By Alfred H. Ells

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass,

you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…”

Galatians. 6:1

Most ministers in a position of authority will at some time need to deal with a significant staff member, associate, elder or religious leader who has failed and cannot continue in the position of ministry he or she holds.  Sexual sin is probably the most common reason.  However, other problems such as theft, substance abuse, severe marital issues and rebellion may also warrant immediate removal of the person from the position.

What should be done when a person has fallen?  Ministers as a group are redemption-minded.  None of us likes the idea of having to remove someone from his or her position.  And if we have to, we want to pursue restoration and healing of the fallen one, if possible.

Consider the following tips when undertaking a project to restore someone to fruitfulness and ministry.  Restoration is a worthwhile endeavor, which requires wisdom, or the results may be worse than the initial offense.

Tips To Consider

  1. Make sure the person is a good candidate for restoration.

While many are sorry they have sinned, only some are truly penitent and willing to be restored.  A candidate for restoration must declare and exemplify a willingness to do whatever is necessary in order to be healed.  He or she must be broken.  This means that the individual must surrender control of his or her life to God and those in authority.  He or she got into trouble by living life his or her own way too much of the time.  The person who is unwilling to do what you require of him is not ready to be restored.

  1. Strike a balance between public disclosure of details and the individual’s privacy.

If the transgression is made too public or declared too negatively, the resultant shame will make restoration harder for the offender and his family while serving no fruitful purpose for the church.  A good rule of thumb is to share only generalities and to do so within the individual’s circle of influence or audience of participation.  For example, if the youth minister of a large church has committed adultery, then deal with it within the sphere of the youth ministry and the families and youth who have been directly affected.  On the other hand, if the Sunday morning service worship leader has fallen, then the entire congregation should be informed.

  1. Involve the key people in the fallen individual’s life.

No matter what caused the fall, accomplishing restoration will take a coordinated effort of the key people in the individual’s life.  If a male leader has been unfaithful, his wife, possibly his adult children, his pastoral authority, a counselor and an assigned elder as well as his best friends must be involved.  We are all members of a formal and informal community of believers.  The more the restoration process reaches into the community of life of the person who as fallen, the better the chances of success.  Again, if the person is unwilling to allow this type of cooperation, he is not ready for restoration.

  1. Appoint a restoration team to oversee the process.

Gather together a group of individuals who are willing to serve as a restoration team.  Appoint a leader, provide the team with resources and charge them with the task of diligently seeking the restoration of the fallen one.  A team of three or more people will always work better than the pastor attempting this on his own.  Teamwork allows for more than one viewpoint, shares the workload, helps break through the individual’s denial and defensiveness and provides better accountability.  Choose respected and qualified individuals for the team.  For example, if the problem involves substance abuse, find people who know something about how God heals drug or alcohol abuse.  Including a minister or Christian leader from another church who has experience and is willing to serve may also prove helpful.

  1. Have a written plan of restoration.

The team should work out a plan they will follow.  It is best to write it out and give a copy to the fallen individual.  Bob Mumford, a known Christian leader, advises the following six goals as foundational to a sound plan:

  1. Forgive the person before you do anything else.
  2. Suspend the person from his or her duties – take him or her out of the front lines of battle.
  3. Instruct the fallen person – counsel, teach, disciple etc.
  4. Support the individual and his family.  This means emotionally, spiritually and especially financially.
  5. Test the person when you think he or she is ready.  If he or she passes the test, great!  If not, reassess.
  6. Restore the individual to a place and position of ministry with your full support and announcement that he or she has been restored.
  7. As long as the person is willing, work with him — restoration takes time.

The person developed the problem over a lengthy period of time.  It will take ample amounts of prayer, humility and counsel to overcome the problem.  Restoration usually doesn’t take weeks — it takes months and sometimes years.  Be patient, forthright with the individual and diligent.  A restored leader has a life message that can touch countless other lives.  This is what the gospel is all about.

  1. Educate yourself and the team.

The following are good resources for fallen leaders.

  • Hayford, Jack, Restoring Fallen Leaders, Ventura, CA, Regal Books, 1998.
  • Kitchens, Ted, After Shock: What to Do When Leader (and others) Fail You, Portland, OR, Multnomah, 1992.
  • MacDonald, Gordon, Rebuilding Your Broken World, Nashville, TN, Oliver Nelson, 1988.
  • Pedigo, Thomas L., Restoration Manual: A Workbook for Restoring Fallen Ministers and Religious Leaders, Colorado Springs, CO, Winning Edge, (719) 598-9761.
  • Smith, F. LeGard, Fallen Shepherd, Scattered Sheep, Eugene, OR, Harvest House Publishing, 1988.