Restoring those entangled in sin is essential to gospel ministry (Galatians 6:1-2). Restoring staff is a uniquely challenging element of gospel ministry.
Christian leaders are not immune to sinful entanglement. While it is disappointing when church leaders become entangled in sin, and we should not minimize sin, we should also live with confidence that the resurrection of Christ is powerful enough to provide freedom from all sinful entanglements (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Prayer for Repentance
The first step in the process of restoration is prayer for repentance. Repentance is a godly sorrow that leads to an active forsaking of sinful attitudes and actions in an effort to honor God with one’s life (2 Corinthians 7:10-11). To call humanity to repentance is the reason that Jesus came, and repentance has specific actions that are verifiable (Luke 5:31-32, Matthew 3:8-9). If the one entangled in sin is lacking the evidence of repentance (e.g. confession), then we are to pray for them to receive the gift of repentance, which comes only from God (Acts 5:31, Acts 11:18, Romans 2:4). Receiving the gift of repentance allows one to escape from the devil’s trap (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
Confession of sin is an essential part of restoration, and as a general rule the breadth of public confession should match the scope of one’s leadership influence, with church staff confessing before the entire congregation, as they are to be held to a higher standard and live above reproach (James 3:1, 1 Timothy 3:2). Paul writes that elders who are caught in sin should be rebuked publicly, so that others within the congregation may take warning (1 Timothy 5:19-20). In this directive we learn that the public discipline of leadership is good for the entire community and can actually stem the tide of sin. Of course, the biblical response to confession is healing prayer (James 5:16).
Restoration to Fellowship
Once repentance is underway, and confession is happening, the second step is restoration to fellowship. This step is primarily aimed at beginning the process of mending relationships with those sinned against. This step includes restoration to family, including one’s spouse and children if needed, as well as close friends and then the broader community of faith. This step often includes smaller group meetings, even meetings one-on-one, in which confession can be made more specifically, and questions can be asked and answered. Picture in your mind’s eye concentric circles of restoration to fellowship, with those closest to the one entangled in sin hearing from him/her first.
During this season the leadership of the church may ask the one being restored to:
- Provide full disclosure on the nature of the sinful entanglement.
- Meet with a designated point person, for ongoing accountability.
- Carry no ministry leadership responsibilities.
- Have no contact with those contributing to or involved in the sinful entanglement.
- Begin counseling and sign a waiver so that a designated point person can speak with the counselor about whether progress is being made.
- Attend worship weekly.
- Maintain accountability with a small group for prayer support.
This step can take anywhere from several months, to several years depending upon the nature of the entanglement and the passion for restoration.
Restoration to Volunteer Ministry
The next step in the process is restoration to volunteer ministry. This step is focused on preparing one for reentering ministry, participating again in the area of one’s ministry giftedness and call. This step includes prayer, accountability and professional counseling, as the one entangled in sin continues to identify the cause/s of their sinful entanglement, and gains the strength needed to demonstrate freedom from the sin. This step takes time, as each person gains freedom from sin and experiences healing at a different pace.
This step in the process will also require sensitivity to the congregation’s readiness to work with the staff member, albeit as a volunteer. This step involves rebuilding trust and can take many months before both the one being restored and the congregation are ready for a renewed relationship. While the needs of the individual are not in competition with the needs of the whole, wisdom is needed on how to care for all concerned.
Restoration to Vocational Ministry
When trust has been rebuilt between the staff person being restored and the congregation, and only after the former staff member has been successfully reintegrated into the ministry as a volunteer, then the process of restoration to vocational ministry can begin. This final step bears directly on one’s employment, as the leadership of the church works to reaffirm the former staff member’s call to ministry, as well as discern the staff member’s readiness for vocational ministry leadership. Church leadership may at this point ask for assessments from the counselor and accountability partners and small groups members, to help discern the staff member’s readiness for employment.