The Idea of a Standard of Ethics

Not long ago, I was paging through my copy of Voice magazine. The issue theme was “measuring church maturity,” and I wanted to see what the issue’s writers had to say on the topic. For whatever reason, church maturity didn’t suggest the idea of “ethics” to my mind. So I was surprised to see Ken Bickel’s article calling for renewed emphasis on pastoral ethics (posted here yesterday), and even more surprised to find two pages devoted to a two-part ethical standard for IFCA members.

I am not an IFCA member, and—believe it nor not—they haven’t hired me to recruit for them! But I have a lot of respect for these guys. I offer the ethical standard below as an example of the idea of a standard of ethics—an idea that more fundamentalist organizations should seriously consider, and an idea more fundamentalist pastors should seriously consider as well (present company included).

Reprinted with permission from Voice Nov/Dec 2010.

IFCA International Standard of Ethics for Churches

The following standards are recommended in an effort to create a professional understanding within IFCA International as we endeavor to preserve the dignity, maintain the discipline, and promote the integrity of our churches. Endeavoring to uphold the Constitution and By-Laws of our church and the IFCA Doctrinal Statement, and recognizing Scripture as our final authority, we purpose that our manner of life will be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27).


  • I will endeavor to practice personal and family worship, training my children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and seeking the salvation of my family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances.
  • I will endeavor, unless providentially hindered, to faithfully attend gatherings for worship, prayer, study, and fellowship, and will use my spiritual gifts for the common good.
  • I will endeavor to strive by God’s grace and power to live as Christ in the world; and denying ungodliness and worldly lusts I will seek to fulfill my calling by leading a holy life and being salt and light.
  • I will endeavor to abide by the standards of sexual purity, ethical integrity, and spiritual fidelity as taught in the Bible.
  • I will endeavor that if, in the providence of God, I am led from this church, I will with the spirit of grace diligently seek to unite with another church where I can continue to carry out the spirit and principles of God’s Word.


  • We will endeavor through the power of the Holy Spirit to watch over one another in brotherly love, remembering one another in prayer, helping one another in sickness and distress, cultivating Christian compassion and courtesy, believing that the pursuit of peace with others and personal holiness accompany true faith in Christ.
  • We will endeavor to be slow to take offense, eager to seek the reconciliation Christ commands, and will work to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
  • We will endeavor to rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.
  • We will endeavor to faithfully participate in the ordinances of our church. We will both submit to the church’s discipline upon ourselves and lovingly assume our responsibility to participate in the discipline of other members, as taught in Scripture.
  • We will endeavor to allow the Holy Spirit to put away our bitterness, wrath, anger, quarreling, and slander; being kind to one another, in tenderheartedness forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us.
  • We will use the IFCA Doctrinal Statement and the Constitution of our church as our governing standards and the Scriptures as our final authority.


  • We will endeavor to love our pastor and his family, regularly praying for them.
  • We will endeavor to support our pastor’s ministry by encouraging him and offering to share the burdens of his life and ministry.
  • We will endeavor to serve in the ministries of this church alongside our pastor, being eager to respond to his Scriptural leadership.
  • We will endeavor, when we have a disagreement with our pastor, to do so with a spirit of grace and peace, discussing the issue privately with him, always respecting his Biblical office.


  • We will endeavor to contribute cheerfully and regularly to this church for its general ministry expenses, the evangelism of the lost, the relief of the poor, the cause of spiritual growth and revival, and the spread of the Gospel throughout all nations.
  • We will endeavor to generously and creatively provide for the financial and material welfare of our pastor(s) and any other staff we may call.
  • We will endeavor as a church to be ethical regarding business standards of financial accountability and above reproach in accordance with current legal practices and requirements.
  • We will endeavor to designate in our corporate dissolution clause ministries of like-minded faith and doctrine.


We will cooperate with the personnel of IFCA International leadership and of the Regional in which we serve, and offer regular support in order that our common service in the kingdom of God might be more effective. Furthermore, we will use our influence to affirm and edify the fellowship of this church with the Regional and with the organization of IFCA International.

IFCA International Standard of Ethics for Pastors

The following standards are recommended in an effort to create a professional understanding within IFCA International and to preserve the dignity, maintain the discipline, and promote the integrity of our calling—the ministry of Jesus Christ.


  • I will endeavor to pray regularly, to read, study and meditate upon God’s Word and to maintain extended times of contemplation in pursuit of personal purity.
  • I will plan time to be with my family, realizing my special relationship to them and their position as important members of my congregation.
  • I will try to keep myself emotionally fit, keeping in control of my feelings and growing in my understanding of them.
  • I will strive to grow through comprehensive reading and through participation in professional educational opportunities.


  • I will seek to conduct myself consistently with my calling and commitment as a servant of God.
  • I will give full service to my congregation and will accept added responsibilities only if they do not interfere with the overall effectiveness of my ministry in the congregation.
  • I will treat all confidential matters as a sacred trust.
  • I will responsibly exercise the freedom of the pulpit, speaking the truth of God’s Word with conviction in love; I will acknowledge any extensive use of material prepared by someone else.


  • I will be honest in my stewardship of money, paying bills promptly, asking no personal favors or discounts on the basis of my professional status.
  • I will seek to have a cheerful spirit and refrain from complaining even in times of financial pressure, because I will trust the Lord to meet my needs in His time.
  • I will give offerings as a good steward and example to the church.


  • I will seek to regard all persons in the congregation with equal love and concern and undertake to minister impartially to their needs and refrain from behavior that will be divisive.
  • I will exercise confidence in the church’s leadership, assisting in their training and mobilizing their creativity.
  • I will seek to lead the church in a positive direction to achieve the goals we have mutually agreed upon. I will remain open to constructive criticism and to suggestions intended to strengthen our common ministry.
  • I will humbly admit my mistakes Of judgment and seek forgiveness when I have sinned against others in the congregation. I will also extend forgiveness to those in the congregation who have wronged me or my family.
  • I will seek to deal fairly and honestly with the church I am presently serving, even within the possible process of candidating for another ministry.
  • I will resign from the church if my doctrinal position changes from that of the church.


  • I will not perform services in the area of responsibility of my colleagues in the Christian ministry except upon their request and/or consent.
  • I will, upon my departure, sever my pastoral relations with the congregation, recognizing that all pastoral functions should henceforth rightfully be conducted by my successor. I will seek to honor courtesy agreements made with fellow pastors.
  • I will, upon retirement or withdrawal from the ministry, refrain from engaging in pastoral functions within our church fellowship unless requested by the pastor.
  • I will seek to maintain supportive and caring relationships with my colleagues in the ministry.


I will cooperate with the personnel of IFCA International leadership and of the Regional in which I serve, and offer regular support in order that our common service in the kingdom of God might be more effective. Furthermore, I will use my influence to affirm and edify the fellowship of this church with the Regional and with the organization of IFCA International.

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There are 13 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

The "My Colleagues" and "My Fellowship" sections are particularly helpful, because they will guide pastors in areas they may not have considered in advance; when a situation is upon you, you cannot think objectively. For example, a retiring pastor may view things only from his perspective.

The rest were all fine, but the problem is an old one: one the one hand, often the people who need this list of ethics most are those who will not read them, or, if they do, will dismiss them. Those who would abide by them are likely already abiding by them. Yet, on the other hand, the generation coming up is amazing when it comes to what they do not know. Because of broken families and the nature of modern society, we have a higher percentage of people who do not join clubs, organizations, etc., (according to Bowling Alone) and we now have to teach ethics/courtesies that were part of normal society in the past but no longer are advocated in popular culture. Sometimes, folks, we have to teach people how to shake hands, how to introduce themselves to others, and what subjects are inappropriate for discussion.

Whether we are talking about manners (please, thank you, excuse me), attending church faithfully even when we are not pastors, or giving credit when we are using someone else's material, we do need to instruct.

On that last count, Rick Warren has not helped things by encouraging people to use his outlines and sermons. It is one thing to gain ideas or an illustration from someone's sermon, another to print it off and preach it (even acknowledged). If you want to say, "I got my basic outline from so and so," that is one thing (on occasion). But, like a good research paper, a sermon should be the bringing together of many sources, beginning with the preacher waiting before God and seeking to be Spirit-led. The lifting of sermons is a major ethical issue in the pastorate, IMO.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture


I agree, Ed. I think there is some power in "officiality" of these kinds of ethical expressions, though. It's one thing to have an unspoken code that the ethical already follow, but it adds a dimension when you formulate it and publicly say "We believe this is the right way to conduct ourselves."

But's still true that law is for the lawless (I think I read that in one of Paul's letters to Timothy)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Dan Salter's picture

I agree that there is a power in officiality for a signed ethical code, but that also makes me cringe just a bit. That power is one that holds me to a course because either (1) I feel compelled by my own integrity to be consistent or (2) I think everyone knows I signed so I'd be looked down upon for not keeping my word. Either way it seems a first step toward (forgive the overused term, but...) legalism. While certainly we want consistent and honorable integrity, our primary focus on Christ demands that we want it in conjunction with his glory. The pledging of oaths apart from my personal commitment to Christ seems to me to be saying I need an extra motivator apart from my love and devotion to my Lord. And that is where my agreement with Ed comes in. The one who is devoted to Christ in ethical integrity will be ethical with or without the document. The one who needs the document to bolster personal ethical commitment to Christ is relying on something apart from love/devotion to his Lord to live right. That's Isaiah's point, I think, in telling us that our own righteousness--as good deeds apart from God--is still filthy rags. Forgive the Pirates of the Caribbean allusion, but I think there is value in these ethical statements as guidelines on which to meditate and determine course. But as a code requiring my signature, focus changes, and, I think, value diminishes.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture


While I understand the concern with legalism, it doesn't have to be that. No one is forced to sign a document with which they do not agree. Furthermore, I think this can more easily be considered accountability than legalism.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Dan Salter's picture

Thanks, Chip,
I did hesitate to use the term legalism because it does tend to put in mind a heavy extreme.
But I think my concern is actually more with the motivation behind accountability. (That, I think, is the officiality to which Aaron referred). My question (and understand this as merely a question. I'm not shouting any accusations--just wondering out loud) question is whether there is not something a bit unhealthy about needing accountability to a person or institution or document to motivate me in a greater way than my accountability to Christ. It just seems to me that by acknowledging the need for accountability to something else, I'm flipping the priority structure around, now sure to do or not do something because the one or thing to whom I'm now accountable is seen as more serious than my previous accountability to Christ. That's where the tie to legalism comes in. If I protect above all else the right or wrong action without a definite hold on my motivational priority in Christ, I think I'm slipping. Again, I'm open here to being shown a different perspective. It's just this thought that makes me (as I said above) cringe just a bit.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

I think that comes down to an individual application of the situation though. As part of accountability, I would consider it a supportive, or secondary, motivation for times when my faith/integrity are being tested/tempted. Of course, it should always be enough to act solely in response to Christ. But, sadly it is not, or we would never fail. I see this as a potential tool to help us resist temptation (certainly not as a substitute for Christ), no different from an other form of wisdom that helps us prepare for victory rather than defeat.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Charlie's picture

I'm favorably disposed to the lists above. Outlining Christian duty in recognizable categories - without attempting to provide exhaustive detail or a rigid how-to program - is a healthy thing. Among other things, it brings clarity. If someone were considering joining a church, or if the church were searching for a new pastor, these lists may be quite useful. New Christians won't immediately learn how to live Christian lives by reading this (the law never does bring about moral change), but they may realize the scope of following Christ. I don't think the points on these lists are so specific or intrusive as to jeapordize Christian liberty. Similar lists can be found in the Westminster Larger Catechism's exposition of the Ten Commandments.

Legalism occurs when lists, either biblical or man-made, are used to distinguish "good" Christians from "bad" Christians, and when the solution for people who are struggling with the list (not me, mind you) is, "Try harder!" Legalism is a danger with any law, even God's, but that doesn't make the law sinful. It's us.

My Blog:

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Dave Talbert's picture

Charlie wrote:
I'm favorably disposed to the lists above. Outlining Christian duty in recognizable categories - without attempting to provide exhaustive detail or a rigid how-to program - is a healthy thing. Among other things, it brings clarity.


Susan R's picture


It would help, IMO, to acknowledge that practicality is not necessarily unScriptural. Providing verses that define what is a Biblical mandate from what is practical would be good. But being sensible is not a bad thing- I venture to say most of the time practicality is based on Scriptural principles and wisdom. Common sense and functionality get the short end of the stick sometimes because it doesn't sound very 'spiritual'. But I would say that a 'code of conduct' should definitely stay more to the Biblical command side of things.

I would appreciate this sort of accountability of pastor to congregation, to know that the pastor and leadership are formally holding themselves to a specific code of conduct so that laymen know what they can expect and where the lines are. All too often the concerns of the congregation are ignored because the church leadership considers themselves above any accountability to the laity. For example, if a pastor's wife was a credit card happy spendthrift, the church would not be guilted into bailing them out because it's the church's 'duty' to provide for the pastor, and in a sense the church is blackmailed into cooperation with dire predictions that if the pastor were to step down to get his family in order, the church would fold and 'look at all the people who would be hurt if that happened'. So- if everyone knows what is expected as well as the consequences for not meeting those expectations, the chances of the congregation being manipulated in this way are slim to none.

Aaron Blumer's picture


I think there's an overlooked angle here. The "officiality" I alluded to earlier has to do with what a community says it values and the power that shared expressions of belief, value and shared commitment are supposed to have in a believer's life. There's nothing legalistic about that.
On a Sunday morning, we get together and worship in this visible, outward way. Why? We could each do the same privately. Am I only singing the hymn because everyone is watching and expecting that of me? Well, it's possible to slide into that, but that isn't the point at all. It's about the spiritual power of the body expressing it's faith (and love), well, "officially."
It's not like the faith doesn't exist if we don't affirm it together. It's just that it's more whole that way.

Hard to explain. Gotta work on that.
Anyway, I see the value of codified statements of ethics etc., in a similar light (and, by the way, I see moral laws in society in a somewhat analogous way as well, though there is no spiritual unity--there is great power in the community expression of values and morals. We are saying something important about an act when we attach a serious penalty to committing it, regardless of how well it works as a deterrent.)

So a code says "this is what we believe in" in a way that individuals acting out their own personal convictions cannot.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Dan Salter's picture

Well, I've been silent here listening to other people's comments for a while to try to gain perspective (although I think I've been slightly misunderstood at times). And I think I it's been a profitable exercise for me. So let me try to express where I agree and refresh what remains of my concern.

I think Aaron's last comment sums things up well for the portion with which I agree. I certainly have no problem with doctrinal statements, creeds, or confessions. I also have no problem with constitutions, policy statements, and even communal commitments. I reread the IFCA standard for churches and have to say that I would have no problem with much of it that does deal with Christian community interaction and committed responsibility to each other. (For example, the finances section has nothing at which I can nitpick.) After all, as Aaron intimated, God made us for relationship, not only with him, but with those others who belong to him. As such we do have an accountability to each other as well as to Christ.

But I guess where I'm still somewhat uncomfortable is when the statements that I'm signing as a code for accountability purposes turns to those things which may be more purely regarded as involving my personal relationship to Christ. Of course, one could argue that any area even of the most personal nature in which I fail before Christ can have ramifications for the church community as well. Yet I don't want to sign a statement promising to you that I will try to maintain sexual purity because I think it clouds my responsibility to Christ and then to my wife. Now, I can hear the rustling of everyone ready to pounce against that last statement, so let me quickly try to think of a better example. How about #5 of the "Concerning Myself" section of the Ethics for Churches. By signing something committing to you my activity of right conduct in that regard seems to elevate my commitment to you in my conscious or subconscious mind so that I act a certain way BECAUSE of how I am perceived rather than because this is my responsibility before Christ to whom I must--MUST--maintain a sense of first priority.

The issue gets shaky because I'm arguing motivation here, and admittedly motivations are not those things about others that we should be capriciously interpreting. But surely we all know of people who have problems being one way in front of one group and another way in more private or personal settings. So, all this to say that my only worry (and I noted it in my initial comment as only a cringe) is that signing statements for others regarding personal commitment to Christ might contribute to a two-faced or mis-prioritized accountability.

I guess this could be seen as a waste of ink on so minor a point. But I really don't think concern for Christ filling our vision can be regarded as a minor point. (No more minor than the ocean-of-ink-drenched KJVO thread!)

Susan R's picture


I see your concern, Bro. Salter, and raise you consequences. Smile That is to say, when we sign a contract and become accountable to someone, breaking that contract has consequences... right? So along that line of thinking, what are the consequences of failing in some area outlined in this SoE? Obviously there are different consequences for infidelity than not paying your electric bill...

So if it's just- "Oh well, you messed up, do better next time" then the SoE is just a good faith on-your-honor type agreement.

Dan Salter's picture

Yeah, well, but, um,... I think though that what you're describing (if I understand it correctly) speaks more to my point. For those non or minor consequential (and personal) activities, why am I pledging to someone else that I'll be faithful in them? To give me a boost in order to act with integrity? See, I'm thinking that when I need some help to make sure I do the inconsequential (as far as hurting someone else), but right act, doesn't that mean I'm valuing something else over my commitment to Christ? If not, why is the boost a boost?

I'm sure everyone else on this thread is tired of me filling their inbox with notifications that I'm attempting another minor point. But, well, you raised me, Susan, and I didn't want to fold even though there's only a few coins on the table.

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