Pastoral repentance and restoration

If you have been around the Christian world a while, you know the reality that pastors can commit serious sin that can require removal from the pastoral office. As an auditor providing service to the religious community, I’ve seen this play out at more than one client.

When should a pastor be removed? How wide should the confession be made known? Is restoration possible? How does church leadership walk through restoration?

Those are all questions to address if you are in leadership when your church is hit with a pastoral failure.

The best article I’ve read in a long time is currently at Christianity Today, written by Pastor Ed Stetzer: When Pastors Fall: Why Full and Public Repentance Matters – – Pastors are held to a higher standard and must repent of sin in accordance with that standard.

I’ll just summarize a few of the highlights. Please check out the full article.

There is a higher standard for behavior for pastors and there is a higher standard for accusations against them.

In the first major point, that repentance must be made public, the author says:

…as far as the sin is known the repentance should be known.

The repentance should be spread the same distance as the sin is known. Some things can be handled with limited exposure, some inside the congregation, and sometimes it needs to be very public and worldwide.

As to our culture’s expansive definition of the right to privacy, the article says:

When you became a pastor, you forfeited the right for your sin not to be known when the accusations prove to be true.

As an aside, the same thing applies if you are in leadership. In return for accepting the role of being a senior member of leadership or on the governing board, you surrendered a number of your rights. Like the right to complain about anything you don’t like or to argue with the organization in public. That’s a topic for another day.

The second major point is repentance needs to be thorough and clear. None of this “I’m sorry if you were offended” stuff that our society counts as repentance. That is neither confession nor repentance.

Instead try something like this:

This is what I did; it’s my fault; I am sorry.

The best part of the article is the third main point that repentance ought to lead to some sort of restoration. What this looks like in particular situations will vary because the circumstances vary. The discussion is superb and well nuanced.

Restoration is possible.

But it isn’t easy and it isn’t quick. It ought not be cheap.

But it is possible.

If you are in leadership, check out the article and file it away in case there is a horrible, terrible day in the future when you need to walk through these issues.

Although the article discusses pastoral failure/ repentance/ restoration, I believe the discussion is a useful guide for dealing with failures by other senior leaders. Those could include the CEO of a parachurch ministry or senior leadership in any Christian organization. It also provides hints for wider church discipline, if you haven’t worked through that issue before.

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