Category Archives: Fallen Pastor

Restoring a Fallen Pastor III

According to I Corinthians 5:3-5, excommunicating an offending member (or firing of an offending pastor), should be pursued when a person, obsessed with his sin, continues in it despite warnings to reform.  There’s no insinuation or teaching in scripture that a person guilty of occasional or one-time failures should be so excised.  In such cases, Paul’s teaching in Galatians 6:1 should be employed.

We are in this kingdom together as flawed, frail, weak sinners saved by grace.  And if we expect our leaders to model Christ-like behavior, we can’t demand they model it perfectly, flawlessly, without fail.  Members don’t; why must leaders?  And if we say we can’t expect people to rise any higher than their leaders morally, what but condemnation awaits the minister who preaches such shallow, insipid sermons that his people have no trouble rising to his level spiritually, but find themselves unable to grow beyond it?  Many a minister who has been free from adultery is nonetheless guilty of a prime fault deserving expulsion:  he preaches sophomoric sermons that challenge no one to develop spiritually.  But how often is that prodigious level of failure punished?

The church has the opportunity, in a world stricken to death by immorality of every kind, to offer a perfect standard of righteousness in Christ; a challenge for every Christian to grow in Christ-likeness; a demand that every Christian repent when he sins, in whatever way he betrays grace; and encouragement from other sinners, who understand failure because they are experts in it and are willing to help him rise again.

Obviously, leaders have to protect the church.  But there’s certainly something lacking in any church leadership that doesn’t also say, “How can we save the offender for the church?”  Doing only the former makes the church the judge—which God never ordained.  Qualifying the first with the second creates opportunities for preserving the church’s reputation as both a holy and a merciful assembly.  It allows the church to put the fallen on paid or unpaid leave; to demand repentance, public confession, counseling and personal spiritual growth; to offer him correction and rehabilitation—whatever is needed.  But it doesn’t discard the fallen leader who has invested thousands of hours in his work and in whom the church has invested thousands of dollars in recruitment and education.

If we revise our response to leadership failure, we can at once denounce the sin, but save the leader.  We can uphold the truth and purity of God while retaining the forgiven ministry of the repentant leader.  Then people will begin to see the church as a place where sinners are challenged to the Christ-life by the word of God; held accountable for their misbehavior; loved when they fail their standard of holiness; and forgiven to a second chance.  Above all, it will be seen as a place where  people can care, love and pay the price of  involvement in a fellowship of imperfect humans striving in a common perfect venture.

The Ten Commandments, based on the Creation account in Genesis 1-3, comprise the core issues of Christian ethics.   By possessing all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form, and by fulfilling the Law, Christ replaced the Law with himself as the basis of all conduct.  His perfection at once challenges us to achieve Christ-likeness and compensates for our every failure to do so.  Discipleship demands spiritual accountability; Christ’s compensation pays for our continuing irresponsibility.

Churches adamantly demand accountability from their ministers, but only grudgingly offer fallen pastors Christ’s grace.  Conversely, congregational leaders often grudgingly accept their spiritual responsibility, but adamantly claim the benefits of grace.  Isn’t it time for church members, and lay leaders, to extend to staff members the privileges and mercies they claim for themselves?  Can it ever be right for them to swiftly claim the privileges and mercy they only slowly affirm, and oftentimes outright deny, to staff?  – FINI –

Restoring a Fallen Pastor II

The punish and dismiss approach also ignores the “sinners treating sinners as sinners wish to be treated” philosophy that Christian leaders spout but infrequently implement.  It diminishes the deep Biblical mercy everyone expects for self but almost uniformly refuses others.  Get rid of the sin but keep the sinner is the Bible view.  We get rid of the sinner, thinking that gets rid of sin—only to find it in areas we don’t recognize or admit.   Christians are famous for running away from personal relationships that crash on reefs of misunderstanding; from communities that no longer reflect the profile to which we’ve grown accustomed; and from church fellowships where we’ve had disagreements over methods and/or doctrine.   Firing a minister for moral failure is another run-away technique.  We’re disturbed by it, uncomfortable mentioning it and feel the best response is to send the miscreant away—out of sight, out of mind.

This response fails at several levels.  One, the body of Christ would have no part if other parts excised all who sinned.  Two, the opportunity for healing comes at the point of wounding; the opportunity for renewal comes at the point of breakdown.   Three, it distinguishes venal from mortal sins, a distinction alien to scripture.  A minister guilty of severe criticism of his wife, or of bitterness against others in the body, wouldn’t be fired; neither would one who treats his children harshly—definitively anti-Christian behavior; nor would a staff member who intrigues against others on staff.  All of these are always overlooked and excusable sins, while sexual sin is considered unpardonable.  Four, just when the church has the opportunity to prove how merciful God is towards sinners, it becomes the severest critic of failed Christians.  Almost as if, while God exonerates unbaptized mortals, he insists that churches decapitate mortal believers!

How discouraging: while he has ministered faithfully to the broken, the abused and the wounded, a minister finds that his “hospital” treats him harshly, ignores him, wishes he would disappear, and refuses any treatment or remedy.  Isn’t it really hypocritical for churches to say to pastors, “If we fall into sin, we want your help, but if you fall into sin, get out“?  Or to say, “We’re willing to draw on your strengths, but we refuse to tolerate your weaknesses”?   Isn’t it time for the church to be at least as compassionate toward its fallen leaders as business is towards workers with drug, alcohol, family and marital problems?

Little wonder the church so negatively impacts outsiders.  When the going gets tough in the Christian body, we want the hurting person to go elsewhere.  We want as leaders only those who continually offer help, but not those who may occasionally need it. – CONTINUED –

Restoring A Fallen Pastor I

Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines moral as “of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior,” and morality as “a doctrine or system of moral conduct.”  While people who feel uncomfortable with the term spiritual substitute the word morality, the latter isn’t found in the New Testament.  It simply can’t comprehend the meaning of righteousness.  And where humans settle for mere morality, God demands righteousness, a state fulfilled in and summarized only by Jesus Christ.

In addition, where morals concern individual acts of good or evil, righteousness refers to a state or position that particular failures in morals don’t necessarily threaten.  As a consequence,  the Christian who suffers temporary lapses in behavior can nonetheless remain righteous by retaining a determined Christ-like lifestyle, a state ethos (from which we get ethics) describes.

Once we see Christ-likeness as the goal of our entire life, aberrations in it will be seen as admitted failures, but not as ultimate defeats.   Since habit-patterns determine spiritual character, particular alterations originate in human frailty, not in our basic spiritual integrity.  Isolated sins don’t destroy our integrity if we pursue Christ-likeness despite them.  Abraham was still God’s friend, though he sometimes found telling the truth distasteful.  David remained king, though he once unconscionably assassinated a loyal subject by enemy arms.

Since perfection remains in Jesus, however imperfect his servants are, through him they retain their consummate impeccability, despite individual sins.  Their relationship with Jesus breaks only on their announced or determined decision to regress into the old life pattern abandoned at baptism and to pursue evil as a new behavior model.  This perspective has nothing to do with the false idea of eternal perseverance.  We can turn from Jesus with the same settled will we originally turned to him.

With this background, how should lay church leadership respond when a staff member fails morally?  Instinctively, the church has felt that such failure in a minister is reason for automatic dismissal from the ministry.  It seems such an inexcusable breach of Christian ethics that the perpetrator should automatically lose leadership privileges.

However, this view fails to see all sin, not just sexual sin, as moral failure.  The Bible certainly disputes the priest who said God won’t judge a person by the way he uses his genitals.  God will, if one’s genitals continually outrage spiritual truth.  But God will also judge us for the misuse of our tongue, James 1:26; for our greed, Colossians 3:5; for our divisiveness, Titus 3:10—to name only three.  We cannot severely condemn in others sins we don’t commit, and seek mercy for those we do.  But by assuring ourselves that only sexual sins are moral issues, Christians conveniently ignore others that scripture as decisively proscribes.

What choice, then, does the church have when immorality occurs?  Doesn’t the holiness of God and the integrity of scripture demand the offender’s release?  Only if we’re willing to take such action against any of the sins listed in Galatians 5:19-21 and Colossians 3:8-9, etc.  We cannot discriminate between sins we determine to punish and those we leave unpenalized.  If we censure the minister who drifts into the arms of a paramour, we can’t extol the minister whose obsession with work encourages his wife to seek love from another.  – CONTINUED –