by Ed Smith
Our heart is to be an advocate, a coach, to help Christian leaders in pain. Someone must speak for them.
When a pastor fails, resigns and leaves a ministry, he faces shame and pain, wonders where to turn, who to talk to and what to do next. Spouse and family members are in shock as they find themselves separated from an identity, community, and friends –usually with little warning. The church, itself in shock, starts damage control, provides some degree of care for the fallen leader and plans for a new pastor.
The fallen pastor seems to lose his voice. He is spoken to but with little regard for his thoughts. He is left wondering what is the future? Have you heard the words “If restored, it will not be to the same level” or something similar? Is this God’s word to failures—“never expect to rise up from where you land” or is it “My grace is sufficient for you..?” We are concerned about an attitude toward failures that has crept into church leadership. Rather then restoration, it is assumed that it is best to move on.
What message does the adoption of this attitude send to leaders who fail? What about the flock? Does it proclaim that the grace of God is amazing, that God is awesome and all-powerful and that nothing is too difficult for Him? Or is religion creeping in? It is said that religion displays the effort of man – not the might of God.
The Bible is all about restoration. A clear passage is Galatians 6:1-3. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
In verse one, the spiritual are to restore meekly and forgive completely. Forgiveness has no waiting period. It should be practiced on those closest to us (Ryrie, p. 149). The word “restore” means to mend, to bring something or someone back to his former position of wholeness or soundness. “Follow a positive, not a negative course with respect to the trespasser. Do not hurt him, but help him.” (Hendriksen, p. 232)
The word “to restore” means to mend, to furnish completely, to restore. The tense is the continuous present, suggesting the necessity for patience and perseverance in the process (Vine, p 290). To restore is to straighten out the problem, repair the damage, and thus to equip the offender for renewal usefulness in the church (Kent, p 168). The word means “to put in order” and so to “restore to its former condition”. (Stott, p. 160)
The wrongdoing referred to here may fall under the heading of one of the works of the flesh ( 5:19 -21). The offender must be rehabilitated, and not made to feel like a pariah. (Bruce, p. 260)
Consider Ephesians 4:32. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” The adjective “kind” indicates the essence of spirituality. The Christlike attitude results in the Christlike act (Paxson, pp 121-122). Forgiving one another is literally acting in grace towards one another, as God in Christ has acted in grace toward us (Stott, p. 191).
Scripture speaks not only about repentance but also about restoration. It is clear that God calls us to act in a way toward repentant, fallen leaders that will proclaim amazing grace and send a message that wounded are not shot, ignored or relegated to a second class position – a strong message of hope! Yes, it will challenge us, appear impossible and require that we weep with those who weep as we work through issues, relationships and emotions. But it will impact all parts of the church – seeing and knowing that the grace of God is mightier than the weaknesses of man. It will counter damage done by failure and only God will receive the glory!