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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 look like more than it 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.
Regardless of who did what, 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
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
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
I love the Hebrew usage of “restore” because it points 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 communicates into the mess of our lives and brings order.
From Chaos to Order
The key regarding Paul’s intent in Galatians is that the restoration that he is talking about is a person’s soul. He is not talking about restoring a person to ministry. Restoring a leader to a leadership position 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 person’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 place him in a community for accountability.
With the process of “soul restoration” active, there is a potential secondary concern about restoring the leader to full-time ministry. This conversation is premature before an appropriate season of soul restoration.
He needs 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
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.
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 anyone—for a long time. He needs God to restore him to Himself, his family, and the local body (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
If he speaks at all, he should talk 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 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
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
If you are working with a fallen leader, I have two main question sets for your consideration:
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)?