Rescuing Fallen Church Leaders
- Joe Beam President, Marriage Helper
- 2011 7 Sep
"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.
From the examples of some of well-known Christians who fell into immorality and refused to step down, we learned that their refusal may indicate a lack of contrition or acceptance of responsibility for their actions.
During the time that the leader is no longer leading, the right resources must be made available for him and his family for spiritual scrutiny, marital restoration, and ministry renovation.
Those who teach have great responsibility, whether they choose to remember that or not (James 3:1). Those who lead must care for and nurture the church of God (Acts 20:28). When one who leads others to righteousness fails to live righteously, there should be an analysis of what he is missing spiritually, and what areas of his life and calling need growth. To think that a spiritual leader simply “made a mistake” that can be forgotten with an apology is to misunderstand the process through which a person goes to move from spiritual leadership to moral failure.
Others in the kingdom may cast a fallen leader aside and expect him or her to figure these things out. The better course of action is for wise, mature Christians to step in and guide the process, either formally or informally (though formally is usually better). Someone should care enough to rescue those who can be rescued.
Those who are helped often are raised up by God again to be leaders in the kingdom.
Typically a moral failure does more than cost a leader his position in the kingdom. Nearly always there are strained marriages and damaged families. This is particularly true if the immorality involved another person or some type of sexual sin.
Every month we have a number of church leaders from around America attend our workshop for marriages in crisis. These are men or women who got caught up in sin that destroyed their ministries and harmed their families. We see ministers, elders, deacons, teachers, praise team members, small group leaders, and all the rest. It is not surprising if you think about it. Satan’s forces seem to come at the kingdom from both ends of the spectrum; attack the weak Christians who are on the fringe, take out the leaders who are in the forefront. It is actually quite a reasonable approach and appears to be extremely effective.
When we, or others like us, are able to work with these leaders and help them rescue their marriages, we serve God in thwarting Satan’s schemes. If the marriage fails, the likelihood of restoring the fallen leader to a position of leadership again diminishes. He may find himself back in step spiritually and again used by God, but some opportunities in the kingdom may well be withheld because of their failed marriage.
Additionally, saving their marriages may well be the catalyst for saving their children’s futures so that they do not grow up to be bitter at the church either by what their parent has done or by how the church reacted.
When churches are not focused altogether on their own pain, they think about how important this is. They are the ones who make all the arrangements and pay all travel, lodging, and fees to get the fallen leader’s marriage the help it needs. If every church made it a priority not only to remove the leader from leadership responsibility until healing takes place, but also to aid her spiritual life and rescue her marriage, we would have a cadre of restored leaders who not only have spiritual wellness, but who understand how to rescue sinners in a way that many Christians never will. Rather than decrying the loss of leaders and the decline of churches, the kingdom could rejoice in salvaging sinners – even those who should have known better – and taking the gospel to the world in a way that proclaims Christ’s love to those who are NOT perfect.
What could happen to churches if sinners in the community knew that those churches rescued sinners rather than sitting in haughty judgment of them?
If you know a minister or other leader whose marriage is in trouble, either because of immorality or any other reason, get them the help they need. Call us or someone like us who will fight to save those marriages.
Those who fall from leadership roles did so for some reason. Something was not as it should have been in some area of their life, spiritual, marriage, or perhaps even the way they did ministry. To go back into ministry without learning how to do ministry without moral failure is to potentially recreate the problem, maybe even exacerbate it.
In my estimation, not enough is done by seminaries, colleges, denominational headquarters, regions, or districts to help ministers – both ordained and lay – to understand how temptations sometimes come because of ministry. Preferably, such education and forewarning should be done for everyone entering any leadership role in the kingdom. Definitely, it should be done for anyone reentering ministry after a failure. To think that because those seeking or accepting leadership positions are such good people that they will not yield to temptation is to live in some fantasyland. Real life has real problems. Real evil exists and a real devil heads a crew that would love to decimate the kingdom of God.
I, for one, would love to speak to seminaries, colleges, denominational conventions, district meetings, or any other gathering of ministry leaders to tell what we have learned in working with fallen leaders. There are others such as I. Some of them are restored fallen leaders themselves, just as I was some 25 years ago.
If your marriage or the marriage of someone you know is in trouble, click here.
Publication date: September 7, 2011