What are our limits of forgiveness?
I read an article in Christianity Today, written by Bob Smietana entitled, "Few Pastors Say Adultery Should Permanently Ban Them From the Pulpit."
Apparently there are differing opinions on whether or not a pastor should ever be allowed to return to a leadership or pastoral position. Some of the ministry leaders surveyed, "think pastors who commit adultery should be permanently banned from ministry" (Smietana 2016).
If there is an ongoing sinful lifestyle without repentance, then I agree that the person should not serve in ministry or Christian leadership. What kind of leader can they be if they profess Christ, but live in a contrasting way? Those people are hypocrites as Jesus said, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules" (Matthew 15:8-9).
However, we are all a forgiven 'something' in Christ Jesus. The Bible says "Jews and Gentiles are all alike under the power of sin...there is no one righteous, not even one...all have turned away...now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God" (Romans 3:9-19).
What does that mean? It's telling us that before our justification and forgiveness through our faith in Christ Jesus, we are all equally guilty - equally not able to stand in our own righteousness - equally accountable.
Therefore, we all have something sinful in our lives that requires forgiveness. We all have some kind of sinful lifestyle to be redeemed from. We all need to repent from something.
The Bible says, all have sinned and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). There isn't a single person on this planet who is worthy in and of themself to lead as a pastor or minister of the Gospel...UNTIL they encounter the forgiveness only Christ Jesus can provide.
Who better to pastor and counsel married couples on the dangers of infidelity than a person who has fallen and then been forgiven and restored?
Who better to mentor and minister to addicts in rehab than someone who has turned from that lifestyle and remained faithful in their sobriety?
Who better to pastor those in need of a Savior than one who has turned from their sin?
Did you know this??
You are guilty of everything covered under the law.
What?!? I've been good. I've only messed up in small ways. I'm fit for ministry. I'm fit to lead. I'm eligible to be a pastor.
Well, the Bible says, "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10).
So, no matter what, we are all guilty and in need of forgiveness. Once we understand the amazing grace that God offers us, we can humbly love others and freely forgive them.
What does that have to do with pastors who mess up?
Shouldn't they have known better??!?!?
Yes. Absolutely. They should have known better. They blew it big time.
BUT - part of the problem is our idolization of our leaders. We place pastors and teachers on some kind of pedestal, elevating them beyond the realistic truth that they are only flawed humans. I don't care if you've got 7 books on the NY Times best seller list. I don't care how many tens of thousands of people listen to your messages every week. I don't care how many lives have been changed as a result of your ministry (well, I do care...but I'm trying to make a point here). Regardless of what your ministry accomplishment are, they aren't your doing. They aren't because of your talent or gifts. They are a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit working through you, in spite of the fact that you're a sinful human.
Pastors sin. Church leaders sin. Ministers sin. Priests sin. But as leaders, they cause incredible heartache, disillusionment, pain, and anger when their congregants learn of some sort of secret sin like an affair.
Part of that is our fault as congregants. We have to keep things in perspective. There is only ONE person who has ever lived a sinless life. That person is Jesus. Aside from Him, pastors and leaders will sin. Hopefully not in big ways like adulterous affairs, but still they are flawed and prone to stumble.
Keys to protecting our spiritual leaders.There are things that need to happen to help keep pastors and leaders from big falls.
-Pray for your leaders.
-Pastors, get into an accountability group with other leaders/pastors/elders.
-Church leaders, put boundaries and guidelines in place to help protect your leaders (for example, no two people of the opposite gender should ever be alone together unless they are married)...boundaries like that will help to keep your pastors above reproach.
-Pair up females in need of counseling or prayer with females in your church and males with males.
-Be proactive with these and other boundaries that will keep your leaders free from temptation.