In recent weeks there have been sad and public accounts of pastors removed from their positions after being caught having sex with someone not their spouse. These pastors (mostly men) are gifted speakers, writers, and leaders. They are good at what they do. It
seems is a shame that they no longer use those gifts to lead God’s people. It is also a shame that God’s good name and the spouse/kids are dragged through the mud.
But can there be redemption? Could the pastor who loses integrity regain it and with it regain a pastoral position again? After all, we are all sinners and no pastor ever is without sin. Indeed, it seems God uses those who are moral and ethical disasters to lead his church. There’s David the rapist and murderer, S/Paul the terrorist, Abraham the liar, and Peter the wishy-washy, self-protective and impulsive “rock” of the church. Certainly, if God uses these people to write huge portions of Scripture and to build the church then why can’t a pastor who strays also be used by God?
No reason…any some possible reasons at the same time.
First, let’s call “affairs” with congregants what they are–pastoral sexual abuse. Now, not all sexual activity between a pastor and a congregant are the same. Having sex with a person you are counseling is not the same as developing a relationship with someone who is a bit more your equal. And yet, both would still not be an affair but an abuse of the position of pastor since the pastor has the obligation and moral responsibility to protect the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep.
Reason 1: The greater the misuse of power, the less likely a power holder should get that power back. An accountant who steals money is less able to return to being an accountant than a painter is returning to another painting job who happened upon some money on a desk and took it.
Stories of redemption in the Bible aren’t road maps for what should happen today. They tell us much about the amazing grace God bestows on sinners, but they don’t tell us what we should do when we encounter a fallen pastor. In fact, if we want to stack up the restored leaders in the Bible against the cursed leaders, I think our few positive examples of restoration would be vastly outnumbered by the stories of permanent removal. And on top of stories, we have some very serious warnings about bad shepherds (Jer 23, Ezek 34, 44, Matthew 23). The Ezekiel 44 passage denies false shepherds from ever speaking for God ever again but does show kindness in allowing them to help out with the sacrifices.
Reason 2: Human gifting does not necessarily lead to spiritual authority and leadership. Value to the kingdom continues even if “ministry” is only that of behind the scenes support services.
Finally, desire for the position is not always evidence of readiness. Recall in Acts 8 that there was a magician name Simon who wanted the ability to cast out demons like the apostles. He must already have had some capacity as he was famous. But he wanted more. He wanted the position of power. When confronted he begs for mercy and help.
Reason 3: Tears, passion, vision, and drive are not enough of a reason to place someone back into public ministry.
Now, none of these reasons are enough to always say no to return to pulpits after sexual infidelity. While a return may not be probable, it can be possible. Every situation is unique. That said, unless the disgraced pastor has evidenced many of the signs of repentance (taking full ownership, accepting consequences, giving up control over recovery process/submitting to the work of therapy, seeking accountability, pursuing utter transparency, and not placing demands to return to the position) for a long season, it is doubtful that a return to leadership is right. Frankly, one of the best signs of repentance is not being so worried about reputation and not seeking a return to a previous level of ministry.