Over the last several years we have had quite a few dramatic examples of church leadership failure. Because of their public profiles most of us were aware of what happened to the Todd Bentleys of the Christian world. We also know a bit about what happened to them after their fall from grace.
A few years ago a fairly well known pastor in my area was found guilty of marital infidelity, for the second time. He was immediately fired as Pastor and asked to leave the congregation. I heard about what had happened but I had no contact with him until a couple of years later when he phoned me. “May I and my family come and worship at your church on Sunday?” he asked. “Of course”, I responded, “Why ever not. I would love to see you.” The line went silent for a long moment and when he spoke again there was a distinct choke in his voice. “Well last week I tried to attend a service at another church in the area. The pastor met me at the door and asked me to leave.”
This dear man and his family started attending our local church regularly and it wasn’t long before I received a delegation of several ministers in the area who wanted me to jointly sign a letter with them addressed to the ‘sinner’. The aim of the letter was to inform him that he was not welcome in the area and would not, under any circumstances, be allowed to assume any leadership position in any church at any time in the future. What would Jesus have said to these self-righteous men I wonder?
How is the church supposed to treat leaders who fall from grace? Stone them, ban them, or seek to restore them?
We don’t even need to ask the hypothetical question “what would Jesus do?” He actually had to deal with leadership failure, so we know what he actually did do. Simon Peter was the designated leader of the church even before it was called a church. Peter enjoyed a special position of privilege. He witnessed the transfiguration, arranged the Last Supper, and attended Jesus in Gethsemane. Yet, at the crucial moment, he suffered moral failure and denied Jesus, not once, but three times. The man my fellow pastors wanted to ban for life had failed morally twice; Peter failed three times. The errant pastor betrayed his wife; Peter betrayed his lord. Which was worse do you suppose?
We know how Peter’s story ends. Jesus did not consign him to ignominy and permanent redundancy. Instead He ensured that Peter was repentant and had truly learned his lesson, and then Jesus reinstated him as the leader of the church. Application of the Christocentric Principle must therefore lead us to the conclusion that erring yet repentant church leaders should be confronted, corrected, rehabilitated and then… reinstated. But what does the church usually do to its wounded leaders? … it usually shoots them – metaphorically of course and with ‘I say this in love’ bullets.