Ethics for Christian Ministry: Moral Formation for 21st Century Leaders

Written by Joe E. Trull and R. Robert Creech Reviewed By Peter M. Anderson

The biblical prerequisite for virtue and moral excellence in ministry challenges every individual who aspires to serve God in vocational Christian ministry. Such a calling is daunting enough without the practical challenges in crafting a tangible, measurable standard for ministerial ethics. Thankfully, Joe E. Trull and R. Robert Creech’s Ethics for Christian Ministry offers a wonderful resource for crafting a Christian vision of ministerial integrity as well as a guidebook to practical steps in implementing ministerial ethics.

Joe E. Trull is retired but previously served as professor of Christian ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. R. Robert Creech is Huber H. and Gladys S. Raborn Professor of Pastoral Leadership and director of pastoral ministries at Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University. Trull and Creech offer a resource intended to convince and equip pastors to embody their holy calling to serve God’s flock and to bear witness to God’s grace to the world. Ethics for Christian Ministry seeks to teach Christian ministry students the unique moral role of the minister, provide clear statements of their moral obligations in personal and professional life, and offer applicable strategies for ministerial ethics in contemporary society (p. x).

Ethics for Christian Ministry develops through four distinct yet interconnected concepts expanded across all seven chapters and five appendices. First, Trull and Creech use chapter one to point to the minister as professional for the launching point and validating principle for what is developed throughout this text. Embracing the role of professional married to a rich sense of vocation encourages ministers to rise up to the moral demands of ministry as more than but also not less than a professional (pp. 18–23). Second, chapters two through six expand on the moral requirements of ministry which present an opportunity to develop an integrated approach to ethics for all of life. Examining the minister’s responsibilities to self, church, peers, and community provides the framework for the largest section of this book. Third, chapter seven attempts to encourage the minister to move beyond mere intellectual or philosophical commitments to ethics and toward addressing specific issues in ministry. For Trull and Creech, clergy sexual abuse is a primary area of concern and application. Finally, chapter eight and the appendices outline actionable suggestions and several resources with worksheets in order to supply essential tools for actually crafting a personal code of ethics.

The scope and structure of this work represents both a strength and a weakness. When taken alone, each respective section flows well, developing essential elements of Christian ministry such as balancing ministry and personal life (pp. 59–72) or dealing with pastoral leadership transitions (pp. 109–13, 122–26). Few would argue with the broad needs for personal morality (pp. 55–59), ethical integrity (pp. 41–46), or prophetic witness (pp. 141–49) from ministers and church leaders. Furthermore, Trull and Creech should be complimented for offering simplified terminology and broad research sufficient to cut across denominational distinctions. Some might take pause at the lack of clarity and specificity on gender in ministerial calling, but such a discussion would certainly have felt out of place in Ethics for Christian Ministry.

That said, there are times when there was a felt disconnect between the stated foundational commitment to marrying professionalism and vocation outlined in chapter 1 (pp. 22–23) and the largest section of the book outlined in chapters two through six. While the internal discussions of each chapter are not harmed, the book would benefit from a more explicit integration of foundational arguments established in the beginning stages with some of the more practical elements explored throughout the text.

For example, Trull and Creech point to competency and service as foundational principles of the minister as professional (p. 22). However, the authors do not directly connect competency, service, or any other core principle to subsequent sections on the daily practices of ministry. Indeed, the insightful section on integrity in the practice of pastoral care, proclamation, and leadership and administration (pp. 78–101) would benefit from a more explicit connection to competency and service. Sadly, the entire book lacks any close integration of the foundational ideas developed in chapter one through subsequent sections.

Moreover, there was also an overall feeling that Trull and Creech offered more questions than answers for those searching for help in crafting a ministerial code of ethics. While the first few chapters rightly point out the hurdles to constructing, implementing, and enforcing ministerial ethics, chapter eight leaves no doubt regarding the immense difficulty of the entire endeavor. In fact, much of chapter eight revolves around the problem of a uniform ministerial ethic within the fractured world of American Christianity. Taken in light of the difficulties so plainly outlined in chapter eight, the devastating reality of clergy sexual abuse detailed in chapter seven feels like a case study emphasizing not simply the realities of moral failings in modern clergy but the desperate state of ministerial ethics in general. Consequently, the reader might be left feeling deep discouragement rather than hope for sustaining ministerial integrity.

Overall, Trull and Creech offer an excellent addition to ministerial ethics through their emphasis on the importance of character in Christian ministry. The integrated morality emphasized within Ethics for Christian Ministry as well as the call for greater clarity in ministerial ethics couples well with the practical tools found in this work. Such contributions position this book as a sound resource to pastors and clergy alike despite the issues in connecting some sections together. Furthermore, the call for interdenominational unity and ecumensim in the development and enforcement of ministerial ethics presents a compelling possibility for a vibrant Christian moral witness in the 21st century and beyond.

Peter M. Anderson

Peter M. Anderson
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina, USA

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