Rescuing Fallen Church Leaders
- Wednesday, September 07, 2011
"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!”
~1 Corinthians 10:12, NIV
If we knew the actual numbers, we would not like them.
Every year in nearly every denomination, men or women who are in some role of church leadership commit immorality that costs them their positions and puts their families in jeopardy. Some commit adultery. Others are caught with pornography on their computers. Pick the sin – start with the A’s and go to the Z’s – and it’s likely that someone trusted as a leader in the kingdom of God has done it and finally been exposed.
Though we acknowledge that all of us are human, we expect one who is mature enough to serve in leadership is also one that is honest enough with self and God to live a life of holiness. We tend to see their sins as worse than the sins of John Q. Member who sporadically attends and has little involvement with the church. Therefore, when we discover the immorality of one of our leaders, whether on a national or local scale, we passionately proclaim our deep care for their souls and cry with them as they resign their roles, all the while hoping against hope that they pack up and move away as quickly as possible.
That is understandable.
The hurt, the sense of loss, and the feelings of being betrayed by a trusted person are powerful. Pretending the offense does not threaten the health of the church and passionately pleading that good Christians forgive and allow a fallen leader to continue in her role uninterrupted is not a valid course of action (ask the churches who tried that method!). There are repercussions, weaker Christians to think of, sin to deal with, and usually a scrambling to reorganize to cover the gap created by the fallen leader.
However, in dealing with the sin and its consequences, this question should also be preeminent. Would it be good for the kingdom at large if we could rescue fallen leaders rather than making refuse of them?
We know that people with unloving hearts sometimes do good things, but that their good deeds do not wonderfully transform them into good, loving people (Matthew 7:22, 23). We also know that good, loving people sometimes do bad things (Romans 3:10, 23). Does an act, or an era of failing, definitely indicate that a person with a good heart has become bad or evil? Of course not. God redeemed King David after his adultery and used him in His work. He redeemed betrayal by Peter and made him a great apostle. He can and does do the same today with those who have lost their influence or positions through their own sin. These men and women can and should be restored, but with wisdom and circumspection.
To restore a fallen leader, there must first be a period of healing and recovery.
A lead minister of a rather large church argued that because he publicly repented when his affair was exposed, he should not be required to step down from his leadership position. An associate pastor left the church that dismissed him for immorality, taking about 300 people with him, and started a new church immediately. A youth minister claimed that he was sorry for his sexual liaison with an underage teen in his group, and, therefore, if the parents in his congregation were truly Christian, they would not treat him so coldly.
Galatians 6:7-8 teaches that there are consequences for our actions, both good and bad. For a leader to stumble badly and then to go on as if there has not been a great breach in her spirituality is to ignore that truth. Maturity and concern for the kingdom should lead her to understand that there must be a sabbatical from leadership during which she can heal spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. There should also be time for the congregation or organization to heal.
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