Restoring Fallen Pastors: Alan Hawkins
This assumes that eldership as described by Paul includes the pastoral office and requires public release and ordination into a ministry. We are dealing with this matter in the abstract and not in relation to particular incidents. Every incident requires oversight by others and a process whereby restoration can happen. The myriad of circumstances cannot be covered by a short article but the principle can be examined.
Nothing more clearly describes the Christian faith than the forgiveness of sin. Nothing magnifies the forgiveness of sin more fully than restoration. Forgiven sin does not guarantee restored privileges but it is the bedrock upon which that can be possible. Restoration to public ministry is the culmination of a process with an intent to bring reconciliation and recompense to all parties. It would end with a recognition that the offender is once again considered to be tested and found qualified for eldership.
The process calls for spiritual leadership. (Galatians 6:1) ‘Restoration’ is from the Greek root ‘katartizo’ which describes the mending of a fishing net or the setting of a broken bone. The picture clearly depicts restoration to usefulness. We find a form of the word used in Ephesians 4:12 as well. There it tells us that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are given to ‘equip the saints.’ Interestingly it could easily be translated ‘to restore the saints.’ That would concur with the Galatians passage calling for spiritual ones to restore those caught in a trespass.
The objections to returning someone to ministry are abundant. Let me just propose a few concerns that must be addressed. The full nature of the sin must be faced and owned by the offender. The restoration of the pastor’s family must be of foremost concern and just as in the beginning the spousal support is foundational to return. The complexities of returning to the same congregation are unlikely to be solved but a blessing from the former congregation would be preferable before beginning again. Nothing would testify more powerfully to the witness of the Gospel of grace and mercy than such an endorsement. However, I would not consider it mandatory as it is so difficult to accomplish because of our punishment mentality. Also all direct victims should have to have their concerns addressed and resolved as much as possible.
When a pastor is removed he has broken trust. He has broken covenant. He has violated the sacred vows that attend to appointment and ordination. These things cannot be undone, the wrongs cannot be expunged. However, they can be redeemed. Too often the pastor and his memory are expunged from the public witness of the church. Nothing is more opposite to the message of the Gospel. When a church has a fallen pastor that church has an opportunity to show the truth of Jesus to the world by reframing their message around the cross rather than banishing the memory of a offender. God does not forget us but our sin.
A fallen and restored pastor is a walking testimony to the grace of God. He then exists to tell the world how merciful and kind God is and how wonderful his love is for those who receive it. All illusions of personal accomplishment and success have vanished. What remains is simply a broken and renewed vessel. Or as Galatians puts it so well, “if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing he deceives himself” (6:3) That deception is shattered by a fall and the returning minister comes back not as a conquering hero but as a servant washing feet.
The whole thing takes time and cannot be entered into without great care and with the fear of the Lord. But to call it impossible seems to deny the Gospel itself. When someone asks why God would use a man like that there is an answer. He doesn’t have any other kind. The minister who is not publicly fallen knows that his heart would fare no better in the light of God’s holiness than the life of the minister who was exposed in his worst moment.
When I began in ministry I made vows to the elders that if I ever fell into an adulterous relationship they would not have to catch me that I would turn myself in. I had a firm policy that to commit such sin was to forever forfeit the privilege of Gospel ministry. After all these years I had to confess that I was afraid of my weakness and wanted to build a high wall against it. In other words I wanted my own little law code of righteousness. Such means never produce a pure heart. They never accomplish the righteousness of God. Ultimately, every minister who stands before the people or oversees a congregation knows that he has not deserved the mercy he has received.
Let’s get our fallen ones and bring them home to the Savior and home to their loved ones. If it is in any way possible let’s bring them all the way back into gifts and callings that propelled them forward in the beginning. It glorifies God and bears witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Have they betrayed Christ? Indeed they have. Can they feed the flock once again? Indeed they must in answer to his call. Let the spiritual ones do this hard work of restoration. Let the kingdom come on earth as in heaven.