Many people have asked me to describe the journey that led to pastoral restoration. I usually respond with, “do you have an hour?” In other words, it is quite a story and one that requires more than just the description of an accomplished “to do” list. Rather, this journey has been marked with the honest acknowledgment of brokenness, repentance and confession as a lifestyle, navigating the many layers of forgiveness, learning the new language of vulnerability, a daily commitment to discipleship and ultimately submitting to the process of lifelong transformation in Christ. It was from the deep pit of depravity that my Savior pulled me out and unleashed His great love and grace, until our hearts became intertwined in such a way that an unhindered relationship with Jesus, my wife and my children were the focus. Simply put, pastoral restoration was not the ultimate goal.
What did become the focal point of my life’s journey was the moment-by-moment exchange with my Father in Heaven that led to personal freedom– a freedom that gave strength and clarity to navigate the process of marriage recovery and give way to health within our family system. As a disciple of Christ it then became my most humble privilege to open and carefully walk through only the doors that He unlocked. (My former self was accustomed to kicking down doors in the false perception that performance meant reciprocated love and acceptance). It is hard to describe in words the joy and peace Teri and I rest in as we wait upon the Lord for direction, and when He reveals it, the amazing process of confirming that with our trusted community and accountability.
This kind of journey is the apex of Spirit Filled living. The kind of living that requires great honesty, accountability and vulnerability. The kind of living that brings you to your knees in surrender on a daily basis with the gripping awareness that the Lord’s ways and timing are often a mystery, juxtaposed to the knowledge that existence in the desert of sin is hell on earth. This is the kind of living that submits to the process of trusted oversight knowing that precious people all around you are at stake, and the assurance that Christ’s work on the cross is and always will be enough-thereby unhinging shame’s longstanding hold upon your heart.
I don’t want to go any further without expressing the covering of our pastor and denominational leaders. These leaders faithfully led the way through this journey and gave the final and extensive approval affirming God’s continual call on my life in ministry. It is no small thing to walk a broken family through the most difficult situation they have ever faced. For the commitment of those leaders, we are eternally grateful. Pastor Gary Dunahoo clearly expresses the power and significance of this reconciliation processes.
I was raised to believe that if a minister “messed up” that he/she was disqualified from ministry. However, as I engaged scripture, asked questions of other leaders, and listened to my elders, I have shifted. I discovered that… “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11:29) God has given us “the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21)
My thinking was initially challenged when I heard Pastor Jack Hayford say, “a person can suffer a divorce and at some point remarry another in God’s favor IF, and I stress IF, they go through restoration.” When I heard Pastor Jack say this, I began to see a few things in scripture that made me realize the comments I had heard as a young leader weren’t biblically consistent. They may have originated in scripture by select verses, but the lack of restoration with a “one and done” mentality wasn’t consistent with God’s work to redeem all of mankind to Himself, even those who have committed adultery. Here are a few thoughts that brought my heart into alignment:
David committed adultery, murder, was a terrible father and God DID NOT remove him from being king of Israel. If God didn’t remove David, but continued to work in his heart to restore him then why aren’t we more interested in the restoration of the person and their ministry?
I have seen 4 options of how congregations handle the challenging news of ministers who have fallen into sin while leading a local church.
- I have seen leaders do nothing and leave people to find help on their own as everyone attempts to recover their lives. In cases such as this the rumor mill goes into hyper mode.
- I have seen leaders be evasive and say the people are leaving for personal reasons and let the chips fall where they may which ultimately increases confusion.
- I have seen the scarlet letter approach, which is to clearly call the actions sin and then distance everyone from those who have fallen, often adding fuel to the file of contempt for the people who are broken.
- Or we can approach these situations with honesty, transparency and compassion by acknowledging the sin but NOT condemning the sinners. Acknowledging the failure and coming alongside the broken to offer restoration because the truth is, the Church exists for broken people.
“Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might need forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.” Galatians 6:1-3 (Message)
I have decided to be on the “restoration” side of a person’s life and not ignore them, the sin or paint a Scarlet letter on those Jesus is willing to cleanse with His blood.
1 Timothy 3:2-7 says, “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not give to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgement as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” (NIV)
Titus 1:7-9 says, “Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (NIV)
Both scriptures are true and unchanging and need to be put in the context of what God does in the life of a person over a lifetime. I believe a person can “mess up” and end up being restored IF they are willing. I came to the understanding that we are NOT to sponsor a leader that is currently practicing immoral behavior and denies it as wrong like we see in I Cor. 5. However, IF a leader has fallen the questions are:
- Do you see this behavior as sin?
- Will you stop the denial and address the issues IN your life that are causing this sin?
- Are you willing to go through the process of restoration and accountability.
Depending upon how the fallen leader responds in the process, they could be restored to manage their household well from this day forward. If they return to leading themselves and their families well, I believe they can be reinstated into ministry.
The story that greatly affects me is Jesus talking to the woman caught in adultery:
“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, ‘The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.’ Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. ‘Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?’ ‘No one, Master.’ ‘Neither do I,’ said Jesus. ‘Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.’” (John 8: 6-10)
If Jesus doesn’t condemn people who have committed adultery, but is willing to restore them IF they are willing to “sin no more,” then I am willing to be with broken people to see them restored and return to their calling and use their gifts. Salvation isn’t a one-time experience; it is a process that takes a lifetime!
In closing, I understand that there are possibly a million responses to reading the words of this blog. I can remember like it was yesterday during my season of recovery when Dr. Ted Roberts spoke into my life by encouraging me that people will most often respond out of their own life circumstances when faced with the challenges of others. I can attest from my personal journey that this is often true. It is also true that this intersection is fertile ground for the love and grace of Christ to enter in and transform the hearts of all who are willing. For Teri and I, it was in our darkest time of pain and confusion that we decided to ask God what HE was doing in the midst of it, not only for us as individuals, but for everyone involved. He revealed that it was only through allowing this healing work in our hearts and lives that we would understand more fully and walk more grace-filled toward our fellow man.
Life is a journey indeed and Christ is our Faithful Redeemer.