“First, do no harm.”
A young Christian lady involved in her church worship ministry has a creative idea for training and development for the ministry team. She puts together a proposal for a training program and submits it for consideration. She is told that her program will not be used but she is not told why. On seeking further feedback, the young lady receives an email explaining that the program lacks scriptural content and that she lacks the skills to run such a program. The young lady withdraws from music ministry shortly thereafter.*
In this example, harm may have been caused through a series of unethical decisions. Each one may seem insignificant in isolation, but together they form a pattern and culminate in a young lady’s decision to leave ministry.
While the above example does not include all the details, I would like to suggest that a few things could have been done differently:
- The original feedback could have been delivered in a more personal way; one which enabled dialogue about the program and decision made.
- The detailed feedback email could have been conveyed more constructively rather than merely pointing out the problems. A pastoral response would have been to encourage more scriptural content and perhaps give some suggestions. The young lady could have been trained in the necessary skills for running the program, or encouraged to pursue other strengths in ministry if she was unsuited to the program.
- The feedback should have been given in person, not by email. This is a communication principle but I would argue there is an ethical element here. When it comes to having an in-depth conversation with someone about their ministry, I do not believe this should happen via a method as impersonal as email.
- The young lady could have communicated her reaction and impending decision to leave ministry, or given an explanation after the fact. This again might have opened the channels of communication.
- Finally, there should be a structure in place for such proposals and initiatives in ministry, with contingencies in the event of problems.
To play devil’s advocate, some might argue that the young lady in this example should not be so sensitive, that she should toughen up and realise that rejection is part of being creative, and that the church is not there to mother her.
While I agree that creatives must expect a certain level of rejection – we cannot please everybody – there are ways of expressing that rejection that minimize collateral and maximize God’s love. The Church is inherently pastoral and leadership roles within are pastoral.
The first priority of the Church must be fellowship, over and above creativity, projects, excellence and innovation. And just to be clear, I am not against any of these things. However if we are part of a highly achieving church without quality relationships, we’ve missed the point.
“First, do no harm.” This popular maxim is a fundamental principle of the medical profession; perhaps it has a place in our churches. It is a good reminder for ethical considerations. After all, the whole reason for learning and exercising ethical behavior is to care for others in ways that avoid causing harm.
We need to learn from our mistakes. If you are a leader, I hope you can role-model vulnerability in your ministry and lead by example in humility, in respect and in initiative when it comes to conflict resolution. Be the first to follow-up with the “young lady” in your particular church; and if you have messed up, be the first to apologise.
If you have been hurt in ministry, my hope for you is that there will be reconciliation. I hope you will remember that Christ gave His life for all of us – those who have hurt you as well as yourself – and that our capacity to love one another is what marks us as Christ’s disciples. I hope you will also remember that God loves you deeply, and that He is more concerned with your healing than with your ministry.
Throughout this series we have seen how humility and confession can heal mistrust and ruptured relationships. My prayer for the Church is that we show God’s love for one another by the way we conduct ourselves in our relationships. We may not always agree but we can always love and pray with Christ as our guide. Jesus, please help us truly and wisely love one another.
*This is a fictitious story.