What could disqualify someone from ministry leadership? Permanently?

Maybe a better question would be: are there people so broken that they can not be restored?

My hope — and I believe God’s heart — is that no matter what the offense, restoration is not only possible, but should be the ultimate goal. But things get tricky and sticky when it comes to how we do “church life”, and often people are permanently sidelined after failure. Why is this the case?

  • There’s hard work involved. Restoration is often a messy, lengthy process, and leaders dread wading into these challenging waters.
  • Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…and so on. We are fearful that people will be repeat offenders, and we don’t want the backwash of their continued failure to splash polluted water on to our “clean” reputations.
  • We just don’t want to be associated with the brokenness of others. If I embrace you, offense and all, people may assume that I tolerate your sin (gasp!) and this would be a negative reflection on me (double gasp!).
  • The church often reflects a shame-based culture. When someone blows it, there must be something inherently wrong with them (as if there isn’t something inherently wrong with me). We label those people as failures, as shameful examples of what “not to be”.

A friend has experienced something like this over the past year. A qualified and skilled ministry leader, he went through a dark season, during which he made a bad decision that snowballed a bit before he “woke up” and put an end to it. I had the privilege of walking with him during that time and since. I was so proud of him for going back to each person involved and making it right, choosing to swallow his pride and walk in repentance. The whole episode lasted no longer than two weeks, and he came out of it stronger and more humble than before.

But over a year later, my friend’s pastor won’t even consider him for a ministry role. There’s just no place for him. He’s disqualified. Worse yet, there’s no pathway of restoration being made available to him. In his pastor’s mind, he’s permanently disqualified.

Can’t we just admit that we’re all broken people in need of grace? We all need the hope of restoration. And discarding those who fail is plain stupid (oops…did I just say that?!).

Part of the problem of maintaining a shame-based, rather than a grace-based culture is that people will go to great lengths to hide their issues. Oh, they still have them. They just fear the permanent shame they believe will be brought about by exposure. My fear of marginalization usually exceeds my desire to walk in honesty.

Are there times when someone’s habitual failure should sideline them for a season? Yes, I believe so. Leaders have the responsibility to protect the community — both the one who is currently weak as well as those who could be negatively impacted by his or her failings. But even then, restoration should be the goal of a season on the sidelines.

I’ve recently been reminded of the need for a grace-based church culture in a profound book, Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. I’m not sure how this book, authored by pastor Jerry Cook, had escaped my reading for so long. But I’m really glad I picked it up…and I’ve bought and passed out dozens of other copies. Pick up your own copy and get ready to live differently. There is a world of broken people who are waiting for us.

(Photo credit: Ramzi Hashisho)

15 thoughts on “Disqualified…

  1. Tim: This article is awesome! Is this a blog? I love your writing and thinking! Great to see you in Portland. M

  2. I agree – grace, forgiveness and restoration to Christ and the church are what our Lord exemplified and calls us to do. When someone errs (sins), we are to do what we can to “regain our brother or sister”. That said, forgiveness should not be an issue. Depending on the error (sin), there are consequences – and one of them might need to be exclusion from public ministry for the safety and sake of all.

  3. Tim, excellent article and it is important for the church to extend grace and forgiveness. The most important thing in a restoration of a leader is not to reestablish them to leadership, but rather restoration of their relationship with God and others. Likewise, accountability in this process is of critical importance and restoration of a fallen leader is dependent upon their willingness to walk in humility and accountability and not be focused on becoming a leader in ministry. Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness is an incredible resource in our relationship as believers, however, there is a different standard for restoring fallen leaders to Leadership Ministry. Jack Hayford wrote a booklet on this topic, Restoring Fallen Leaders, it is worth your review. http://dl.dropbox.com/u/16064030/Restoring%20Fallen%20Leaders%20copy.pdf

    1. Roger…thanks for the reminder about Pastor Jack’s resource.

      Above you note that more important than “ministry restoration” is restoration to “God and others”. I agree. The former shouldn’t happen until the latter has occurred.

      My take, however, is that too often we press for restoration to God while neglecting the restoration to others. The person who has failed is “labeled”, and few want to risk association with that broken person. There is serious negative peer pressure that causes us to avoid the “sinner” rather than us to be a “personally restoring” church. So many have been alienated from God because people failed to embrace them with the real love and grace of Jesus.

  4. Tim – I used to think that once someone in ministry committed a “scandalous sin” (whatever that is) that they could never be restored to a position of public ministry. But the more I think about it, I can’t think of anything in scripture that would specifically prohibit this (though we could consider the qualifications of an Elder in the Pastorals). And the restoration of Peter provides a powerful biblical example of a fallen leader restored by the healing/forgiveness of Jesus. Let’s face it Peter denied ever knowing Jesus, but after He was restored he was one of the greatest leaders the church has ever known! To be sure any fallen leader who lacks genuine repentance, displays an attitude of arrogance, lack of humility, refuses to submit to authority in what could be a very lengthy process of healing and restoration should be big red flag that this person is not ready. One would think that a healthy restoration process would include a gradual restoring over time with increasing levels of responsibility as the person shows progress during the process which affirms the healing is genuine and progressing. To simply have a finite time of healing which, if completed, at the end the switch is turned on and that person is one day an ordinary layperson and then the next restored to senior Pastor is probably not wise.

    G&P – Brad

  5. Thanks for the excellent comment! Great reminder that “fallen leaders” do have responsibility in the restorative process. Maybe the church’s responsibility is create the kind of healthy, embracing environment in which that can happen readily.

  6. Tim – God job of walking the high wire on this subject. The church has had a somewhat schizophrenic approach regarding this important issue. Your even handed treatment is both refreshing and compelling. Congratulations on the new blog!


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