Making a Comeback in Ministry

ChurchAbuse of power. Adultery and affairs. Mismanaging money. Stories of scandal within the church are all too common. It may be nationally known celebrity preachers. It may be local pastors of small and medium sized churches. It may be worship leaders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, or other less visible leaders. Stories of scandal are all too common.

Most Christians agree that eventually a disgraced leader can return to public ministry of some kind. As a religion of grace, we should be eager to see restoration when it is possible. What’s hard to agree on is the length of “exile” for a disgraced church leader. Before they make a comeback, how much time do they need to spend in the “penalty box?”

I wish there were easy answers, but they’re aren’t. I think some disgraced leaders come back too soon. I think others wait too long. Here are a few thoughts about timing a “comeback” for a disgraced church leader:

  • Every situation is different. The facts and the circumstances are unique to each situation. As we watch from the sidelines, we should remember that we don’t know all the facts or details of every situation. That means we should be slow to rush to judgment. It also means we should be slow to impose our standards on another situation.
  • Moral failure in a church leader should be followed by a “break” of some kind. More and more I hear stories of prominent church leaders caught in some sort of moral failure who are not asked to step back from ministry at all. Church leaders need to take sin seriously and model genuine repentance. This usually requires a “break.”
  • There is a difference in confessing sin and getting caught in sin. On the local church level, I’ve had to deal with leaders who were caught in sin. They didn’t come clean on their own. They just got busted. Without time to observe a person, it’s hard to tell the difference between someone sorry for their sin and someone sorry they got caught.
  • There is a difference in being sorry and being repentant. You’ve seen it on the news many times … A forced apology that really isn’t an apology. Church leaders cannot be allowed to get by with being “sorry” for the problems they caused. There must be genuine repentance for their sin against God, against others, and against the church.
  • The level of the leadership position matters. Like it or not, higher positions of leadership require longer breaks from ministry. The Bible puts a high responsibility on leaders. That means your visibility and the number of people you influence make your sin more serious. If you can’t handle that responsibility, please step down now.
  • Use common sense when someone returns from a moral failure. Pastors who abuse their power should not be restored without real accountability. Leaders who abused children should never be allowed to work the nursery. In any ministry comeback the restored leader must be willing to be accessible and transparent.

Originally published October 13, 2015 on