Forgiving Fallen Pastors

By all means we should be forgiving. But we cannot erase the consequences of sin.

Restoration teams—equipped with manuals to instruct the church on how to reinstate its fallen pastor—wait like tow truck drivers on the side of the highway, anticipating the next leadership “accident.” Grace Community Church, where I pastor, has received inquiries wondering if it has written guidelines or a workbook to help in restoring fallen pastors to leadership.

 

It has always saddened me over the years as I’ve watched church leaders bring reproach on the church of Jesus Christ. What’s perhaps most shocking to me is how frequently Christian leaders sin grossly, then step back into leadership almost as soon as the publicity dies away.

Some time ago I received a recording that disturbed me greatly. It was audio of the recommissioning service for a pastor who had made national news by confessing to an adulterous affair. After little more than a year of “counseling and rehabilitation,” this man was returning to public ministry with his church’s blessing.

It is happening everywhere. Restoration teams—equipped with manuals to instruct the church on how to reinstate its fallen pastor—wait like tow truck drivers on the side of the highway, anticipating the next leadership “accident.” Grace Community Church, where I pastor, has received inquiries wondering if it has written guidelines or a workbook to help in restoring fallen pastors to leadership. Many no doubt expect that a church the size of ours would have a systematic rehabilitation program for sinning leaders.

Gross sin among Christian leaders is a signal that something is seriously wrong within the contemporary church. But an even greater problem is the lowering of standards to accommodate a leader’s sin. That churches are so eager to bring these men back into leadership—and to do so relatively quickly—is a symptom of rottenness to the core.

Christians must not regard leadership in the church lightly. The foremost requirement of a leader is that he “must be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2, 10; Titus 1:7). That is a difficult prerequisite, and not everyone can meet it.

Some kinds of sin irreparably shatter a man’s reputation and disqualify him from a ministry of leadership forever—because he can no longer be above reproach. Even Paul, man of God that he was, said he feared such a possibility: “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

When referring to his body, Paul obviously had sexual immorality in view. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 he describes it as a sin against one’s own body—sexual sin is in its own category. Certainly it disqualifies a man from church leadership, because he permanently forfeits a blameless reputation as a one-woman man (Proverbs 6:33; 1 Timothy 3:2).

Where did we get the idea that a year’s leave of absence can restore integrity to someone who has squandered his reputation and destroyed people’s trust? Certainly not from the Bible. Trust forfeited is not so easily regained. Once a man sacrifices his purity, the ability to lead by example is lost forever. As my friend Chuck Swindoll once commented when referring to the issue—it takes only one pin to burst a balloon.

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