PASTORAL MINISTRY HANDBOOK | CHAPTER 15

Restoration of Ministers

Most churches have not developed guidelines for fallen religious leaders. The Pastoral Ministry Leadership Team (PMLT) realizes that there are numerous areas for which a pastor or church leader may need restoration. Not every area can be detailed in a document such as this.

The PMLT recommends that a specific workbook be followed in the event of pastoral indiscretion.

Thomas Pedigo has written a workbook with excellent guidelines and checklists for numerous pastoral indiscretions. His Restoration Manual is a workbook for restoring fallen ministers and religious leaders. It describes various checklists that a restoration team should consider when working with specific situations. His list of twenty topics include family, financial, spiritual, moral, behavioral, and mental situations.

Introduction

The tragedy of highly placed Christian leaders falling into sexual immorality has become increasingly front page news. The problem is not just with highly placed Christian leaders. In a survey by Christianity Today, 23% of pastors responding admitted to sexual indiscretions, mostly with people within the parish. Many others emphasized strong temptations in this area, overcome only by the grace of God.

The problems above are not confined to pastors who have a weak view of Scripture. Bible-believing pastors are vulnerable as well. The time has come to address this concern and other moral failures.

Prevention

Society today is badly in need of families who model living above temptation through the grace of God. The cost of preventing the tragedy of moral failure by the pastor is far less than the cost in money, pain, grief, disillusionment, and disappointment that comes after the fact.

Much of the cost of prevention must be borne by the pastors themselves. They need to continually put forth the effort needed to pursue the spiritual disciplines and maintain a strong relationship with Jesus Christ. A strong home life, good marriage, and pure thought life take diligent labor but are invaluable allies against temptation.

Jesus said to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). Temptation is not the same as sin, but to play with fire is an invitation to be burned. Opportunities for temptation should be reduced as much as is practical. Keep dealings with the opposite sex always innocent and above criticism.

The cost of prevention is also borne by those in positions of authority. Careful screening of applicants for national conference license from the local church and from other denominations is a first step. Credentials and references need to be checked out for any past history of moral failure. Accountability is a continual necessity, and hard questions need to be asked by a pastor’s Ministerial Leadership and Ordination Team when there is good evidence of problems.

Procedures when Charges Arise

When charges arise, it is very important that all actions be taken quickly to minimize further complications. Confidentiality should also be strictly adhered to, where appropriate.

Since the lay delegate is the spokesman of the local church, he should be the person to contact the bishop when a situation arises. The bishop in turn should contact the stationing committee and the cluster leader. Guidelines for determining guilt or innocence when charges are contested are beyond the scope of this paper.

When guilt of sexual immorality has been clearly determined, credentials are to be surrendered. There should be an immediate relieving of pastoral responsibilities. Such action should be done by the bishop and not left to the discretion of the local church. Discretion by the local church allows the opportunity for politics to enter the picture along with evaluations of the “compassion” and “holier than thou” attitudes of those involved.

All affected parties need to be dealt with. Too often the spouse is left on the sidelines while the one committing the sin is treated as a sort of “celebrity.” Efforts also need to be made to help “the other woman” to confess and be restored if possible, recognizing that often she is a person within the church.

Assumptions for Restoration

The procedures for restoration listed below apply to situations where guilt is clearly established and the pastor desires restoration. Restoration is only possible in a climate of repentance evidenced by integrity and cooperation.

The necessary assumptions for restoration are:

1. The fallen person has truly repented and experiences genuine sorrow for sin.

2. There is a decisive renunciation of the act.

3. There is an attitude of non-defensiveness, i.e. there is no excuse making.

4. There is a spirit devoid of bitterness.

5. The spouse is ready to forgive and restore the marriage without an accusatory attitude.

6. An acknowledgment of sin has been made to the spouse and family.

7. Public confession has been made to the church in which the pastor has served.

Recommendations for Restoration

When moral failure has occurred, discipline needs to be administered for the protection and restoration of all parties, including those harmed and hurt in the local church.

The church cannot avoid the issue of accountability or surrender to a siren song of “Let’s not be rigid and judgmental.” It also is not Christian to simply walk away from a fallen brother.

The goal is not to punish but to restore through biblical discipline. The Restoration Team (bishop, pastors, and other church leaders) needs to approach this task with utmost sincerity. The apostle Paul tells us, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal 6:1; also Romans 12: 17-19).

A Restoration Team is to be appointed by the bishop in consultation with the cluster leader, made up of three or four persons. The members of the Restoration Team should be mature in the faith. Team members should be elders in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA, or at least serving in ministry in a United Brethren church.

The Restoration Team does not have to specifically perform the duties, but they are responsible for oversight of the process. The Restoration Team will monitor and establish conditions and progress toward restoration and explore circumstances that led to wrong choices in the first place, such as problems in the home. From time to time, the team members need to meet apart from the person being restored in order to reassure themselves that they are not being manipulated or misled.

When dealing with the situation, the Restoration Team will also set up marriage and psychological counseling with a reputable Christian counselor, as needed. The coverage of the cost of counseling is to be determined by the Restoration Team.

Coincident with the goal of restoring the fallen pastor is the goal of restoring the marriage. If practical, both husband and wife should be sent to a Christian retreat center for one or two weeks for intensive spiritual and psychological counseling. Marriage counseling by the counselor selected above by the Restoration Team should then continue until satisfactory resolution.

When there is a breakdown in the process because of the attitude or actions of the one to be restored, the team may recommend to the bishop termination of restoration efforts.

Goal of Restoration

In restoration of the pastor who has fallen, there are four goals in most situations: Restoration to fellowship, worship, service and leadership, in that order. Before a person resumes pastoral responsibilities, God’s people need assurances that the same problems will not occur again. It is one thing for a person to repent and be forgiven, but it is another to entrust souls into the hands of someone who has not yet been fully restored.

1. Restore to Fellowship

The central goal in this step is restoration to fellowship with God and His Church through Jesus Christ. The “assumptions for restoration” listed above are integral to this goal. The restoration team helps to insure a continuing and growing relationship with Christ through accountability and monitoring.

2. Restore to Worship (I Cor. 5:1-5; 2 Cor. 2:6-8)

Accountability, spiritual care, and growth take place within the local church. The fallen pastor should be encouraged to worship in a local UB church, if feasible. The specific church will be determined by the Restoration Team in consultation with the local pastor.

3. Restore to Service

All Christians should exercise their gifts for ministry (Eph 4:9-16). Again, this is done within the context of the local church. Avenues of service should be sought out quickly, recognizing that before one can be faithful in much, he must restore faithfulness, trust, and integrity in a little (Matt 25:14-30; Luke 16:10). The Restoration Team should continue to monitor progress in ministry projects/opportunities through consultation with the local pastor.

4. Restore to Spiritual Leadership

In the final sense, this is a restoration that only God can make. The church can put a fallen pastor back into pastoral leadership, but only God can put real spiritual leadership back into the pastor. Men such as David give evidence that God is willing to do so. But it is a costly procedure. Integrity, humility, rebuilding of confidence, and blamelessness should all be present. The nature of the moral failure should also be considered. The qualifications in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 apply just as much for restoration as they do when initially entering the pastorate. A return to the pastorate may not be an actual goal in every situation.

Restoration to pastoral ministry should not be considered a guaranteed thing. One of the deterrents to falling into sin is to realize the costs involved. A pastor who knows beforehand that yielding to sin would bar him forever from the pastoral ministry is less likely to yield. These matters must be treated with utmost seriousness, in the fear of the Lord. The full authority of the Word of God and the integrity of what and who a spiritual leader should be must be upheld.

Before renewal of credentials and returning to pastoral ministry, there is to be a minimum of one year of probation, under the supervision of the Restoration Team. There must also be certification by the marriage counselor that underlying spiritual and psychological problems have been dealt with satisfactorily. A recommendation is also needed by the pastor of the church in which the person has been worshipping.

The Restoration Team may then make recommendation to the bishop, who in turn may refer the matter to the Pastoral Ministry Leadership Team for action. Recommendation is not to depend on such items as money-raising, church growth, or speaking ability or popularity, but demonstration of restoration of spiritual qualities such as integrity, purity, and holiness. Spiritual leadership involves a dedication and commitment to please God first and confront people in their sin by the authority of the Word of God, to speak the truth in love but to speak the truth. If the person to be restored is not able to do so with a clear, forgiven conscience, he is not yet ready for pastoral ministry.

If there has been restoration to the pastoral ministry and then repeated moral failure, restoration should be confined to the first three goals.

Footnotes

“How Common is Pastoral Indiscretion?” Leadership, Winter Quarter, 1988, pp. 12-13.

For further comment on the four goals, see Edward G. Dobson, “Should A Fallen Leader Be Restored?” Fundamentalist Journal, May 1989, pp. 2f.

Sources

  • “How Common is Pastoral Indiscretion?” Leadership, Winter Quarter, 1988, pp. 12-13.
  • Baker, Don. Beyond Forgiveness, Multinomah Press, 1984.
  • Dobson, Edward G. “Should A Fallen Leader Be Restored?” Fundamentalist Journal, May 1989, pp. 12f.
  • Graham, Thomas, Jan Sattem and Richard Moline. A Report to the Evangelical Free Church of America, 1990.
  • MacDonald, Gordon. Rebuilding Your Broken World. Nelson Pub., 1988.
  • Pedigo, Thomas. Restoration Manual: a workbook for restoring fallen ministers and religious leaders. Winning Edge Ministries, 2007.

The entire Pastoral Ministry Handbook can be downloaded as a PDF file.