I use any power entrusted to me fully in service to Christ.
1 See Mark 10:35-45. Note that there are other Scripture texts that address the use of power to bless, such as 1 Peter 5:1-4. In addition, there are texts that describe abuses of power and the damage that such abuses cause (see, for example, 2 Sam. 11 and Ezek. 34).
2 See Belgic Confession, Article 28, and Heidelberg Catechism, Q. and A. 55, 107, 111. See also the statement in the Confession of Belhar that says, “We believe . . . that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others” (Confession of Belhar, Article 4). Further, in Our World Belongs to God, we read that the church is a “new community,” gathered by God, in which “all are welcome” (para. 34); that the church’s mission in this broken world is a mission of proclaiming the gospel and its implications for life today (para. 41); and that, “restored in Christ’s presence, shaped by his life, this new community lives out the ongoing story of God’s reconciling love, announces the new creation, and works for a world of justice and peace” (para. 39). Such statements describe the mission of the church in general and provide foundation for the specific code of conduct presented here.
3 Bev Sterk’s overture to Synod 2018, titled “Address Patterns of Abuse of Power That Violate the Sacred Trust Given to Leaders and Recognize How These Hinder Due Process and Healing,” and appendices specifically related to it, can be found in the Agenda for Synod 2018, pp. 282-307 (see crcna.org/Synod Resources). The subsequent action of Synod 2018 was to form an “Abuse of Power Committee” to study “how the CRCNA can best address patterns of abuse of power at all levels of the denomination” (Acts of Synod 2018, pp. 523-24). The work of Synod 2019 related to this overture can be found in the Acts of Synod 2019, pp. 794-96 (see crcna.org/Synod Resources). The particular recommendation calling for a code of conduct is recommendation 3, c (p. 795).