[ 0 ] December 5, 2018 |


B. P. Khanal

This paper is a brief survey on ethical Christian leadership in present day Nepali context. The primary purpose of this paper is to seek an ‘ethical standard’ the Christian leaders should be maintaining for themselves, but without questioning to the leaders’ personal life, to simply evaluate of ‘what ethical values’ are set, and critically examine about what consequences are seen in the particular fields of their services. Being more specific to the leadership sector of study, without personalizing any individual, this paper will briefly cover main sources of ethical perception, and consequently the leaders’ lifestyles and conducts. Yet, biasness and partiality would be avoided by making it in general. For this reason, this paper includes a survey questionnaire to the leaders in mainstream national level of Church ministries. The researcher’s observation and direct interaction, and survey questionnaires to given number of leaders who have served in the Nepali church more than a decade period, will draw a conclusion, which is anticipated to be beneficial to all contemporary leaders.

Ethics is often brought into consideration when there is a need to resolve the issue dealing with someone’s morality which causes others feel right or wrong, good or evil, peace or troubled. Ethics maybe divided into four areas of studies: a) Meta-ethics – study about theoretical meaning and reference of moral propositions and how their truth value (if any) maybe determined; b) Normative ethics – study about the practical means of determining a moral course of action; c) Applied ethics – study that draws upon ethical theory in order to ask what a person is obligated to do in some very specific situation, or within some particular domain of action; d) descriptive ethics – study about what the people believe in morality, this is also known as comparative ethics.

Hence, this paper primarily focuses on leadership ethics; the moral percepts and conducts of leadership in the context will be discussed thoroughly. Leadership, as Justin Arving has defined in his work, it is “the process by which an individual or group influences
another individual or group for the purpose of achieving a common vision.”[1]  He understands the leadership as a compelling urge that draws a group of people into a common vision. And it is obvious that only ‘good ethical living’ can compel others to follow him or her. The leader explores new direction and constitutes instructions to its audience (here the followers) and seeks a voluntary involvement for an agreed vision to achieve. Thus, leadership is the responsibility of trust given to certain individual for mutual agreement of a group of people that leads them towards the goal they have agreed upon.

Ethics is the concepts built in the mind from childhood of a man or woman that determines what behavior he or she reveals in everyday walks.  Ethics is the moral principles that governs a person’s or group’s behavior. This is the moral correctness of specified manner, through which peoples’ thoughts, talks and walks are shaped.

An ethical situation is one in which an individual recognizes that he or she has to make a choice, and from that standpoint right or wrong is meant for him or her. Such choice may result good or bad to him or herself and similarly affects others also. The ethical law is the description of moral values or qualities because accepted ethical value determines the person’s behavior, and if the behavior is good and well-pleasing to others who are around the actor (here leader), such behavior is sought, taught, appraised and rewarded. But on the other hand, if the person’s ethical walks would not meet an expected standard or it produces negative effects, then all efforts to present ‘self’ better would not work for him or her at all. This paper, therefore, will keep its focus on leadership and ethics as one subject of study because ethics are something inseparable from a leader’s life and his or her leadership responsibilities.

Christian Ethics

The terms ‘Christian ethics’ mean that the way of life living consistently by exemplifying the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is a deontological set of orders for life that the Christians accept directly from God as sign of total obedience to their Lord as recorded in both Old and New Testament Bible. The Ten Commandments and other passages in Pentateuch like the book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy chapter 5 to 30, and most of the wisdom books and the prophets are the main sources for Old Testament ethics. Likewise, in New Testament, the teachings of Jesus recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7 known as ‘sermon on mountain’ and other passages in the four Gospels, and epistles of the apostles are the considerable sources for Christian ethics. According to these Bible passages, the Christian orientation is to willfully submit unto God’s commandments as mandatory directions for moral absolute and life-principles. The Old Testament passages on morality present ethics as ceremonial law to keep the decrees. But these ceremonial decrees were taken as doing good makes a man religious and ethical. Furthermore, the Christ’s teaching was not only to ‘Do good’ but both ‘Be good and do good’ as well. Micah 6:8 summarizes what God requires of His people. The verse questions, “What Does God require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?”


Indeed, The Bible is the main source for Christian ethics because the entire Bible contains commandments and or prohibitions of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ to those whom God recognizes as His own. The ethics is not only the ‘what’ but also it is ‘how’ aspect of all decrees in the Bible. God intends His people to live in certain manner. It is what an individual perceives and how he/she performs in everyday life. Thus for a Christian, it is instructed that he/she must please God with all of his being by keeping all the commands He has set forth. This is mandatory to all Christians that they must live a life of pleasing God with sole awareness that keeping those commandments does not only please God, but they are the guidelines for them to be fruitful in everything they do. The psalmist says, “Let my heart be blameless toward your decrees, that I may not be disappointed” (Psalm 119:80). Thus the foundation of Christian ethics is ‘what God has said to do how He said it’.

Christian ethics is morality which is considered as a faithful response to summon of God in regards to human behavior. As Richard Ondiji writes in the book Responsible Leadership,

“…the Christian ethic is an ethic of responsibility, because human beings must account for themselves before God who summons them, and before the community into which they are sent. Others accompany this central value of responsibility such as love of God and of our neighbor, justice, freedom, and solidarity, to name only those.[2]

To summarize Richard’s idea, it can be said that Christian ethics is the norms of someone’s life, based and legitimated in the standard of God – in accords to His holiness, will, love, mercy, grace, etc. Thus Christian ethics is the responsibility ordained to any follower of Christ to witness the life of obedience, because every believer is not only expected to be accountable for his or her life before God but also before the world. It is also taken for granted that a Christian is called to live a life of holiness striving to follow the example of his or her Lord Jesus Christ, and at the same time they are sent to witness that life so others may acknowledge the One they represent. Therefore, the standard marks of Christian ethics is the demonstration of life worthy of what they are called for – loving God and the neighbors as loving themselves (Matthew 22:37-40). This notion of being and doing good (loving mercy and acting justly) was highly supported by the modern contributors to Christian ethics such as Saint Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hubbes and Immanuel Kant.

Leadership Ethics Defined

Different dictionaries have defined ‘ethics’ as a set of concept and principles in “do” and/or “don’t” form of normative order.  It comes from Greek word ‘ethos’ which means ‘character’. Oxford Learners’ Dictionary puts ethics as “Moral principles that control or influence a person’s behavior.” In narrow term, ethic is an internalized precept of a person which determines his or her manner of conducts, and also the moral principles of a particular  tradition, group or individual. In a wider term, it is an agreed set of social laws, not necessarily in written form, transferred from generations to generations. It is also common that it has been used interchangeably with morality. In short, ethics guide people in determining what behavior helps or harms others.

The moral successes and failures of a leader highlights a greater emphasis. The leader is generally expected to keep the personal record of life and work above the average. In this assumption, a leader is different individual than the others who are not leaders. In leadership, personal track of moral walk is the ‘city built on mountain’. Relating with leadership and ethics, Joanne Ciulla in her article, Ethics and Leadership Effectiveness, writes,

“The study of ethics is about human relationships. It is about what we should do and what we should be like as human beings, as members of a group or society, and in the different roles that we play in life. It is about right and wrong and good and evil. Leadership is a particular type of human relationship. Some hallmarks of this relationship are power and/or influence, vision, obligation, and responsibility. By understanding the ethics of this relationship, we gain a better understanding of leadership, because some of the central issues in ethics are also the central issues of leadership. They include the personal challenges of authenticity, self-interest, and self-discipline, and moral obligations related to justice, duty, competence, and the greatest good.”[3]

In general, ethics is a moral ground for an individual where he/she stands high. This is also a general agreement that a group of people, whether in family, in community, in any legal entity or organization, or any given group, adopts for mutual coexistence for conducting their lives together. But in specific term, ethics is more required from those who choose to take leadership responsibilities and expand their circle of influences over certain group of people. Therefore, ethics in leadership refers to the specific self-esteem, values, rules and standards of the leaders’ conducts. Thus, the ethics became everybody’s concerns when it comes to the life and conducts of a leader. It is expected that an ethical leadership is necessary to human wellbeing, because it proposes such values to be applied as guidelines for building a personal character that contributes toward developing an ethical common culture of the whole society the leader stands for.

With an appreciation of this understanding, the leadership is a trusted responsibility that serves for others and self by moving towards the well-shared vision by the means of influences, for which one needs to be able to handle any moral issue that may arise during his or her leadership responsibilities. It is also universally expected that a leader must stand out as responsible, accountable and moral. Simply, the ‘leader’ means to be the head by whatever means of vision or thoughts and actions. Leadership refers to the function and position of a leader who takes command, sets direction and shows ability to influence others. Leadership is a responsibility, the responsibility to influence through gaining capability to serve others. Leaders, generally, turn good an error using intellectual ability. He/she takes charge in decision-making, fulfills a duty, and meets commitments. Leader is accountable for his/her actions. Leader is a thoughtful person, reasonable, and a champion to convince others to a vision and draw their life into a move. A leader seems to be very much aware of the consequences of his/her actions. It is the capability to draw others’ attention and let them follow to the conviction he/she has built through sharing the vision, leading a group of people, big or small, with a concern for them whom he/she is leading.

Ethical Leadership Examined

It is well assumed that the leadership role is the ability to handle any moral problem in the lives and works of their own or in others whom they are leading. They should have the ethical competence. In this light, this paper will briefly survey the foundational basis of ethics. The ethics in the Western philosophy is drawn from the works those early expounders, such as Plato and Aristotle. It was more promoted by the Christian ideologists like Saint Augustine and Emmanuel Kant who regarded ethics inseparable from human conducts. The earlier philosophers relate it with virtues, justice, charity and generosity. Likewise the later theorists regard ethics with the concept of someone’s duty to morality. For them humans are relational beings and bound to duties to obey the categorical imperative to respect other relational beings.[4]  Looking at the core of the Western philosophy of ethics, it seems to be very strict to moral walk of life, which seems to be shaped by the Biblical teachings.

Leadership ethics often has been brought into the center of discussion because of the corrupted characters of human heart. Most of the leaders’ tendency is that they seem to be serious and disciplinarians in putting ethical ‘standards’ on others, but when it comes to their own lives and conducts, the ethics is often redefined as situational and taken as per their interests. And as they grow assuming more powers, they grow into ‘leaders never go wrong’ assumption. This can be the single reason of ethical decadence. As Marianne Jennings puts, “By portraying everything in shades of gray, and we create an ethical culture that leaders to a constantly moving line of priority, this method of analysis, in which there is no right and wrong, is part of the problem with corporate cultures and contributes to collapse.”[5]

Many big names can be listed who were once good leaders of their times, and in the course of leadership conducts they were tempted to either over-exercise of the positional power or they just ignored the ethical norms, they experienced a sudden collapse of their reputation. They were praised and highly regarded leaders until they kept themselves right in terms of ethics, but they lost almost everything when they were caught unethical. Still some of the popular leaders are kept into jail. Because leadership is the accepted responsibility of doing the right things in right way with right motif. As Scott Rae points out in his book, Moral Choices, “Morality is becoming increasingly subjective and it losing its propositional nature as people in our culture insist that judgment of right and wrong are merely individual subjective feelings or opinion, as evidenced by the contemporary creed, “If it feels good, do it!”[6]

Since this paper is more concerned on ‘Christian leadership ethics’, it is examined throughout the pages in context of Christian leadership in Nepal. Though everyone can maintain or loose his/her moral standard, but the leaders are considered much more responsible that an ordinary individual who does not have any public responsibility. As Bible makes it clear that “to whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was trusted, of him more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).

This is not to claim that all Christian leaders have absolutely perfect record of being ethical leadership. Any fallible human mind can be corrupted, and anyone can fail. Although, Christian leader is expected to represent the Christ, living in His teaching and modeling His very life on earth. This is the requirement, if taken seriously; a Christian leader should live the life of faith in integrity keeping the teachings of Christ in maximum level.

Ethical Christian Leadership Surveyed in Nepali Context

A Christian leader is required to have the high moral of his/her leadership regardless of country, culture or context. It is so because they are to live and practice what the Bible teaches about their leadership role. Thus, a Christian leadership ethical standard in Nepal cannot be different than other countries or cultures. Yet, even though same Biblical provisions and limitations are given to a Christian leader, in most of contexts, the standards are set as per the social, cultural, political or legal background. In this light, the ethical level of Christian leaders is examined. Here in this brief research work, some aspects of leadership practices were surveyed.

To pursue what is being discussed as the notion for a Christian leader, a simple questionnaire (Annex A) was developed and distributed to survey the level of ethical-moral problems in the life and ministry of church leadership. It should be admitted that this survey might not accurately display the ‘moral level’ of all Nepali Christian leaders. Yet, someone might notice something from the result of this survey that tells about the problems, challenges and struggles in the lives of church leaders in the country. The Christian leaders were selected to be respondents of the survey questionnaire who are serving as pastors for more than 10 years based in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Each respondent was given a color-coded set of questionnaires, highlighted with green color was to examine themselves and the blue one was to think of one other pastor who is his contemporary in the ministries. All the respondents were asked to evaluate their own and the contemporaneous lives and scale onto marking of 1 to 10, in which below 5 to 1 scale denotes the respondents figuring out that they are somehow weak in particular ethical issue, and in contrast to that, scale 6 and above denotes that they are maintaining a high ethical standard. Though it was a real struggle to win the trust of those senior pastors while distributing the questionnaires, and somehow, they reluctantly agreed. Since there are more than 50 pastors serving in the valley for more than 10 years, and only about 20 were to be asked to participate in the survey, which convinced them of not being publicized of their names. Though the questionnaires were distributed to 27 pastors. Only 23 cooperated and returned the responses, but 3 out of them were rejected, which found to be mistakenly measured.

Explaining the Survey

It was anticipated that when an individual is given to judge him or herself, there could be chances of being gracious to his/her own life, but when it comes to judging others several weakness could be pointed in a while. Putting this assumption into analysis of the matured questionnaires, the fairness was estimated by calculating in average. Both matured questionnaires returned by a respondent separately tabled and summed into average as one answer. This tabulation method provided a more space to examine the situation in overall and draw the result of survey in specific findings to conclude the work with a clear presentation of what Christian leadership ethics in the country is maintained.

The questionnaire was designed with 4 main sections. In each section 4 questions were raised to seriously examine about self, and other ten pastors carefully, and put the ‘judgment’ into scale of 1 to 10. Each section of the questionnaire is designed to evaluate four different aspects of the leaders’ life and ministry ethical grounds such as personal spiritual discipline and growth, family and sexual integrity, financial integrity, and exercise of leadership positional power. In the first section, the leaders would evaluate their spiritual growth through regular Bible study, prayer and fellowship to maintain a good spiritual discipline. This also helps to examine ones spiritual maturity in terms of sharing the faith to others who yet not have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. The second section examines the leaders’ constant responsibility of being faithful into marital covenant, well management of financial aspect of livelihood, and how their children are being discipled. The third section further examines on how the leaders are handling finances of the church or organization they oversee. And finally, the forth section helps to evaluate how the leadership power, position and indulgence are exercised. What the survey produced the result? Every section is described hereafter:

  1. Handling finances and properties 53%
  2. Personal, family and sexual integrity 27%
  3. Personal Spiritual Discipline and Growth 11%
  4. Exercise of leadership power and authority 9%


  1. Handling Finances and Properties

Till the date, the Government of Nepal has not given a legal provision for any “Christian” church, ministry or mission organization to officially put major properties like lands, buildings and other machineries under church’s name. This gives an excuse to many church or ministry leaders not to make their financial dealings transparent. The survey reveals that the majority of the leaders are somehow failing to keep financial matters up to date. This legal pressure has been pushed the Christian leadership to register the church’s properties under someone’s name, which ultimately opens the downfall for most of the leaders. They feel insecure to put others’ name as the legal owner of the properties, and due to the reason, many have fallen to the trap of being in corrupt position by translating the assets into their family possessions.  The survey counts 53% of the leaders were either tempted to keep every financial deal in their private account. They could tell that their contemporaries are not found to be faithful in handling the finances. The majority of the respondents accepted that in times they were tempted to be the sole owner of the land, building or any assets, which was purchased for the use of the ministry.

  1. Personal, Family and Sexual Integrity

The respondents admitted that there is a big struggle in maintaining their lives and ministries morally up to date in this area of life. Many, even proved to be failure when it comes the sexual morality. Some well-respected pastors collapsed their ministries because they, in times they went beyond the ethical lines and compromised to the temptations. The respondents were asked to evaluate and anonymously give marks themselves into the scale, which shows that they are struggling indeed to this area. Some admitted that their spouses are not supporting the ministries and are absence for longer period of time, which opens the door for sexual immorality. For them it was a real battle to keep integrity towards the family, marriage and the people whom they supposed to be always loyal and faithful with.

  1. Personal Spiritual Discipline and Growth

Another battlefield is the dedication to personal discipline and growth. About 10% of the respondents were found weak in this area of what their personal spiritual life was maintained. They were found to be not maintaining regularity in personal Bible study, prayer and being in fellowship with other believers. They were not maintaining regularity in sharing the faith in Christ to the lost ones. And servant-leadership approach of leadership seems that it is just a new idea to this fraction of the total respondents. This shows that they are yet to grow into leadership influence that compels others to imitate.

  1. Exercise of Leadership Power and Authority

The above areas of leadership approach determines that how they are exercising. In the case of many leaders’ response, they would be willing to serve in leadership team but somehow they are not so open to make the agenda public. Most of the respondents have admitted that they have committees formed for the church ministries. But for most of them the committee is just for show, other members in the committee are not working or the pastor or main leader who has the financial source and strengths paralyze them.


The ethics is something most required to those who are actively involved in ministries. The leaders with strong moral/ethical stand are the ‘leaders’ to follow example. More of this, the Christian leaders are normally expected to be firmed in Biblical-ethical matter. Their lives and ministries with high ethical standard should compel others to realize whom they are serving. Their living testimony of ethical leadership is more than what they preach or teach. As Christian leadership ethics is to be oriented to willfully submit unto God’s commandments as mandatory orders for moral absolute and life-principles. The Biblical decrees for Christian ethics for leaders is to take as doing good by being good. The Bible is the must venerated source for Christian ethics because the entire Bible contains commandments and-or prohibitions for all the ministers-leaders who are dedicated to serve in the church. In this light, a brief survey was done to evaluate the leaders’ conducts among some of the high-profiles, which reveals their leadership role in anticipated ethical standards.

The survey concludes with a general perception on how the given numbers of leading figures are maintaining their leadership roles. Upon considering the four aspects of the leadership role the challenge seems on how to keep financial integrity and keeping family and sexual morality. Other two areas also are vital in the life of a Christian leader. All these areas are the leaders’ enemies, unless overruled these, the leaders will fall in trap and almost impossible to be restored up. Hence, many have already trapped in these areas; the leader must be seriously discipline him/herself and standing firm to keep the moral high.



Milco, Michael R., Ethical Dilemmas In Church Leadership: Case Studies In Biblical Decision Making. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997.

Rae, Scottt B., Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, Second Edition 2000.

Stuckelberger, Christoph & Mugambi, J.N.K. (eds.), Responsible Leadership: Global and Contextual Ethical Perspectives. Geneva, Switzerland: WCC Publications, 2007.

Arving, Justin A., Servant Leadership and the Effectiveness of Teams, A PhD Paper Submitted to Regent University, School of Leadership Studies, 2005.

Jennings, Marianne, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse: How to spot Moral Meltdowns in Companies – Before it’s too Late. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006.

Girardin, Benoit, Ethics in Politics: Why it Matters More Than Ever and How it Can Make a Difference. Geneva, Switzerland:, 2012.

[1]Justin A. Arving, Servant Leadership and the Effectiveness of Teams, A PhD Paper Submitted to Regent University, School of Leadership Studies, 2005. P. x.

[2]Christoph Stuckelberger, Jesse NK Mugambi, eds. Responsible Leadership: Global and Contextual Perspectives. Geneva, Switzerland: WCC Publications, 2007. P. 36.

[3]Joanne B. Ciulla, Leadership Ethics, cited from –

[4]Michael Banner, Christian Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems. London: Cambridge University Press, 1999. P. 17.

[5]Marianne Jennings, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapses: How to spot Moral Meltdowns in Companies – Before it’s too Late. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006. p. 13.

[6]Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, Second Edition 2000, p. 70.

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