The Church of the Brethren published a paper in 1996 addressing Congregational Ethics. We are sharing this paper with you one section at a time. You can read the whole paper here: http://www.brethren.org/discipleship/congregational-ethics.pdf including the opening preamble we are not including on this site. Please discus and share your thoughts on what you are reading:
Relationships Within the Congregation
There are many New Testament scriptures that admonish congregations to
maintain kind and considerate relationships among the members and the leaders of the church. Indeed, the congregation should be the model for relationships that build up one another and that show respect and admiration for each person’s unique gifts. In that regard, the congregation is to strive for harmony and unity in all it does. Any action or statement that does not first seek the best interests of all its members raises the appearance of an ethical breach and requires scrutiny.
This criterion also applies to the congregation’s organizational and decision-making methods. A characteristic of a Brethren congregation is a democratic approach to choices and direction. For nearly two centuries denominational decisions at Annual Conference were made only by consensus. The wisdom of the collective whole is valued as the closest we can get to the best answer on any question. Thus, a congregation shows lack of respect for a majority of its members by allowing decision-making to fail into the hands of a few. Each member of the congregation must guard against written or oral statements that appeal to those persons’ positions or authority or that are based on incomplete or misleading information. This problem arises in calculated attempts to swing or manipulate attitudes and decisions. Full communication and dialog should be encouraged at all times, and complete records and minutes of all meetings, decisions, finances, et cetera, kept and made available to all members.
The constitution for Brethren congregations gives appropriate direction regarding the mutual accountability of members in the congregation:
“On the one hand, the congregation has a covenantal responsibility to care for its members, to encourage growth in freedom and discipleship, to help members discover their gifts and find ways to serve, and to provide ministries which respond to both spiritual and physical needs. On the other hand, each member has a covenantal responsibility to participate regularly in the life of the congregation, to seek the counsel of the church in living out the way of Christ, to challenge the church to greater accountability to its calling. To respond to opportunities to serve in the congregation and beyond, and to contribute to the church’s ministries in every way possible.” 5
Sensitivity is to be given to the needs of individuals in the church. The congregation shall provide an environment where personal tensions and difficulties can be shared in full confidence of trust, loving response, and confidentiality. There need to be in place such attitudes of concern, forgiveness, and reason as will readily and effectively provide for the settling of disputes and for reconciliation among conflicting parties. Handling disputes through petitioning, letter writing, and anonymous communication is unethical if done to circumvent open dialog and proper decision-making.
The church’s facilities are to be available to all persons seeking to participate with the congregation. There are ethical ramifications whenever anyone is denied the privilege to worship or to participate in other opportunities of the church, whether the denial is a neglect to update policies and facilities (such as in the case of accessibility for the disabled) or outright prejudice.
The church is to be conscious of the need for its lay leadership to model Christian lifestyle, just as for its ministers. The congregation is to nurture and encourage a Christian lifestyle for all its members and call to leadership those persons who seek conscientiously to live out a Christian lifestyle. When matters of personal lifestyle arise, in a Christ-like spirit the congregation is to do everything possible to nurture and restore the person to a Christian lifestyle.
The congregation is to be sensitive in respecting the functions to which it has called its leaders and ministers. For example, it is improper to invite former pastors to perform pastoral functions or visitation in the congregation when another pastor is currently employed. Serving in leadership or other highly visible roles by former pastors should be carefully evaluated as to its effect upon the ministry of the current pastor and upon the harmony of the church. It also is unethical for individuals and/or groups in the church to usurp the authority and tasks of officially elected leaders or committees.