Un-Ethical Leadership (Part One)

At times, church leaders behave unethically. Padding membership reports to the denomination; under (or over) reporting finances to the congregation; making decisions for parishioners as though they were children; refusing to address poor behavior from fellow leaders and congregants; these are ethical leadership issues. Christians are known for having a moral code, even if they aren’t  so good at keeping it. They’re supposed to be ethical. And that is the problem.

People expect Christian management and leadership to be ethically different from other leadership. Yet  sadly they are not. Churches, like businesses, struggle with good morals.

Now, normally when you read a statement like the one above, you expect a long harangue on how Christians ought to be better, different, a model for the Lord. And we should.  But ultimately, such sermons and lectures are not helpful.

And the fact is that those who do not share our Christian commitment also struggle with ethical dilemmas. That’s the problem that Barry Salzberg over at Forbes writes about. His thoughtful answer to consistent ethical management and leadership should not  satisfy many Christians, although it is admittedly the most popular answer in many churches today.

Try harder. Implement more rules and policies. Be inflexible with their implementation. Some think this is the only reply we can make to a culture that lowers the ethical bar of standards through its worship of troubled celebrities, sports figures and entertainment icons.

Stricter rules and better enforcement is the perennial response of humanity attempting to address the problem of corruption. The ancient Pharisees practiced this by “fencing the Law” to prevent people from breaking it. How did it function? They implemented their own rules for each law to make sure people never broke the commandment. The purpose? To ensure that every Jew behaved ethically. Their fence eventually took on the status of Law itself and then more rules needed to be implemented to prevent the breaking of that law…you get the picture.

The attraction of Salzberg’s response lies in the illusion that people can control their behavior through policies and rules. It does not however, deal with the real need for changed attitudes and values. Ed Stetzer recently preached: “We should never be satisfied with merely a new way of life. Only a new life will suffice.”

Relational Leadership recognizes that the at core of unethical behavior is a distorted view of people and our relationship to them.

What can be done to fix that? See Part Two.

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One thought on “Un-Ethical Leadership (Part One)

  1. As leaders, the question of ethics must start with our inner, spiritual life. That is ultimately the only thing we can control, or be controlled by. The rules and policies are necessary, of course, for accountability, but our impact on others as leaders has to start with our own commitment of surrendering to God.

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