What does the ethical person do?

There’s a course going on a Booth University College.  Maybe you are in it, maybe you know about it.  I’ve been interviewed in relation to it twice now.  It’s an ethics course.

Here’s one of the questions put to me that I found fascinating to think through – (and if you were one of the people who asked me the question you might want to revisit my answer through this blog). 

Q: Are there any ethical “landmines” you’d advise a person who is new to ordained ministry to be on the lookout for?

The earliest landmine for the “new to ministry” is the temptation to lie.  Sound harsh?  Are you surprised?  I think that’s the first landmine – and one that is a very slippery slope.  Here’s how I’ve seen it play out.  It’s the first year of ministry and there is a sense of being overwhelmed – the stress of a steep learning curve – the deep challenge of living up to the expectations – the temptation of not being entirely honest.  How so?  Here’s the scenario – the officer has been working through Christmas and is exhausted.  Then the one member of the congregation that has either tried to monopolize their time or has become a bit draining needs “to talk”.

Not wanting to hurt their feelings the officer says he/she has an appointment/is on their way to the hosptial/has a pressing matter.  In other words a lie is created to avoid the matter.  Repeated this becomes a pattern of deception and an early ethical landmine.  Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

Second ethical landmine….

Permission is sought from HQ for a project/purchase….and permission is not given.  The temptation is to find a way of proceeding without permission.  Ethically the leader is now compromised – no matter their personal opinion of the situation proceeding knowing their is no permission is wrong.  If a young leader is able to repeat this – and it is very possible – then a pattern of behaviour is set up that will compromise their leadership.
In the latter circumstance what is often rationalized is that the organization doesn’t understand.  It becomes an issue of differences on an organizational level when it is really an issue of personal ethics.
If you compromise on the small things – you will eventually compromise on the larger things.

My friend Jamie preached a great sermon a couple of years ago that I was pleased to be in Vancouver to hear.  He talked that Sunday morning on this topic: A good beginning deserves a good end.  He used the experience of the Children of Israel as an example.  They left Egypt in victory “plundering the Egyptians” as they exited.  They died in the desert – left their by God because they compromised on the journey.

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