Death to the One-Year Rule!

We are never served by emphasizing haste at the expense of godly character.

In many cases, a year will prove insufficient. This should not be a surprise because there is nothing magical about a year. There is no intrinsic power in the passing of 365 days and nights. A year gives us a date to put on a calendar, a reminder to enter into a task management app. In that way it can be a helpful milestone, a useful date to reconsider a situation. But a year seldom gives enough time for a man to properly evaluate, repent of, and replace the patterns that led him into disqualifying sin.

 

There is no sin that cannot be overcome, no transgression that cannot be put to death, no consequence so grave it cannot be undone in 365 days. At least, that’s what you might think as you read about pastors and other Christian leaders who rise, fall, and rise again. It’s the unwritten but often-followed “one-year rule.”

Every month, or every few months, at least, we hear of another pastor or ministry leader who has been exposed as a fraud, an abuser, an adulterer, or something else. His church or ministry reacts by removing him from his position. Sometimes he is fired and sometimes he is placed on a kind of administrative leave. Whatever the case, we can pretty much set a timer for 365 days and expect that just as it elapses, we will begin to see his name again. He will re-open his social media accounts, he will preach a sermon somewhere, he will accept a conference invitation. He will begin his comeback.

There are exceptions, of course. Some men fall into such grave and repeated sin that they have no chance of ever regaining trust and reclaiming a position, despite their best attempts. Others fall into lesser sins but are truly repentant and convicted by God that, for the sake of family, church, or gospel they should not attempt a return to ministry. But for so many others, they wait out the year and sidle (or stride) right back in.

In some cases a year will prove sufficient. Where transgressions have been relatively minor and damage has been minimal a year may be time enough for a man to truly search his heart, to address his sin, to form new patterns, to express genuine repentance. It may be enough time for him to make apologies and, if necessary, restitution. It may be enough time for a family and church to regain its confidence in the man, to become convinced that he is once again qualified for ministry. Some churches or ministries experience the joy of welcoming back a man who has been forgiven and restored.

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