Recently I received an email from a man I have never met. While serving as a pastor many years ago, he had a moral failure that led to divorce. Eventually he left the ministry and continued in a sinful pattern of life for several years. Eventually the Holy Spirit brought him to the place of deep repentance. He confessed his sins and asked forgiveness from many people.
I looked at myself as a total failure before God and man. I knew I was still alive because God was not finished with me. I saw my ministry days as gone and I believe rightfully so. Solomon said that when you get involved with another man's wife you have a reproach that will never leave you. Paul said to be a leader in the church you must be above reproach. So I knew I was permanently disqualified from church leadership.
Eventually his former wife remarried, and now he is remarried and studying in a seminary. He now wonders if there is any place or way he can serve the Lord in the future. "Am I right in desiring to minister to believers in a non-leadership capacity?" Here is my answer:
Thanks for your note and for the honesty of your words to me. That level of honesty is really the truest answer to your question. I think you are wise to consider that you will not again serve as a pastor in a local church. The facts you mentioned and the Scriptures you mentioned lead to that conclusion. I suppose the way to way to it would be, I think you are wise to assume and to plan as if your days in pastoral leadership are over. God can overrule that at any point if he should so choose. But it would have to be an unusual situation where God had clearly worked out the circumstances. In particular, I think it is unlikely that you will serve again as a senior pastor in a local church setting. Could you serve on a church staff in some other position? The answer is, it depends on the church and the position, but I do not think it is ruled out entirely.
Integrity matters more than anything else, and for you that means being as honest with others as you were with me in your note. In the days to come, various doors may open to you or you may get inquiries about various positions. Those things are not to be shunned, but to be explored with the self-understanding that you will hide nothing but will bring all things out into the light so that there can be no surprises for the search committee or for any ministry or church that might want to call you. Better for you to be as upfront and candid with others as you were with me. If that means that some places don't want you, I think you just accept that as the will of the Lord. But I suspect that there are many places you will be able to serve the Lord in the years to come. You mentioned that your studies are going well, and I rejoice with you about that. You also said they may give you a small bit of credibility. That's about the right way to say it. Seminary gives us a bit of a hearing and a bit of credibility, but the real benefit is to us personally in the things we learn and how we grow. It is God alone who gives us credibility with people. And that credibility comes first and foremost from a heart that is open before the Lord. God searches the earth looking for people whose hearts are open to him. Your past moral failures will be with you forever just as a scar from a terrible accident may mark us forever. But scars can become reminders to us of God's grace and an inducement to holy living and a healthy kind of humility. God is not through with you yet. Be encouraged and keep believing. Years ago I learned the First Law of Spiritual Progress. It consists of three simple statements:
I can't go back.
I can't stay here.
I must go forward.
In your case, you can't go back to undo the past. There is no need to stay where you are right now. But by God's grace you can go forward to serve the Lord in the future.
God's best to you always,
To sign up for Pastor Ray's free weekly sermon email list, click here. You can find his daily weblog, online sermons, travel schedule, and other resources at www.keepbelieving.com. You can write Pastor Ray at [email protected].