Shepherd’s Care: Morality

We’re exploring the subject of integrity as it relates to the vocation of ministry.  Clearly, we are doing little other than scratching the surface on huge issues that can make or break us, and our ministries.  But perhaps even a brief examination will ignite a flame of conviction and renewal however it might be needed.

The virtuous life (e.g. the fruit of the Spirit) turns into a life of character—that is, a life of trustworthiness and dependability—a life people can count on.  Character becomes the basis for respect and trust.

But it is not the last word.  The final element to our integrity is morality.

I’m defining it as the concrete actions and behaviors through which we manifest our character and express our virtue.

The tragedy for us as clergy (both historically and recently) is not that we sometimes fail to be perfect.  No one expects us to be right and do right all the time, and most of our people are mercifully forgiving when we act in ways that fail to reflect our best.

The tragedy is when what we project (character) is not what we perform (conduct)—when our behavior contradicts our beliefs.  Morality is what people use to determine the authenticity or hypocrisy of our professions.

People will cut us slack when we unintentionally make mistakes, but they have every right to hold us accountable (by individual censure and also by church discipline) when we give people the impression (illusion) that we are living some way, when in fact, we are not.

The crisis in clergy morality is serious, not only in terms of the actual damage it does to others, but also in that our immorality makes the whole Christian enterprise seem to be a falsehood.  Why should anyone take the faith seriously if those of us who lead the church are not taking it seriously?  Bingo. Game over.

The charade is heightened even more due to the fact that immorality is almost always “kept secret”—which is the clearest evidence that we knew it was wrong in the first place.  Secrecy is delayed confession that we have sinned.  It only reveals what’s been there all along.

The ministerial vocation literally rises and falls on the basis of integrity, and integrity finally exists or dies in relation to how we behave in a given moment of time with those who have been placed in our care.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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