Does Your Church Need a Code of Conduct?

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Does your church need a code of conduct? 

You already know what scripture says about living a godly life, don’t you?

You already understand what it means to behave as Christians.

You’ve been fine without a code of conduct for years.

Maybe you’ve been at a church meeting in which your voice and opinion have been ignored because someone else in the room talks over you and always seems to get his or her way. You’ve been dismissed like that many times before, or you’ve seen others treated like that, and it bothers you every time. 

Maybe your adult education teacher speaks in ways that attempt to drive people toward certain political positions. You leave classes feeling misunderstood and marginalized rather than encouraged and edified.

Maybe you’ve shared a personal struggle with an elder of the church only to be shocked, a few days later, to find that it’s on the church’s prayer list. You feel violated and vulnerable.

Or maybe you’ve heard about another pastor or community leader being found guilty of sexual misconduct or of abusing their power. You’re less and less surprised with each new story, and more and more uneasy about a lack of accountability, open communication, and/or humility in your own church’s leadership.   

These are some of the reasons that your church might adopt a code of conduct. A code of conduct provides clear descriptions of how church leaders should steward the authority and influence entrusted to them, clear expectations of how we treat one another, and clear wording for those who experience bad behavior in others and need ways to name it. 

Let’s be real: Having a code of conduct doesn’t guarantee Christ-like behavior at church meetings, adult education classes, private conversations, or elsewhere. It certainly doesn’t guarantee Christ-like hearts. But adopting a code of conduct and reviewing it at strategic moments in the church’s life helps us to speak our ethical commitments to one another and it provides others with a way to hold us accountable for our commitments. 

At the June 15-16, 2021, meeting of the CRCNA's Council of Delegates, which took place in lieu of Synod 2021, the council adopted a code of conduct for those employed by Christian Reformed churches, classes, and denominational ministries. The code emerged from a denominational conversation about the abuse of power, a conversation that was moved forward significantly by a CRC member named Bev Sterk, through her overture to Synod 2018 (to read her overture see Agenda for Synod 2018, pp. 282-307). The code comes at a time when our culture is more attentive to issues of abuse and misconduct, but it also comes out of a desire to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (see Micah 6:8).

Again, let’s be real: Having a denominationally approved code of conduct doesn’t guarantee good, ethical practice at your local congregation. However, the church meetings, adult education classes, and private conversations at your church might become places of greater safety and thriving when your church’s leaders talk about ethical expectations and weave the code of conduct into the life of your congregation. 

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