Ministerial Ethics

how do you make ethical decisions as a minister about this sort of ethical money decisions?


Chris said...

How about frequent flyer miles? If you accumulate them doing ministry, is it ethical to redeem them for personal use? What about credit card rewards, for purchases on your personal card for which you get reimbursed?

Kurt A Beard said...

I'd say these are as much ethical questions as they are accounting questions. Some of the answers, which may be ethically OK will be enough to give the church accountant a headache.

By all means try to email the accountant and board when dealing with ethical or money questions. Email leaves a written record if (and when) something doesn't add up.

I would also say that everyone (ministers and non-ministers) should be familiar with church or company policies. Most businesses wouldn't let an employee keep the GPS; A random drawing would be held and it given to the winner.

Ken said...

wow, keith, some great real-life stuff here. i would agree with kurt so said that EVERY pastor should know his or her church's policy; then again, i've worked in large, small, and midsize churches and policies vary significantly from one to the other (if they have policies at ALL).

as for your questions, here's what i'd do:

1... i'd give it directly to our treasurer to be put in the offering, whether she said it was personal or not. so yes, i'd take it, BUT... it would go to the church, even if she said it was a personal gift, and i'd put it in a tithe envelope with her name on it, and i'd tell the treasurer so someone knows the story... just in case. answer? E

2... if there were no charge system established, i'd establish one personally, giving five cents per copy, just like the local library does. answer? E

3... gotta clarify AHEAD of TIME (not from the restaurant, as "D" suggests... a bit tacky, awkward, and too late) whether my family will be covered. if yes, then they're coming with me. if not, then i'm having a one-on-one with HC. (sorry, but i'm cheap!) Answer? E

4... first of all, WHY would you be using your own credit card? use a church card, if you don't have one, tell them to get one to keep the spending lines clear. now, endorse the check and turn it in to the treasurer. answer? A

5... kurt's right; no other business would allow an employee to keep the gps. so get it to the church board and ask them what to do with it. who knows? it might make a good auction item for missions or student ministries! answer? B

6... tom's a nice guy, and i'd love to accept his offer! however, it doesn't seem quite right, does it? personally, i'd do what A suggests, but everyone's still in the clear with B. and i like B better than C, because i don't want to do what's right for the church ONLY; i want to do what's right for tom, too, even if he doesn't understand why it's right. answer? B

7... wow, this one happened to me personally, and to me the only ethically appropriate response here is A. i suppose you COULD do B, but i'd want to make sure the treasurer's books match my own in case i'm ever audited. it's cleaner and clearer. so again, my answer is B.

keith, your post made me think of a couple things:

credit cards... i worked at a church that expected me to use a personal card, then get reimbursed. i said "no way," and pushed them to get church cards for me and the rest of the staff. charges for church use are clearer that way, and can be questioned more quickly and appropriately. and then the frequent flyer mile question gets answered easier, too. if miles are accumulated on a personal card, who uses them, and for what? but with a church card, miles can be used for attending church-approved events and conferences.

"old" stuff around the church... i worked with a staffer who had a lot of stuff in his house that "used to be" used by some of his previous churches. and whenever we were getting rid of anything, he'd ask for it. because of him we created a policy for discarding items we no longer planned to use. (the policy? donate usable items to the local benevolence charity, or auction them at our annual church mission event).

left coast drury said...
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left coast drury said...

Yikes!! Keith: I wish you didn't have to make an opportunity for a $300,000 gift sound like an ethical dilemma--it's not. Please, please, please dispel the notion that there is anything shady about Tom's desire and promise that you will get a real planned giving person into your class to address this and other "giving" issues. Your hypothetical Tom is like most people, he has a desire to benefit everyone important to him (himself, his church and his family) he just needs a bit of guidance in the execution. You should help your church leaders see this as the opportunity it is rather than some kind of ethical land mine.

I actually know someone from a ministry in Alexandria, VA that would willing to drop in some time next semester to help answer this kind of question.

Here's an ideal e) response lest some of your pastors and staffers miss out on a tremendous opportunity to fund their ministry:

"Tom what a great gift planning opportunity! Thank you for your generosity to the church. Most pastors don't know about gift planning.

In fact, recently, I heard about an identical situation where a young pastor simply told his church member to sell the house to his daughter and then make a donation of the proceeds to the church. My friend, Left Coast Drury was telling me that this turned out to be a big mistake, costing the church member nearly $200,000 on his taxes.

Left Coast explained that there are number of ways using charitable trusts, bargain sales, undivided interests in real estate, and/or life insurance products where a church member like yourself can benefit a ministry he loves, himself, and his children.

Some people think this sounds a bit shady, but it really isn't. My friend Left Coast was telling me that even the IRS approves of these approaches as long as some basic requirements are met.

Let's get our calendars out right now and set an appointment next Monday. By then I will have gotten some ideas from a planned giving officer I know who works for a church foundation. Maybe you should call your own tax advisers and get them thinking along with us.

Left Coast told me that the Free Methodist church has a free interactive web site with information about these planned giving tools. If you like to surf you can check it out:
FM Gift Planning Web Site

Tom, I am so glad you came to me. I think we have a great chance to meet all of your goals and also make a huge difference in the Kingdom of God and this community."

Anonymous said...

As formulated in the question, the gift, re-purchase deal IS shady. A pre-existing agreement to sell to a relative at a discount will get you into more IRS trouble than a little bit.
I agree with Left Coast that the deal could be set up to achieve a much greater benefit to all than what Tom has in mind. I suspect, however, as the situation is described, that Tom is not as interested in charitable giving as he is unloading a difficult to sell asset into his daughter's hands and gaining the deduction. This will involve some 'selling' on the pastor's part (and may be beyond the expertise of the pastor alone.)
The Free Methodists have a good planned giving office, as do most serious charitable organizations. I know of another great resource that could help, too! :)

Darrin Gowan
Office of Stewardship Ministries
The Wesleyan Church

Lawrence W. Wilson said...

1. I faced this exact situation--except it was only ten bucks ;-) I kept the money as a gift, which is how it was intended. I also had parishoners give me gifts before going on vacation, at Christmastime, etc. I spent the money at Disney World.

2. Most professional offices have a bit of tolerance regarding personal photocopying--one or two may be okay, but 50? Just go to Kinkos. Having been both a pastor and a business manager, I hate to see written policies created over paper clips.

3. Am I expected to take my whole family with me when I entertain--as is often the case? Then I'd probably charge the entire meal. I can't afford to take my six kids out to a restaurant every time there is a guest preacher. I'd also inform the treasurer that this is my approach--and suggest that someone else can entertain H.C. if that's a problem.

4. Turn in the rebate. C'mon.

5. Do boards really want to make decisions like that? Keep the GPS and inform the board that you accepted it on behalf of the church--for the pastor's use. However, the GPS is church propoerty (like the computer) so it stays when I leave.

6. Ask Tom if he thinks everybody on earth is a dumb as he is.

7. Correct the error. That one's not even gray.

OK Keith, here's my question: Why are these questions, which are dealt with so much more easily in the business world, always so prickly for churches? Is it because:

A. Pastors are held to an ethical standard that is much higher than other profesionals?

B. Churches have so few formal policies for things like this that almost everything is a "gray area"?

C. Pastors have so much access and so much freedom that they feel a sense of entitlement to everything ... unless somebody says "no" in writing?

Kadie's Dad said...

I guess their are two questions with pastoral ethics: What does God think? and What does my church culture think? As far as church culture goes, My first ministry position had a small southern church culture. They strongly feel that it is the church's responsiblity to "take care of their preacher." This would include the lunch with guest speaker, GPS, copies, and Mrs Kramer Tha culture also expects the pastor to sacrifice as well. This includes long hours, and often time picking up the little things without getting reimbursed. They have the mentality that it will "all come out in the wash." That's the culture and the expectation. I'll leave it to you ethicists to wether they are right or wrong.

Pete Vecchi said...

I think it was the GPS issue that got me thinking. I've never had such a situation come up before, either prior to my becoming the pastor or since I've been pastoring. Well, at least not to that extent withthose dollar values.

To tell you the truth, I never even would have thought of it in any sense other than as a "thank you" gift without this article.

But then we must look at the principle: is the question because of the expense of the gift?

Not long after I became a pastor, the church needed some office supllies. At the time, some catalogue company, which had prices comperable to or better than anyone else, weas running a special that they would give out a free gift (I think some type of carrying bag like a cloth briefcase) with a purchase exceeding something like $50. The church office supplies exceeded $50 by far. And we got the supplies and the briefcase. I kept it without any qualms, because it was a "thank you gift" (exactly how it was advertised) for patronizing that company.

I guess the question is also, how much of this stuff has to be dug into until it becomes "minutea", and is Jesus really wanting us to spend our time dealing with such minutea?

The question as to whether or not I make 1 or 50 photocopies involves the same principle. Personally, I've told the church that it is the people's giving that has purchased the copier, the tables, the chairs, and everything else that belongs to the church. Therefore I generally see no reason why anyone from the church should be prohibitied from using the church's photocopier, or tables and chairs, or anything else, so long as the use doesn't interfere with offical church ministry.

Keith Drury said...

Lots of additional illustrations here.. thanks so far... Keep 'em coming--it will help entering pastors think about the subjects....

One item I mention to students is these matters are minor issues often until you get an enemy at church then they get blown out of proportion... I suggest that whatever one does they should think "If my enemy in this church knows this will they be able to use it against me?" Almost always that brings a tie-breaker decision that is sound...but not always.

My student next semester will read these somments so thanks for any you can add here.... and thanks for helping me teach these seniors... ;-)

Ken said...

attending conferences can get guys in a bit of trouble...

*renting a convertible when a less expensive car will do

*renting a suite when a smaller room will do

*eating out at expensive restaurants when a more reasonable one would suffice

*actually attending the conference and sessions your church is paying for you to attend

here's one of my stories...

several years ago i was at a youth pastors' gathering. the afternoon session seemed boring, so a few friends and i looked at each other and left the room. we headed to king's island!

we were walking by the midway when i saw one of those games... you know, flip a quarter on a plate and win a ginormous stuffed animal. well, they had an adult-sized atlanta braves bear that i knew my son would love. i flipped ONE quarter and won that bear.

but what to do? i couldn't exactly hide the thing, and we'd traveled down with six other pastors (including our DS) in a passenger van.

so i told the guy who drove to meet me EARLY in the morning so i could hide that bear. and you know who was up, ready to leave, at exactly the same time as me? my DS! he said, "where'd you get the bear," and i spilled the beans.

the best part about it was this... in response, he said, "why didn't you come get me so i could go to king's island with you? that DS meeting was BORING!"

we shared a good laugh, and it's a fun story now, but conferencing has a few ethical landmines associated with it just the same...

Pete Vecchi said...

OK, here's a true situation that I have experienced:

The church hires its first-ever youth minister (very part-time position) at a pittance of a salary. The church board initially sets aside $100 for youth ministry use, without placing any specific conditions on the use. An additional gift later comes in in excess of $100 designated specifically to the youth group.

Several months go by without the youth ministry using the money. Finally, about 4 months after the youth minister is hired, a youth outing sponsored by the denomination's district is attended by our youth group. The cost is $30 per person, and the youth minister and youth group President agree that 1/2 of the price for anyone going will be paid out of youth group funds. 5 people attend. But since the church treasurer knows that generally there are only 3 people active in the youth group, questions if the other 2 people who attended are "prospects" for coming to the church after being told that they were frinds of one of the active members.

Question -- should it make any difference if they are "prospects" or not? If the money was there, through money specifically set aside for the youth and through donation specifically for the youth, shouldn't the youth minister and youth group President be able to spend the money as they see fit, with the only repercussions being whether or not the church board chooses to place restrictions on future monies set aside by the church board as being for youth ministry?

Will said...

Yesterday, I spent the day with a family whose mother was passing away(she was 92 years old, so there wasn't much sorrow- it was more of a sending her off type thing). I volunteered to stay for lunch so they could be with her the whole time, and so they sent me to Wendy's with $61- way more than the meal cost(it ended up being just over 20.) When I got back and gave them the change, they were going to give it to me- for gas, they said. Instead, I asked them to just drop it in the offering plate on Sunday.

Today, I went and ministered to a family through talking, discussion, and helping them with a problem with their computer. We were able to have a good talk, and when I left, the mother tried to give me $20, I asked her to drop it in the offering plate on Sunday instead- even though they went to a different church(their daughter was the one who came to ours.)

Do I think it would have been wrong to accept any or all of this money? Not at all! That would have been perfectly morally acceptable- I mean, for one family I worked on their computer for more than an hour, and the other I sat with them for over 6 hours. However, I was incredibly surprised how blessed I was by not doing, in this case, what was walking the line, but instead to go as far in the direction of worshiping the Lord through my funds and interactions as possible.

If we are to pursue Holiness, shouldn't it be in our funds and not just in our actions? After all, I've got more than I need anyways... Their money wasn't in my budget... plus, I'd just buy a video game that would make me lazy or food that would make me fat. The church put it to better use anyways.

markallen said...

I thought your questions were quite thought provoking coach! I anticipate running into these issues in my future ministry. I do believe that Pastor's are called to a "hire" standard than other believers. This does not mean they are better than everyone, it simply means that what the do is more closely watched and people look to them for ethical answers. I read the article and come up with my responses to each question.

1. I would take the money from Mrs. Kramer and tell her I would put it in the offertory. If she insists that it is a personal gift, I would keep it. But I would make sure to include it in my taxes and tithe 10% of it as well. It would be quite rude to act like you would keep it as a gift then just put it in the offertory.

2. I would ask the Pastor what the set amount is to put in and then put the money in the jar right away. I would make sure that some policy was in writing so the issue would be avoided in the future.

3. I would pay for my whole family. But I would talk to the church Pastor and/or the church treasurer and make sure they know how I spent it. I would also make sure there was a clear policy on what to do in these situations.

4. I would endorse the check then give it to the secretary as a rebate. I don't need the extra cash...also it is not a personal printer by any stretch. It is the churches printer, I am just using it.

5. This is a tough one. I think it would be wrong to just take it as a gift. I would definitely consult the church staff. Honestly, Ross seems to be giving the gift more as a kickback not so much as a thank you for being a great minister.

6. I would tell mister Powers thank you for the offer but I would tell him to sell the house to his daughter and give the $300,000 to the church. What is important to decide is his intentions. Is he using the church as a tool to get what he wants or is he truly selfishly giving of his possessions?

7. I would call the church Treasurer and ask for a corrected giving receipt. I honestly can't see justifying it any other way.

These issues seem to be quite "muddy" if you will. I think the best thing is to set up a lot of policies...yes sounds somewhat stiff but I think it helps avoid some of these "gray" issues.

Anonymous said...

Chris if you get frequent flyer miles or credit card rewards from purchases on your personal card that the church reimburses it is OK to keep them but you need to add the value of those perks to your tax return as imputed income. Imcome that you recieved as a result of your employer. We had a minister who insisted on using his personal Credit card just so he could get these perks but was not reporting the income correctly so we were forced to make them use Church Credit Cards. That is probably the best way to go to keep everyone honest.