What is to be gained from having your congregation adopt the denomination's new 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.
But 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. You’ve been dismissed like this many times before—or you’ve seen others treated this way—and it bothers you every time.
Or maybe your adult education teacher speaks in ways that attempt to drive people toward certain political positions, positions that always seem to align with a particular political party. You leave classes feeling misunderstood and marginalized rather than encouraged and edified.
Or 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 the Code of Conduct. It provides clear descriptions of how church leaders should steward the authority and influence entrusted to them, clear expectations for 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 in your congregation.
But adopting a code of conduct—and reviewing it at strategic moments in the church’s life—helps us to honor and speak with one another our ethical commitments, just as the Covenant for Officebearers helps us to honor and speak with one another our theological commitments. When ethical commitments are made clear, there is greater likelihood that the church meetings, adult education classes, and private conversations at your church might be places of greater safety, thriving, and fruitfulness.
Background information: At the June 2021 meeting of the CRCNA's Council of Delegates, which took place in lieu of Synod 2021, the council adopted a proposed Code of Conduct for those employed by Christian Reformed churches, classes, and denominational ministries. The code had 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). Synod 2022 decided to hold off recommending the code to the churches until responses to the code could be gathered from them. Synod 2023 reviewed that input, and then adopted an amended Code of Conduct for ministry leaders in the denomination. The code comes at a time when our culture is more attentive to issues of abuse and misconduct, and it also comes out of a more timeless need to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (see Micah 6:8).