Church Leadership and Alcohol

(published Feb 2016 by Pastor Christian Lee & NP core leaders)

First of all, we must dismiss a simplistic mindset toward church leaders and alcohol. The actions of church leaders have a great impact on a community (especially on our youth) and therefore our actions will be and should be scrutinized and held to a higher standard. Unpacking a carefully thought-out alcohol policy is essential for church leaders. Before we unpack the alcohol policy, we want to lay out that the Christian ideal found in Scripture is that a Christian be sober (I Peter 5:8), self controlled, and Spirit-filled (Eph 5:18). If you seek to walk in this standard, the alcohol policy will seem irrelevant to you. But everyone should still be aware of it so we can hold each other accountable.

At New Philly, we teach that debauchery (being intoxicated) is sin (Rom 13:13, Gal 5:21, Eph 5:18, Titus 1:7, I Peter 4:3-5) but we do not teach that drinking alcohol is inherently sin. Christians (of legal age) have freedom to drink alcohol in moderation with a clear conscience. Although there are no biblical verses that condemn drinking as sin, there are Bible verses that call us to constrain our freedom with higher moral values. Here are three: 1. the value of love; 2. the value of leadership; 3. the value of effective evangelism.

     

1. The value of love. In Romans 14:19-21 the Bible says we ought to make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. If drinking causes a fellow brother to fall, the loving thing to do is to abstain. In fact, it says although we have the freedom to eat and drink whatever we choose, it is wrong to exercise this freedom when it causes someone to stumble. Scripture calls us to restrain our freedom with the principle of loving our neighbor.

2. The value of leadership. Let’s take note of three criteria for church leadership found in I Tim 3:2-3,8 and Titus 1:7, 2:3. They are: being blameless (or “above reproach”), self-controlled, and not being given over to alcohol. It’s interesting that alcohol is explicitly mentioned. The Holy Spirit foresaw that an attitude of license may develop from the liberty to drink. Therefore leaders are required to be self controlled in alcohol. As leaders, we must abandon an independent mindset and seek to uphold a godly influence on the church. Instead of asking, “What’s the maximum I can drink as a leader without getting in trouble?” The question should rather be, “How can I be blameless and above reproach in the exercise of my freedoms?”

3. The value of effective evangelism. Sometimes having a drink will help you gain an audience with unbelievers. Other times abstaining or using extra restraint will make you a more effective witness. The vast majority of the times, whether you drink or abstain, people will think you are strange for not indulging in the same debauchery and heap abuse on you (I Peter 4:4). We must be discerning about which situation we are in and choose wisely.

Alcohol Policy

The policies below are created around the above three biblical values. You will be held accountable to this policy whether you remember it or forget. Failure to abide by this policy or a reckless/careless attitude will result in disciplinary measures. The purpose of this alcohol policy is not to oppress you with a list of don’ts. Instead it is here to cast vision for what kind of leader New Philly approves of. The policy articulates the balance between freedom and accountability we want to strike. This policy is subject to minor changes as we deal with different cases in the future.

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  • How much can I drink? We bless you to use your judgment to drink in moderation. But always aim to be blameless (above reproach) and self-controlled. Although we bless you to use your judgment, keep in mind that the campus pastors reserve the right to judge whether a leader is drinking too much or too frequently and to require they refrain for a season. We were tempted to produce a guideline with alcohol amounts and types but it’s impractical because everyone has different levels of tolerance and preference. Please keep in mind the alcohol content by volume of various drinks (e.g.: beer 4-4.5%, Olde English forty 6-8%, winecooler 5-8%, wine 8-12%, soju 25%, vodka 40% or 80 proof, Everclear 95% or 190 proof).
  • Drinking and driving. Any leader who is discovered to have driven a motor vehicle while appearing tipsy or drunk (and/or having exceeded the local legal limit) will face stiff consequences whether it results in an accident or not and whether they are caught by local authorities or not. This is not acceptable to non-believers and it is certainly not acceptable for a church leader.
  • Restrictions on who you can drink with. We bless you to exercise your freedom to drink with anyone you choose but we require that you do not drink in front of people you met at church. Do not drink in front of a newcomer you met at church. Never drink in front of someone who is on restoration for debauchery. Drinking in front of a subordinate is strictly forbidden. For example if you are a CG leader, never drink in front of your CG member (the same applies to missions or ministry teams).
    Exceptions are: mature NP leaders and church attendees who are also your co-workers, family, or pre-existing best friend. Examples of mature NP leaders: apostolic or active leader, campus pastor, praise leader, a mature intern pastor, a godly/mature NP alumnus, a reserve leader who’s emotionally/mentally stable and has been faithfully walking with Christ for years, a reserve leader who is married and a mature parent with no history of alcohol abuse.
  • Considerations for where to drink. If you are going to drink in a public setting, be sure you choose a place where it is highly unlikely for you to be seen by church members. Treat it like stage one of dating protocol. No need to feel guilty about it but please be stealth.
  • Business setting. Active and reserve leaders are blessed to drink in a business setting with colleagues but there are three conditions: 1) the venue must not host prostitution of any kind; 2) you are committed to stop when you are offered excessive amounts; 3) you agree to email your CG leader or campus pastor how the evening went within 12 hours. If you cannot honor these conditions, please refrain.
  • No online posts. If you drink, refrain from posting any photo, video, or message online about it. An occasional post of champagne and wine or a visit to a winery or brewery are the only exceptions. The principle behind this policy is that we don’t want to stumble those outside our community who believe that drinking is inherently evil (e.g.: Pentecostal, some Baptist, or Holiness movement traditions). You should also ask your friends to untag or take down any recent photos where you are surrounded by a lot of alcohol and debauchery (Rom 13:13). As a NP leader we want you to be a good ambassador of Christ and uphold a blameless image. Some non-believers think that drinking alcohol is bad or a vice (muslims, Buddhists, etc.). In such cases we don’t want anything to distract from our witness of the gospel.
  • Intoxication must be confessed right away. If you get tipsy or drunk, it is important you confess within 24 hours. A campus pastor will determine what kind of discipline you will face. If you delay your confession or lie about it, your leadership may be revoked.
  • Whistleblowing. If you see a fellow leader consuming a lot of alcohol or breaking the alcohol policy, you will be held responsible for “blowing the whistle” within 24 hours to your campus pastor via email. All those who fail to do so will be seen as being guilty of a cover up and insubordination and will face some measure of discipline. We are not a prison or a gang. Blowing the whistle in this situation is not “snitching,” it is being a responsible leader.
  • Temporary bans. Occasionally, the lead pastor may call the entire leadership to fast or abstain from certain activities (which can include alcohol) for a set duration for the sake of consecration (Joshua 3:5) or prayer (I Cor 7:5). This is normative Christian practice and as we communicate it in advance, we expect such consecrations to be honored by all. The campus pastor also has the authority to call a consecration for his/her local leaders. For the sake of freedom and wholeness, the campus pastor may also call a leader to abstain from alcohol who has a history of alcoholism or debauchery.
  • Missions Trip prohibition. For the sake of consecration, alcohol bans will be in effect for missions team members. It will cover the two weeks preceding a missions trip, the actual trip itself, and two weeks post-trip.
  • Consequences: Breaking the alcohol policy may result in informal discipline, restoration, or revoke. The lead pastor and campus pastor will determine what is appropriate. If consequences seem too severe, you may write the NP elders a direct email (core@newphilly.cc) to articulate your grievance. We will weigh each case carefully. Excommunication may also be brought up if a leader is unrepentant and uncooperative about turning away from their abuse of alcohol.
  • What about cigars, drugs, cigarettes, and marijuana? Without going into details, all NP leaders are expected to abstain from narcotic substances or anything that can be used to gain a narcotic experience. This includes illegal drugs of all kinds but also extends to marijuana, cigars, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, hooka bars, the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs, and the abuse of household goods. For active leaders, this will result in immediate demotion and restoration. For reserve leaders, they will face informal discipline or restoration. We don’t want to nurture a leadership culture that tolerates cigars or one in which leaders use these substances to experience an escape. We have better resources given to us by God to deal with stress. We also want to uphold a leadership image that is blameless to other churches and is winsome to the world.
Examples of Upholding or Breaking the Alcohol Policy

Scenario 1a (bachelor’s party, not good): You are in charge of a bachelor’s party. Most of the attendees are guys you met at church. You decide to get bottles of alcohol for some or everyone in attendance. In this scenario you are breaking the alcohol policy and your actions will be interpreted as not acting in love and not considering how your actions reflect on the church and your leadership. You will be held accountable. If you are a leader and fail to speak up, you are also breaking the alcohol policy.

Scenario 1b (bachelor’s party, good): You are in charge of a bachelor’s party. Most of the attendees are guys you met at church. You want to have a few beers with the groom and three attendees who are mature NP leaders (campus pastor, CG leader, ministry team leader). You privately ask if they are down for drinks. Then you dismiss everyone else and go to a discreet chicken hof to talk over a few beers. Everyone is good.

Scenario 2a (missions team, not good): Three months after coming back from an amazing India missions trip, your team has a reunion. It’s a holiday the next day so half the team wants to hang out longer. You propose the idea of going to a norebang (karaoke room). During the night you decide to have a can of alcohol in front of your team members. You are the only one drinking. A team member takes you aside to stop but you ignore the warning. An email reaches the campus pastor and missions director about it. You will be held accountable for breaking the alcohol policy.

Scenario 2b (missions team, good): After your missions reunion you want to hang out a little longer. You are a church leader but many of your team members are newcomers. In order to avoid stumbling their weak faith and in order to be above reproach as a leader, you whisper to a team member (who also happens to be a best friend you met before coming to New Philly and is a mature Christian) to get some drinks afterward. You discreetly and privately make your way to a karaoke room (with no prostitution) for some drinks. Such action honors the alcohol policy.

Scenario 3a (Saturday night, not good): You go out with your co-workers for a birthday dinner. One of them is a mature NP leader. During dinner everyone drinks, including both of you. You’ve been self controlled but the other leader has not. She begins to speak recklessly in front of her Korean co-workers. It’s clear she’s had too much to drink. The next day she comes to church to lead praise with a hangover. Everyone can clearly smell alcohol on her breath but she insists on leading worship. You say nothing. Five days later she feels guilty for what happened and confesses to the campus pastor that not only did she drink too much that night but also made out with one of the interns. In this scenario, your co-worker friend will face restoration and you will be held accountable for breaking the alcohol policy (which may also include restoration).

Scenario 3b (Saturday night, good): You go out with your co-workers for a birthday dinner. One of them is a mature NP leader. During dinner the fellow NP leader seems to lack self control with alcohol. You know that she’s been going through a tough time dealing with a family death. But you speak up and insist that she stop drinking. She refuses and continues to drink. The next day she tries to lead praise with a hangover, you take your campus pastors aside and let them know what happened. The praise leader will face restoration for breaking the alcohol policy. You will be commended for your exemplary leadership and Christian love.

Alcohol’s Dangers

As leaders of the church, we should be aware of alcohol’s dangers in light of our sinful nature and teach these things to church members.

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  1. Drinking weakens the Christian’s ability to resist temptation and to distinguish right from wrong. In other words, it hinders self control and prevents us from being led by the Spirit.
  2. Drinking and driving has led to countless accidents resulting in destruction and death. Drinking leads to aggressive behavior and violence in some people. It makes women everywhere vulnerable to sexual abuse or assault (Warning: If you are a girl or a guy at a party or bar, NEVER EVER consume an open drink. Avoid leaving a drink unattended and stay away from punch bowls which may be spiked. It may contain Rohypnol or Ketamine (aka as date rape drugs). Rape takes place a lot more frequently than people believe, even within the church.).
  3. According to one statistic, 1 out of 10 social drinkers become an alcoholic.
  4. The abuse of alcohol or heavy consumption is harmful to your health.