How to Respond When a Ministry Leader is Caught in Disqualifying Sin

Leaders sometimes fall into heinous sin. How should we react?

When ministry leaders disqualify themselves from ministry, we should seek their removal from leadership out of love for God and His church, and for the sake of spreading the gospel of Christ. But when fallen ministry leaders are not seeking to serve in leadership, we should seek to cover their sins in order to help them constantly repent

 

Unfortunately, because Christians are justified sinners–declared righteous and being made fully righteous but not fully righteous yet–leaders sometimes fall into heinous sin. How should we react? Christians who hold these men accountable often struggle with the best way to deal with such issues. One thing is for sure, we do not follow the world’s example, only Scripture. Here are a few thoughts about how to handle fallen leaders in a biblically faithful manner:

1. Do not let the leader resign without an investigation that either exonerates him or reveals his guilt.

Ministry leaders must meet the qualifications of Scripture in order to remain ministry leaders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:6-9). If you allow a ministry leader who is accused of adultery to resign without investigating to find out the truth, you leave the door open for him to serve in another ministry position even though he may be disqualified from ministry. No one will be able to get to the truth better than those who work or serve with him near the time that the adultery is said to have been committed. Otherwise, if you let him resign without knowing for sure if he is guilty, he may serve another church or ministry and commit the same sin(s) since no one has held him accountable. Imagine the years of damage such sin will do to that church or ministry and the families involved. If he commits the same sin(s) due to your unbiblical grace (ignoring multiple accusations of disqualifying sin is not grace), your “washing your hands” of him or the situation instead of finding out the truth, his sin is partially on you. You have a responsibility to other Christians who may call him; not only must you love him, you must also love God and His church; and you must also love those you are accountable to who gave you your position of authority.

2. Don’t punish, but reward those who had the godly conviction to bring the accusations (if they are true).

If you have policies for bringing accusations, don’t get caught up in majoring on minor Kingdom issues. Should policies be followed? Yes, at least within reason. But Scripture trumps policy in the ministry world. Which is worse, that a leader committed racism and adultery or that an employee brought the accusations in a manner contrary to policy? The major issue should be that the leader committed disqualifying sin, not that the accusations were brought in an incorrect manner. Sure, discipline the individual for violating policy, but his punishment should be far less than the guilty leader. And especially don’t allow the accused leader to resign with a severance package while firing the whistle-blower. If you do, your actions will communicate that violating man-made policies is worse than sinning against God, sinning against image bearers based on race, sinning against one’s spouse and the spouses of others, and sinning against the church. As Christians, that’s definitely not what we want to communicate to a watching world or to Christians who are young in their faith!

3. Do not rejoice or broadcast the leader’s sin.

This point is a tricky one because ministry leaders must constantly meet the biblical qualifications of leaders in order to remain qualified to lead. How does one know if a leader is qualified? One must not only examine the leader, but one must also ask those who have worked with the leader in the past. Christians should testify of the leader’s biblical qualifications. All the qualifications for ministry leadership are publicly observable (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:6-9). Thus, the lives of all ministry leaders are open books; that’s the nature of seeking ministry leadership; and that’s the nature of discerning whether or not someone is qualified to be a ministry leader.

Nevertheless, when ministry leaders fall, we are called to love them. We must not hate (prefer ourselves above) fallen leaders. Remember that “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Prov. 10:12).  We must not seek to bring up the sins of fallen leaders again and again unless they seek to lead, for then their qualifications would need to be examined. It’s necessary to bring up public sin when examining the public qualifications of a leader. But, if he is not seeking to be a ministry leader, then let us not “stir up strife” by bringing up sin that has possibly been repented of.

Furthermore, remember that Peter said, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). May we seek to cover the fallen leader’s sin, to love him, instead of constantly pointing out his sin. Remember that Paul said, “Love bears all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). We must “bear with” fallen leaders. As Charles Spurgeon said,

Love covers; that is, it never proclaims the errors of good men. There are busybodies abroad who never spy out a fault in a brother but they must needs hurry off to their next neighbour with the savoury news, and then they run up and down the street as though they had been elected common criers. It is by no means honorable to men or women to set up to be common informers. Yet I know some who are not half so eager to publish the gospel as to publish slander. Love stands in the presence of a fault, with a finger on her lip (Source: Love’s Labours). [Editor’s note: the original URL (link) referenced is no longer valid, so the link has been removed.]

When ministry leaders disqualify themselves from ministry, we should seek their removal from leadership out of love for God and His church, and for the sake of spreading the gospel of Christ. But when fallen ministry leaders are not seeking to serve in leadership, we should seek to cover their sins in order to help them constantly repent, so that they may again lead one day. After all, at the very least, fallen ministry leaders must lead their homes. And hopefully, one day their repentance will be more “scandalous” than their sins ever were, and their change of heart and life will be so publicly evident that they then can return to leadership. And if they do one day return to leadership because they meet the biblical qualifications again, we want this to be due to our love for them, not in spite of our hate for them. May we love them as God has loved us.

Jared Moore is pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Hustonville, KY. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with his permission.