Above Reproach?

This is a short excerpt from the first section of the first chapter of HR Matters. The whole chapter is available to read online using the free “previewer” on Amazon. You can also purchase the whole book (either paperback or kindle) here.

“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, he must be above reproach.” – 1 Timothy 3:1-2a NASB

Publication3I’ve written a number of employee handbooks over the years and most of them include some sort of standards of conduct or code of ethics. When the handbook is for a church or ministry, the “standards” often contain some reference to the Scripture listed above. The context is usually that as representatives of the ministry, and even more broadly as representatives of Christ, employees are expected to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the calling. Accordingly, Eph. 4:1 (“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”) is also a frequently quoted text. These are great Scriptures and there is absolutely nothing wrong with requiring a high standard of conduct and character among your employees—as long as the same standard is applied across the board.

The staff of churches and ministries are usually among the most dedicated on the planet. Many have an extremely high level of personal commitment and calling to the ministry they are serving and they deeply desire to perform their duties as unto the Lord. These staff should be highly desired and valued. They are the ones who will follow you to the moon and back for the sake of the cause—until they start to feel they are being taken advantage of or treated unfairly. One of the fastest ways to cause staff to feel they are being taken advantage of can be summed up in one word: inconsistency.

Consistency is a big deal. Despite the fact that it can sometimes seem like there are laws for everything, employers really do have lots of liberty in lots of areas. As long as the standards you establish for your staff don’t create a discriminatory impact or otherwise represent a violation of federal, state, or local laws, you have considerable leeway in determining them. But once you do set your standards, they need to be applied consistently.

I will specifically address the importance of consistent application of standards among staff in later chapters, but for now, I want to address something far more foundational that can have a huge negative impact on your employees’ overall morale and effectiveness: requiring a higher standard for your staff than you are consistently modeling yourself.

Before you balk at that statement and assume it doesn’t apply to you, please hear me out. The vast majority of ministry leaders would never intentionally set out to inconsistently model the values of their organization. In fact, for most, setting a godly example is of paramount importance! Yet this is one of those areas where not knowing what you don’t know can—and does—significantly damage your credibility.

When considering the example you set as a leader, the character you model isn’t solely determined by how you conduct your personal affairs, or even by how effective and fruitful you are in fulfilling the areas you consider to be your primary gifts and calling. It is also determined by how you manage the organization (or your area of the organization) as a whole. In light of this, it perplexes and saddens me when I see so many sincerely devoted men and women of God demonstrating what can only be described as nonchalance and negligence when it comes to fulfilling their basic responsibilities as an employer.

When you communicate to your staff that the goal is to be “above reproach” in character and behavior, the same standard of excellence should apply to all operations of the organization. When viewed through this lens, can an organization that remains in the dark regarding legal compliance issues, or one that fails to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of its employees, possibly be said to be above reproach?

The answer, of course, is no, and your staff is usually quite aware of this fact—even when you’re not.