You are being watched. The increased scrutiny of the media and heightened public distrust of organizations both religious and secular have brought a key truth to our attention as ministers of the gospel: It is virtually impossible to effectively minister without credibility. And, when one of us loses credibility we all suffer.
Respected pastor Jack Hayford believes that credibility cannot exist without accountability--the kind of mutual candor that allowed the apostle Paul to say to his friend Peter (in albeit modern terms), "Buddy, you're out of line" (Gal. 2:11). To this end, Hayford has proposed the formation of ICEA, an International Council for Ethical Accountability (see page 22).
We wanted to see how Hayford's idea would be received by church leadership. So we sent the proposal to key leaders throughout the body of Christ. The response was marked ... but mixed.
Most of the leaders interviewed by Ministry Today heartily agreed with Jack Hayford's proposal, saying it takes courage since such a stand is likely to arouse fierce opposition. Additionally, most said that Hayford should lead the organization.
"Knowing there's a group that can blow the whistle can keep you honest," says Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri. "The vast numbers who are trying to hide something will protest against a group like this because it signs a death sentence for their deception."
Bible teacher Marilyn Hickey sounds an echo, saying one can't travel, observe various abuses and not agree that correction is needed. Not only does she believe many charismatic leaders are drifting from biblical authority, but she also sees too much emphasis on materialism.
Prosperity has become such a focus that "we have lost God's first priority," says Hickey, who bases her ministry at Orchard Road Christian Center in Greenwood Village, Colorado. "His first priority is souls. So I think Jack's concern is very serious."
"I feel because of the situation with our media and all of the breakdowns with morals, that the church is getting into a compromise of morals, too," Hickey says. "Things are accepted that I don't think the Bible accepts."
Today's international broadcasts and ubiquitous Internet have linked the church into a global village, says Grand Rapids, Michigan, pastor Scott Hagan. Thus, figures such as T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Rick Warren and Hayford all influence members of his First Assembly of God congregation.
"It's a different playing field than we were on 20 years ago," Hagan says. "I know it causes damage when you have speakers that you trust and then they fall. If people get disillusioned, that affects my church and my ministry.
"Anything that calls us to godly leadership and integrity--not driven by man-made rules and legalism, but basic, nonnegotiable principles of Scripture--is a great thing. I think problems are epidemic, and it's absolutely needed."
In recent years, different leaders have told intercessory prayer leader Cindy Jacobs that some kind of standards are needed, much like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) that her organization joined back in 1998.
Despite the cost of annual audits and other procedures Generals of Intercession in Colorado Springs must follow, Jacobs declares it is worth the expense. A similar step should be taken with ethics, she says.
"It would come down to peer pressure and how it's organized," Jacobs says of the question of whether various ministers would submit to new ethical guidelines. "But we've got to set a standard; there has to be a plumb line."
Although he essentially agrees with Hayford's comments, particularly in the area of wealth and prosperity, Southeastern College president Mark Rutland says the most helpful aspect of ICEA may not be the organization itself. Instead, he hopes it sparks a series of forums to boost reflection on personal ethics.
"I think the ongoing nature of setting an educational pace will help," says Rutland, who is based in Lakeland, Florida. "The more you can talk about, emphasize and share on ethics, the more control I think you can realize."
Such discussions can help set various standards that many respondents struggled to define. For example, even though Rutland's recent book, Character Matters, included a chapter on self-control, the former pastor admits he isn't sure how ICEA can implement important character traits such as modesty and balance. Nor can he set a figure for a successful ministry leader's income.
Rutland suspects that a pastor living in a trailer park somewhere and pastoring a 40-member church would accuse him of an extravagant lifestyle. But on the other end of the scale, the pastor of a congregation of upwardly mobile, urban professionals may struggle to reach his flock driving an antiquated car and living on a $40,000 salary.
"What we have to ask ourselves is, 'If I can afford to live in a $14 million house, should I?'" Rutland says. "There are circumstances in which wealth is extravagant. But I don't know that a regulatory body should attempt to do this. I totally agree with Jack that we should talk about this, though."
Rather than trying to set firm guidelines, Marilyn Hickey favors a series of forums to work through various issues. She suggests participants come from many different groups and denominations.
Despite differing views on doctrinal points, Hickey says all agree on basics such as the Bible being the inspired Word of God, the reality of the Holy Spirit and the need for integrity. From such common ground she sees a consensus emerging.
Likewise, Mike Bickle thinks that godly leaders can find a way to define the parameters of review, such as sexual morality, financial extravagance, fund-raising manipulation and theological heresy.
He thinks such a group can set policies for other situations, such as how soon a pastor or ministry official should return to office after a divorce or sexual misconduct.
"There are so many different pieces of information in a situation and so many factors to consider, but I think it has to happen," Bickle says. "It's an imperfect science."
"With divorce, it depends on the nature of what happened. Was the man running around with three or four women, and so his wife wanted to get a divorce? That's severe. [The consequences] shouldn't be a one-year penalty box."
The massive influx of Internet pornography has created new opportunities to stray, meaning careful examination of misdeeds is necessary, Scott Hagan says. Such questions as whether porn usage was intermittent or habitual, the length of the abuse and whether the person has sought help enter the picture.
Yet, he says Christians can get carried away with focusing on multiple "what ifs?" such as whether an overweight pastor is a glutton and thus needs discipline.
"That would be crazy," Hagan says. "But the pillars of finances, family, morality and sexual puritythese are where most people are living. When those pillars crack, that's what causes the most damage."
While they agreed that the state of 21st century church leadership is an ethical mess, other leaders don't concur on the methods of establishing a council for ethical accountability--or if one is even needed.
The man whose highly-publicized fall from grace served as a harbinger of today's ethical quagmire supports the ICEA concept. But after finding little grace when the PTL network collapsed, Jim Bakker wonders whether an accountability council would use love and humility to restore fallen leaders.
"I believe the only answer in an organization of this type is not more law," says Bakker, who recently returned to television in Branson, Missouri.
If the church isn't careful, Bakker warns it will lapse back into judgment and condemnation. While Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 5 that Christians must reject flagrant immorality, he also points out that a repentant person must be treated differently than someone living in open sin.
"I pleaded with those who came to me from the church world not to go to the courts or the press. What we need in the body of Christ is elders like the Scriptures talk about--like a 'supreme court' of the kingdom of God."
C. Peter Wagner, leader of the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA), echoes Bakker's sentiments.
"I have some concerns about the structure that Jack Hayford suggests, but I have no questions that we must deal with the issues," he explains. After reading Hayford's proposal, Wagner decided to hold a panel discussion about "practicing what you preach" at ICA's annual meeting this December.
Still, Wagner raises specific questions about ICEA's structure, operational nature and the scope of its oversight. He sees apostolic networks as a new wineskin God is forming to resolve such dilemmas, and believes the oversight of multiple groups is superior to one, monolithic organization.
"Each of these networks has a built-in ICEA," says Wagner of the thousands of churches under his leadership. "I myself have dismissed four members of ICA on ethical grounds."
"In the apostolic movement, ethical accountability is not legal [a matter of law], it's relational. Jack's proposal is a legal structure, and I feel a relational structure is a much better format."
Nor will another organization necessarily force those who stray back into line, says Atlanta ministry leader Wellington Boone. He points out some wayward pastors were already part of accountability structures and simply disregarded their authority.
With 80,000 ministry groups outside of traditional denominations, the head of Wellington Boone Ministries surmises that integrity will more likely stem from close relationships than rigidly enforced guidelines.
Pointing out that some of the largest evangelical denominations are losing thousands of pastors to marital dissolutions, Boone says church problems underscore the need to work for the fulfillment of Christ's mission.
"The last ministry of Jesus to be fulfilled is king and that deals with adjudication, which is administration of authority, structure and discipline. I think what we're seeing is an acceleration of the need for Jesus to become relevant in the spheres where we are."
However, Wagner thinks guidelines must be clearly spelled out in advance. Although terming himself primarily an idea builder, and emphasizing that he isn't attacking Hayford's personality, the founder of the Wagner Leadership Institute raises numerous questions about how a council for ethical accountability would function.
For example, he asks if such spiritual fruit as humility, tithing, quarrelsome tendencies, keeping the Sabbath and doctrinal purity will all be reviewed.
The scope of ethics is so wide that such an organization would have to define what would be included and excluded, Wagner says. He wouldn't join such a group unless he knew in advance what it would encompass.
Another area with broad application is finances. Wagner questions whether ethical standards would apply to those with for-profit endeavors, including both business owners and pastors who are moonlighting to supplement their incomes. And, whether they would have to reveal assets such as the value of homes, cars and airplanes.
"Would these be monitored by ICEA, and, if not, why not?" asks Wagner, who holds a Ph.D. in ethics from the University of Southern California. "Then members' personal incomes would have to be disclosed--not only of salary, but also benefits and royalties. How about honorariums? Investments? Should that be disclosed?"
Wagner also questions how the group would enforce disciplinary measures. While there are parallels to ECFA, he says the financial group is a watchdog over legal compliance with federal and state laws rather than a disciplinary agency.
If a council for ethical accountability were formed, Wagner says it would require annual ethical audits for each member, a time-consuming and expensive task.
In addition to his belief that relationships establish authentic authority instead of some distant organization, Boone questions whether it is the responsibility of an outside group to attempt to discipline various ministries.
Most belong to some kind of organization, which Boone says should handle oversight of such issues as salary, lifestyle and moral failings.
Nor does he believe in using guidelines as a form of distancing upright leaders from so-called mavericks who might refuse to join ICEA.
A former board member of ECFA, Boone says that group can accomplish many of the measures Hayford proposes.
"I don't see the need for another organization," says Boone, the chief prelate of the Fellowship of International Churches. "Ultimately, how I manage myself personally, my church, my sons, my bishops--the Lord says you reap what you sow. If I'm a crook, extravagant or a fornicator, then that spirit is going down to my children, both spiritually and naturally."
UNIFYING THE CHURCH
Resolving these questions will likely prove time-consuming and difficult. But regardless of the range of issues the ICEA tackles, the question remains: Will an ethical accountability council foster Christian unity?
While Mark Rutland says it might, he guesses it might provoke some radical disunity, too. Marilyn Hickey shares that view, saying, "It might contribute to disunity, because it draws a line in the sand."
Mike Bickle forecasts initial resistance to ICEA, but believes the group could ultimately bring unity among those who are not afraid of standards. It would also provide peace to ministry followers and contributors, he says.
"I think millions of disciples of Jesus in ministries would love it if they knew their leaders were in some kind of accountability," Bickle says. "There's always division before unity, because unity occurs among those who have the same values and vision."
Cindy Jacobs is positive in her appraisal, since she believes there is widespread confusion among Christians who see so many leaders embracing a double standard.
"I think we will be held accountable for the falling away of these young sheep and what happens in their lives when their pastor says, 'You can divorce, and God told me I can marry my secretary next week,'" Jacobs says. "To me that's cut and dry. It should not be done."
Scott Hagan sees ICEA serving as a protective agent. While he thinks that, deep in their hearts, most pastors want to live right and properly steward their lives, today's fast-paced demands and ministerial isolation throw some off balance.
"It doesn't take much for a pastor to let loose of his priorities," Hagan says. "Somewhere over time, when he's tested by popularity and prosperity in his life, he needs all the more those godly anchorings in his life."
Jim Bakker agrees that ministers need to exercise caution, warning, "If we don't fall on that Rock I know that Rock will fall on us, and judgment begins at the house of God."
But, he concludes: "I would plead with my brothers and sisters to come together, reason, love and exhort one another. Not in arrogance, under law or under condemnation, but in restoration and that spirit of meekness that will bring about unity."
What Do You Think?
What do you think? If you have read "Practicing What We Preach," by Jack Hayford and the accompanying article "Time for a Showdown" by Ken Walker, we would love to hear your thoughts.
1. Will an organization such as the ICEA that Hayford proposes help to solve the ethical crisis facing the church?
2. Do you agree with Peter Wagner and others, that the church does not need another organization?
3. Should a minister be restored to public ministry if he has confessed to or been exposed for repeated sexual immorality? Or, do certain actions permanently disqualify a minister from leadership?
4. How should ministerial incomes be determined? Is it possible for a minister to make too much money?
5. Do you agree with Jim Bakker that an organization like the ICEA could lapse into legalism and condemnation?
6. If you disagree with Jack Hayford's proposal, what are the ways in which the church can police itself so that secular authorities do not involve themselves?
A freelance writer from Louisville, Kentucky, Ken Walker is a regular contributor to Ministries Today and Charisma magazines. He has also co-authored or contributed to a dozen books. His latest project, with Phil and Susy Downer, is titled Optimize Your Marriage: Making an Eternal Impact on Family and Friends.