November 8, 2006
Signs of a Restorable Spirit
What are the tangible evidences of repentance?
In the wake of serious moral failure, church leaders are quickly asked about "restoration." What does a person have to do to be deemed worthy of reinstatement as a church leader?
In many ways, the question is premature, like asking a toddler to decide on a college major. Too much has to happen, too many decisions along the way have to be made, a new direction of life has to be established before it's even appropriate to weigh the possibilities of restoration.
And yet, the process is important. A direction does need to be pointed toward.
Author Chris Maxwell quotes one fallen minister:
"When a pastor commits a moral sin, the magnitude of that sin is so great that is has the capabilities of destroying the calling itself, the ministry, the man, his marriage, his family, his legacy and the community where that moral failure took place. In disgrace, humiliation, heartbreak and nearly being tarred and feathered, one man did that and was thrown out of town. I was that man.
"I needed to lay aside ministry and regroup. In reality I was a man without a ministry, a church and an income. Not a nice place to be. The transition from the religious/spiritual world to the secular/non-religious world was not difficult. It was the secular world that brought out innate skills that ultimately would make me a better man ? if only I could survive the eight-year ordeal of getting my life back on track. It's called Restoration.
"During this eight-year wilderness journey, there were six individuals who were used by God to be part of His restoration process. My life now of 69 years is a valid example of the concept that even though we humans ?miss the mark': God uses people, not the religious institution to restore us back into His favor. This process is called God's grace" (from Changing My Mind by Chris Maxwell).
This man's test, the apt root of the word testimony, prompts some key questions. During this hiatus from ministry, what are the issues that need to be dealt with by the group that oversees the fallen brother? What are the evidences that repentance is taking place and that grace is having its intended effect? Here are five evidences I'd look for before ever considering any restoration to ministry leadership:
1. Is he rebuilding the broken trust with his wife and children? His marriage vows and his relationships at home were clearly damaged. What progress has he made to restore the damage at home that his actions caused?
2. Has the sin been confessed in a way that shows he understands the deeper issues involved? Confession is not simply "I've done something wrong." It's an awareness of both the depth of the damage done AND the depth of the sin embedded in his soul. Any healing will involve a sharper clarity of the motivations, drives, and character issues at work.
3. Has he taken clear and specific steps to address the deficits in spiritual, relational, and emotional health? Without identifying, confessing, and correcting the root causes of his behavior, no change can be lasting.
4. Has he willingly relinquished his claim to position, privilege, and power? Any sense that "I'm doing what you've told me to do; now when can I get back into leadership?" is a red flag.
5. Has enough time passed that it's clear that his life has taken a new direction, that repentance (the "turning") is lasting, and that the soul and relationships have been cleansed?
What other evidences would you be looking for?