Failure is often seen as final. People have left the church, moved away and even ended their lives – based on a self-reflection of what brought them to such a place and more importantly on how others reacted to their failure. In addressing failure, it is important to clarify the description of failure within this context. ‘Failure is not always sin, but sin is always failure’. Failure in leadership relates to decisions and actions that have brought forth sin into one’s life. In a world that is broken and people are not perfect, how does leadership address the varying forms of failure that separates an individual from God?
It has been said that there are some things that happen in our lives that we can just check off to circumstances. Scripture points this out when it tells us the rain falls on the unjust as well as the just. Then there are times where one can find himself in a predicament because of the choices someone else made. This can be seen when an assistant or ministry leader has a moral failure and their sin becomes a stain upon the church – known as collateral damage.
Now, take a moment and project such a question upon yourself. What if in your own life through a series of choices made, you failed God and such actions were then made public? Such failure can bring forth tremendous hurt to yourself and those around you. In leadership, this can bring forth tremendous damage and even culminate in serious consequences. Yet, the outcome of every bad decision is predicated on two important factors: What the individual does and what leadership does. One commentator stated, “You can stub your toe a hundred times, but you can only cut your throat once!” The church must be in the healing and restoring business. The way church leadership handles failure within its ranks and throughout the church will either make or break the church. There have been too many churches crippled because of the action and at times inaction of leadership when such issues have been brought to light.
This brings a sobering question as to what and how does the Pastor handle the failure that will come and has come as a result of bad choices made by individuals who serve in leadership within the local assembly? The most critical issue that must be dealt with first is not the individual, but the leader. The Pastor has the power within his calling as a minister of the Gospel and leader of the church to set the course as to how failure is handled.
In addressing failure in leadership, the view must be predicated upon Scripture – all of the Scripture, not just the verses that accomplish a personal agenda. In other words, how would you want to be treated – grace and accountability? What happens to your calling and ministry as a result of failure – forgiveness and restoration? How would you like people to react and treat you as you address the sin in your life, privately and publicly – patience and love? These are all important questions that can be answered and addressed without compromising the Word of God.
The first point in dealing with leaders who fail is confrontation. Confrontation is never pleasant and at times more difficult for the Pastor and what compounds the issue and can be nerve wracking and painful is when it comes to facing that long-term member, friend, confidant. However, it is when such confrontation is done in love, truth and grace that it proves to be healing and profitable for all involved and affected within the body. Such confrontation is exactly what is called for by Christ to the faithful under-shepherd of the church.
It is required that such confrontation is done without partiality and that the desire is to honor Christ over any personal convenience and caring more for the purity of the church than for individual comfort. The role of the pastor is to give all, forsaking reputation, opportunity and station of life to present every man complete in Christ as identified in Colossians 1:28-29; 1 Timothy 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 2:3-6; and 1 Corinthians 4:1-5. One of the greatest acts of love a pastor can show to his people and one of the most Christ-like examples he could ever model for the body of Christ is when he confronts someone in unrepentant sin, seeking for their repentance, restoration and reconciliation (Matthew 18:15-20).
We understand that this means a change of mind, a turning away from, turning from sin and turning to God. It is the amputation of sin from our lives. None of us can negotiate with sin – we are not strong enough! Our Lord Jesus said, “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). The Apostle Paul wrote of a “repentance without regret” and a “godly sorrow that leads to repentance” (2 Cor. 7:9f). We understand repentance. But as a leader, we must take that confession and not only guide one through the process, but be willing to carry and protect that fallen soul. It is often said, “We hate the sin, but love the sinner”. This must be applied to not only the visitor or new babe in Christ, but exercised with that fallen leader. As Christ gave Himself for our sins, as the under-Shepherd of the local church, we must be willing to give all we can through the Holy Ghost to help the one who up to the point they failed had been a valuable asset to your ministry – remember, all of heaven rejoices over one soul saved.
Restoration calls for a loving act of worship. The purpose for church discipline is not for retribution or personal revenge. It is not a “spiritual witch-hunt” against someone you have it out for. It is to protect the purity of the church (1 Cor. 5:9-13); to assure the purity and testimony of the individual believer in Christ (Gal. 6:1-3); and to guard against future sin (Acts 5:1-11). It is an act of love (1 Pe. 4:8), done in humility (Gal. 6:1), bathed in grace and forgiveness for the repentance and restoration of another (2 Cor. 2:5-11).
This is why it is deeply disturbing to hear, without exception, that the most forgotten duty today by local church leadership is the failure to lovingly restore those fallen into sin. It is estimated by some that only one out of a thousand churches in America practice any kind of church restoration whatsoever. They would rather see the ‘problem’ resign and move away than work through a restorational process. This does not mean that an individual will automatically re-assume a particular position or ministry. It means when a leader has fallen, if he is repentant and accepts responsibility for the sin; takes the arduous steps to get back up; has a focus and goal to rebuild his relationship with God; and submits to leadership, only then can restoration be considered.
Scripture strongly demonstrates the power of restoration. David is an excellent example of God’s grace and His willingness to use David after a personal process of repentance and reestablishment with God. Some doors in an individual’s life may be permanently closed, but that does not mean another door cannot be opened. Restoration is a process that is not locked into a designated time frame, rather the issue, individual, and post-actions determine when one can be restored and what they can be restored to.
This has been a call to the church. Galatians 6:1 calls for the brethren in a spirit of meekness, to restore one who has been overtaken in fault and to do so considering yourself or you may be tempted also. We which are spiritual, called of God, leading the flock must lead by the Word of God in building, protecting and restoring the body of Christ that we are stewards over.