Disqualified…

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)