We have experienced the past few years the meteoric rise of several national leaders, who gained a large following, only to become disqualified from ministry due to moral failures.
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Perhaps this is nothing new but only seems like a lot of leaders are falling. Maybe the explosion of social media is why our collective awareness of these fallen leaders make it seem like more than it really is. And because “not as popular” local leaders do not have a large following, there is less public knowledge about their misdeeds.
If there were statistics for these leaders, big and small, we’d probably learn that sin does not respect one kind of leader over the other, and all eras are about the same.
You may want to read:
- Eight Ways to Know a Person Is Changing
- The Hardest But Best Way to Help Someone Change
- The Doctrine of Repentance
Regardless of who did what when, the question remains: how are we to think about restoring a fallen Christian leader? The primary text in such a discussion is Galatians 6:1-2 where Paul said,
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. – Galatians 6:1 (ESV)
And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. – Mark 1:19 (ESV)
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. – Hebrews 11:3 (ESV)
I love the Hebrew usage of “restore” because it reflects back to the Genesis account of creation where the Lord spoke His Word and created something fantastic (e.g., Genesis 1:3). He spoke into the chaos and brought order, which is a picture of what He does for us. He speaks into the chaos of our lives and brings order.
The key regarding Paul’s intent in Galatians is that the restoration he is talking about is a person’s soul. He is not talking about restoring a person back to ministry. Restoring a leader to ministry and restoring his soul are two entirely different things. Paul was talking about a man being caught in sin and the burden upon Christians (those who are spiritual) to cooperate with the Lord in putting him back together again.
A fallen leader needs mending, restoring, and the righteousness and holiness of Christ created in him (Ephesians 4:24). There must be men and women willing to come alongside the former leader to bring this kind of restoration. It is a process, not an event.
Hidden things were going on in the leader’s heart that was not detected. It could be that people saw things that were wrong with the leader, but nobody was able or willing to bring corrective, restorative care to him. Then he fell.
Now he is a fallen leader, and you don’t want to make the same mistakes again. If your goal is to restore his soul, you must practically resolve the preexisting problems of “hidden things,” plus create communal accountability.
- Are there competent people surrounding the former leader who can discern him insightfully enough to help him?
- Are there competent people surrounding the former leader willing to bring corrective, restorative care to him?
With the process of “soul restoration” active, there is a potential secondary concern about restoring the leader back to full-time ministry. This conversation is premature before an appropriate season of soul restoration.
He needs for God to fix him without the carrot of “ministry ambition” dangled in front of him. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, there are fifteen qualifications for pastoral ministry; all of them but one (teaching) have to do with a person’s character.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be…
(1) above reproach,
(2) the husband of one wife,
(7) able to teach,
(8) not a drunkard,
(9) not violent
(10) but gentle,
(11) not quarrelsome,
(12) not a lover of money.
(13) He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
(14) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
(15) Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. – 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (ESV)
There is no way for anyone to discern a person’s character without spending an extended period of “close up” time with him. It would not only be premature, but it would be foolish to be talking about a ministry position in his foreseeable future. That kind of discussion does not serve him or the body of Christ, especially those who would be under his shepherding care, including his family.
If he has proven that he cannot shepherd his own soul, anyone who places him over others is culpable for the danger, risks, and potential harm that it may cause.
The best thing the leader could do is find a 9 to 5 job somewhere, join a local church, submit himself to a team of restorers in that local church, while asking the Lord to fix whatever is in disrepair in his soul.
Popularity and fan appeal are typically the things that usher the leader to the head of the celebrity preacher class. You don’t want to make that mistake again no matter how charismatic or articulate he may be. He does not need to be on a platform, in front of any people, for a long time. He needs God to restore him back to Himself, to his family, and to a local body (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
If he speaks at all, he should speak from a broken and contrite heart about what he did (Read Psalm 51), not with a tone of victimization or a strategy to reboot his ministry. Whether he ever preaches another sermon is of no importance at this time. The crucial matter at hand is an authentic brokenness before God.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 (ESV)
Pity, Pray, and Watch
Nobody should be critical of a former leader if the leader is walking out repentance. Each time I hear of a fallen leader, my soul is sad for him, his family, and those he served. And I am soberly alerted to how easy it is for me to sin. Demonstrating biblical pity, humble praying, and personal introspection are the things we should be doing.
Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. – John 8:7 (ESV)
Call to Action
If you are working with a fallen leader, I have two main question sets for your consideration:
- How do you know you are discerning the leader’s heart? What processes do you have in place that give you your best shot at truly knowing the kind of person he is? Do you have insightful and objective data about his soul?
- Are there individuals able to speak into his life? Does he allow them to speak into his life? Is he a humble receiver of corrective, restorative care? Are there two or three people in his closest community with the courage, compassion, and competence to speak into his life? Is it happening?
For those who are not part of the former leader’s restoration process or you’re not in his closest community sphere, are you guarding your heart and life against falling into sin while praying for this fallen leader? Are you refraining from criticizing him as though you’re any different, apart from the grace of God (Matthew 7:3-5)?
Also published on Medium.