Restoration to the office of minister after a fall?


Can I share with you a great nugget Diane Langberg shared with me last week from Ezekiel? It was so good that I thought I’d like to share it here as a little snapshot of our AACC talk yesterday in Nashville.

Background: Diane has been thinking and writing about abuse of power and the impact of Christian leaders feeding on the sheep. Together and individually we have talked with churches about whether pastors who abuse or have significant moral and public falls should be restored to the office they formerly held. If you read the existing literature, authors fall into two camps: yes and never.

Now, consider this text: Ezekiel 44. Verse 10 speaks of the sins of the Levites (church leaders), “who wandered from me after their idols…” These leaders, “must bear the consequences of their sin.”  However, verse 11f says, “They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and serve them. But because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the house of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin…They are not to come near to serve me as priests nor come near any of my holy things or my most holy offerings; they must bear the shame of their destestable practices.”

If we apply this to falling after idols in our world, it sounds like the answer is yes there can be restoration to some forms of ministry but not to the most important or highest offices where the person represents the voice of the Lord. Senior pastors who fall from their position may (if repentant) be restored to lower level, nearly lay ministries but must not be returned to the highest offices in the church.

What do you think of this interpretation for today?  

7 Comments

Filed under Biblical Reflection, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring, Repentance

7 responses to “Restoration to the office of minister after a fall?

  1. Lana

    I don’t have an interpretation or an answer. I have a question. Though the scripture of the O.T. is good, what does the N.T. say about this issue? The Old Covenant being fullfilled in the New Covenant of Christ? I’m curious to others’ thoughts regarding this. The only N.T. scripture that comes to mind is when Jesus restored Peter: “If you love me, feed my lambs.” Would this apply in the situation of fallen leadership?

  2. Wow, this is such a great passage. I like the idea that restored individuals can still be used by the Lord, although not in their former capacity. It is a reflection of God’s grace and justice, and illustrative of the concept, “you reap what you sow.” Paying the price for one’s behavior does not necessarily eliminate you from further ministry.

    As for Lana’s question, if I’m recalling the narrative correctly… Paul made it clear to the church at Corinth that they should treat a certain man as a pagan because of his immoral behavior with his father’s wife. Several commentators suggest that the man in question was possibly a leader in the church at Corinth. Paul later writes to restore the man to fellowship because of his repentance. Paul however does not say anything about restoring him to leadership (assuming that inference is correct).

    Does restoration to fellowship provide for restoration to office as well? In the case of Peter, which Lana cites, Jesus not only restored Peter to fellowship, He inspired him to greatness. Paul however only restored the man to fellowship. I’m thinking that repentance is (almost) always to be followed by restoration to fellowship, but that restoration to office is conditional upon the sin.

  3. Bob, I wonder if the difference between Peter and the man Paul was talking about was the publicness of the sin as well as the impact on the sheep. One could argue that Peter’s unfaithfulness didn’t really have an impact on the sheep. God seems to have much condemnation for those shepherds who “feed on the sheep”.

  4. Desiree

    Phil,
    I love the discussion. Without deep study, I answer yes to agreeing with the interpretation. The biblical text is one story. Yes, there is a OT and NT covenant however, One God with one plan to redeem humanity back to himself. Leadership holiness is critical in both OT and NT. Ezekiel 34 God gives woes to the shepherds, they were bad shepherds and Jesus calls himself the, “Good Shepherd” revealing God’s Heart for his people to be lead, loved, and cared for in everyday life situation. This topic is a much needed discussion. I worked under a fallen pastor who was allowed to keep his pastored since he went to counseling. Even though the big “sin” seem to be under control the fumes of sin continues in abusiveness in his home life and managing the ministry staff. Because the church was very progressive, growing with thousands of members, and elder board was designed by the pastor; no one touched him. He really loved God as best could, but he is the Shepherd who effects thousand in his preaching , teaching, and action. As you are suggestion, should the a fallen pastor be allowed to return as Leadership? Just because he goes to counseling, does not mean he is healed in area that effects the people. I agree with interpretation to restore to lay ministry.

  5. Bob B.

    Phil, good point. I’m wondering though how you would define “feed on the sheep?” Is there a way to define this that encompasses not only the obvious (ie, a pastor who commits adultry), but also includes the less obvious (ie, poor communication leading to a family leaving the church)? In both examples, the sheep were fed upon and injury occured to individuals, the congregations, and in the case of the first example, the denomination. Is there a simplistic, broad definition for “feeding on the sheep?”

  6. Feeding on the sheep is when leaders use the sheep for their own devices. That could be playing on the good graces of a wealthy member to get bigger donations, sexual abuse, adultery, etc. Poor communication might not fit, but then again it might fit if it was done for the feeding of the leader. Realize this imagery is from Ezekiel 34 where the shepherds are using the wool, slaughtering choice flock, eating curds instead of protecting and caring for the sheep.

  7. Lana

    I’m enjoying reading this discussion. Thanks for all the input. Diseree, I actually read Ezekiel 34 Sunday morning and found it fasinating as it connects with this blog dialog. “Feed my sheep” vs. “Feeding on my sheep.” Quite the challenge for those in leadership. I guess that’s why Paul warns that not too many people should desire to be teachers (or leaders). It’s a tough job and full of temptations to feed on sheep (I’ve seen pastors build their own pride and power and demand to be served) instead of feeding and and serving their flock.

    And yes, I think I’m concluding the same Bob: restore to ministry is a possibility, but to “office” is a stickier, more individual church’s decision based on many factors (i.e. repentence). All the more important for the “Restoration Team” idea.

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