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Disqualifying from Leadership
When or Why?   

Q. When should a church leader be disqualified and asked to leave a position of church leadership? Must an immoral pastor be permanently disqualified? Should a church leader disqualify himself or herself? Under what circumstances should leaders disqualify themselves? How much time should go by before they are restored to leadership?

Answer:

The Goal of Restoration

Thank you for your questions. These are difficult issues and in many situations there may not be easy or clear-cut answers. In fact, in some cases there are no answers clearly stated in Scripture.

However, in all instances of leadership-disqualification the goal is ultimately to restore a brother or sister to full fellowship in love and dignity.

The goal is also to maintain the spiritual health of our church fellowship and its assemblies within a godly structure or framework. This process should never be done in a spirit of retaliation, revenge or with any other unloving intentions.

Extremes of Governing Authorities

There are currently many extremes practiced by governing church bodies in America. At one end of the spectrum, for example, is the view that immoral pastors must be permanently disqualified from leadership. Forever. No exceptions.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who accept a leader's repeated transgressions or a so-called "confession" as sufficient and neglect all church discipline in the process. Premature restoration can cause devastating consequences to a church.

Immorality

Part of our struggle comes because it is difficult to define what constitutes true immorality today in American culture. Webster's New Dictionary defines "immoral" as "not moral" (pg. 259). This isn't very helpful. Their definition of "moral" is only slightly better - "of or pertaining to principles of right and wrong" (pg. 339).

Dictionaries aside, our final authority must be the Bible. In the case of offenses which may be grounds for the removal of a leader there are very clear offenses outlined in Scripture and some not-so-clear allusions to misbehavior.



Clear Instances of Immorality

The Bible is clear in cases of marital infidelity, sex outside of marriage, practicing homosexuality and engaging in incestuous behaviors with children or teenagers. These examples of immorality are completely unacceptable for church leaders and members. These are immoral acts which offend God and seriously harm others.

Yet, should the man or woman who has done something like these be permanently barred from teaching or leading in their church if they have repented and stayed "clean" for twenty years? How about 10 years? What about 5? One year? Where do we draw the line?

Not so Clear Instances

Furthermore, what about the fleeting "lust" that occurs when a young woman dressed for the beach passes by a pastor at the local grocery store and he finds her lustfully attractive? What about a student's attraction to her married professor at college? What about the female congregant's attraction to the charismatic pastor? How many lustful thoughts or second glances does it take to disqualify a pastor or Sunday school teacher?

These are common phenomenon. Do they constitute "immorality" under the Biblical definition and as such require that we "disqualify" ourselves or our church leaders?

Judging Ourselves

In these gray areas we must at minimum judge ourselves so that we may not be judged later. Paul states,

"But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But, when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world" (First Corinthians 11:31-32, ESV).




Disqualified or Castaway?

The word "disqualified" can in some ways be misleading. Paul states,

"I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified." (I Cor 9:27 NASB).

The King James Version uses the word "castaway." In the context of the following verses of chapter 10, the idea is that it was God who would cast away the offender. This is a much more intense degree of disapproval than failing to maintain a list of standards in order to remain "qualified."

God has had enough of the sins of His people and He is casting the offenders out of the congregation - even killing them! Notice that it is not just a case of sexual immorality that causes God to cast them out. The offenses include: craving evil things (10:6), idolaters (10:7), sexual immorality (10:8) grumbling and testing the Lord (10:9-10).

It is obvious that Paul had more in mind than sex. So, is it appropriate to remove a pastor who complains to God for His apparent lack of provision? If so, is he disqualified for life?

I am not being flippant here. Those who would use the text and focus solely on sexual immorality as grounds for the removal of a pastor are being, in my opinion, very selective in their use of Scripture. These are difficult issues - and frankly, I do not know all of the answers.


Matthew 18:15 Conflict-Resolution

Of course, pertaining to those who refuse to confess and repent of their own sins (1 John 1:9) we must follow the Matthew 18:15 conflict-resolution passages. We are to confront a sinning brother privately. If he won't listen then we are to take two or three witnesses with us to confront him again. If he won't listen even after this then we are to bring it before the church.

Then if he still rebels he is to be treated as a "Gentile" or a "tax collector." In other words, he is to be avoided and ostracized from fellowship until he confesses his sin, fully repents and is willing to submit to church authority and discipline.




3 Examples

I would like to present three, real-life examples for you to think about: Any opinions here are just that - our opinions. Everything we believe and act upon must stand or fall in light of Scripture. (Acts 17:11). So we approach these examples knowing our limitations.

1. The Music Minister

The first example is that of a respected and adored music minister who engaged in internet pornography right in his own church office. He practiced this behavior for several years.

Finally, the senior pastor recommended that he undergo psychotherapy. The music minister was given psychiatric drugs for depression and bi polar disorder. But, he later committed suicide right in the office where he engaged in internet pornography. These were tragic circumstances. Yet, the church never asked him to step down from his duties.

Accountability

Should the senior pastor have confronted him? Should the Board of Elders have faced him head-on with his sin and asked him to immediately step down? Should they have asked him to leave after a period of probation? If they had disqualified him how much time should have passed before he was restored to fellowship in the church or his leadership duties?

Holy Spirit Replaced by Psychotherapy

We believe Biblical disciplinary action might have prevented this gifted minister from killing himself. Sadly, the church promoted psychotherapy instead. They replaced the Holy Spirit of God with psychology.

As a result this poor minister was sucked into a vortex of narcissistic self-analysis without any corrective measures to restrain and then restore him - with tragic consequences.

Self-Examination

Ideally, this church minister would have examined himself instead and instituted his own "probationary" leave-of-absence until he could make better decisions about his situation:

"But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged"…(First Corinthians 11:31, NASB).

We believe that he should not have stayed in music ministry at an official church as long as his addiction to pornography continued. Once he had confessed and genuinely repented of his sins - and taken sufficient time - he might have been gradually allowed back into fellowship and ministerial duties with loving assistance.



2. Former Gang Member

Our second example is a minister who was a former gang member whose life changed after accepting Christ - or so he and the congregation thought. After a decade of marvelous preaching, his church learned that he had systematically seduced a number of young women in his church.

The pastor's M.O. was to begin email relationships with young, married church females so that he could develop a so-called "counseling" ministry! Of course, it led to far more than that.

Inexperienced Elders

His Board of Elders consisted of young, inexperienced males who looked up to him and were not empowered to remove him. They refused to demand changes in their pastor's illicit behaviors and fell apart when they learned the extent of his indiscretions. Finally, the governing church organization fired the minister.

Unrepentant&Demanding

In response, this pastor was furious and demanded the governing organization accept his so-called "confession and repentance" by immediately restoring him to fellowship and his leadership duties. His unfulfilled demands led him to start another church less than one mile away from his former church.

Should this pastor be allowed to resume pastoral duties?

No!

He exhibited no repentance for his behaviors and zero cooperation with the governing church authorities. Later, it was revealed that this pastor had engaged in similar behaviors in other circumstances. Clearly, it could be decades, if ever, before this gifted speaker can develop a more humble, cooperative spirit and is able to convince others that he is trustworthy.

Victim-Crimes

Furthermore, he not only ruined his marriage and his example to his own children, but he destroyed other families as well. Just imagine the grief of the husbands who learned their wives and pastor had betrayed them in this manner - and the distrust of other families whose females had engaged in counseling services with this pastor?

"Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves…casting up their own shame like foam - wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever…These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts. They speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage" (Jude: 11-16, NASB)

The Way of Balaam

The Bible does not take "kindly" to the Way of Balaam - offenses that deliberately bring others down. In speaking to His church at Pergamum, Jesus notes,

"But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality" (Revelation 2:14, NASB).




Causing others to Sin

We must be cautious and vigorous in our judgment of ourselves and our leaders when they do things that cause others to sin.

Referring to His disciples like the "little ones" Jesus warns, "but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6).

Continuing, Jesus makes a scathing denouncement against those who bring sin into the lives of others:

"Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!" (Matt. 18:7).

It is in these cases where a pastor or church leader entices a child of God to stumble or commit sin, that seem to hold the most danger. It is one thing to commit a sin against our own body but quite another to provoke God to punish someone else. This is a description of the "Way of Balaam."



3. Marital Infidelity

Our third example is a vibrant pastor-teacher who became involved in an extra marital affair. Once he confessed his affair he immediately stepped down from church leadership - voluntarily - for 25 years! After 25 years he then began to teach once again. His current ministry now includes a teaching and radio ministry listened to and loved by thousands worldwide.

Yet, some Christians still "get in his face" and tell him he should never, ever resume preaching to other Christians.

Should he?

His response to these unloving, unkind remarks?

Humbly he replies, "Yes, I made a terrible mistake and hurt my family and my church. But, if God can use Balaam's ass I think he can use me again."

Before he left the ministry this pastor confessed his indiscretion to his congregants and to his Board of Elders. With many tears he repented of his sin. He worked to restore his marriage and stayed on the sidelines willingly for more than two decades. Should Christians accept this man back into church leadership?

We think so.

________________________________________________





Leadership Standards

While the New Testament doesn't always present clear-cut remedies for leaders who have sinned, we can infer from the listed "requirements" for church leadership the standards a pastor must meet to remain in his church position. In other words, a violation of these standards might justify a leader disqualifying himself if he cannot get his indiscretion under control.


"An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil" (First Timothy 3:2-7 NASB).

A "one-woman man" means that the overseer is single-minded in his devotion to his wife - he is not flirtatious with others.

To be "temperate" means that the leader lives a balanced and moderate life - not drinking or eating to excess - using moderation in all things.

The "wise" leader is prudent and thoughtful in his decisions.

A "respectable" overseer is dignified and respected by his peers.

"Hospitable" means that the leader is kind to strangers - not that he throws dinner parties - but that he is never "cliquish."

"Able to teach" means that he skillfully teaches others with comprehensible, clear, well thought-out speech.

"Not addicted to wine" means the leader is neither an excessive drinker nor is he addicted to drugs.

"Not pugnacious" means the overseer doesn't pick fights nor is he abusive with his speech or fists!

He "loves God first" - not money, wealth, and objects of envy such as fancy houses or cars.



Confession&Repentance

If a church leader has failed in any of these requirements he must do what the rest of us do - confess and repent of our sins:

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

This includes recognizing and acknowledging our sins (Psalm 32:5). We must bring all thoughts captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We need to forgive those who have hurt us (Matthew 6:14-15). Finally, we need to repent with a clear intent not to sin again - just like Jesus said, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11).


Forgiven&Forgotten Sins

Author and teacher Nancy Missler states that while all Christians will eventually appear before the Lord at the judgment seat and all sins will be adjudicated - the only exception will be those sins for which believers have already confessed and repented (Missler 2007, 80-82).

The prophet Isaiah said:

"Come now, and let us
reason together,"
says the LORD,
"Though your sins are as
scarlet,
they will be as white as snow.
Though they are red like
crimson,
they will be like wool"
(Isaiah 1:18).

"I, even I, am the one who
wipes out your
transgressions for My
own sake,
And I will not remember
Your sins"
(43:25)





Jesus tells us that we have a glorious future… "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes - and there will no longer be any death. There will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain - the first things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

I think we can trust what Jesus Christ says about confession, repentance and forgiveness - don't you? Confession and repentance is a daily, necessary task for every Christian who desires to live according to God's Word. We are asked to judge ourselves rightly - with the bible as our guide.

When we fall, offenses such as those that occur in our "thought life" and those which do not involve others, require personal judgement, confession and repentance which may or may not lead to resigning from a position of responsibility.

Offenses against our brothers and sisters also require confession, repentance and restitution if possible. Offenses that cause others to stumble, at a minimum require confession, repentance, and may include church discipline and removal from leadership.

As we strive to live diligently - vigorously fine tuning our attitudes and behaviors on a daily basis we need not live in fear. But we do have a great responsibility as God's people. Scripture promises that our day before the Lord in judgement and our eternity in heaven will bring us great joy, but He will hold us accountable, nevertheless.

Finally always remember that for those of us who have accepted Christ's death on the cross for our sins, we are saved by grace through faith - nothing else (Eph. 2:8). Because of Him we will enter heaven. Neither our sins nor our good deeds will get us into or keep us out of heaven. Jesus Christ did it all for us. Praise God!

Maranatha!
________________________________




References:


Benware, Paul N. 2002. The believer's payday. Chattanooga, TN: AMG.

MacArthur, John. 1984. The elements of church discipline. Panorama City, CA: Word of Grace Communications.

Missler, Chuck and Nancy. 2007. The kingdom, power&glory. Coeur d'Alene, ID: The King's High Way Ministries. Available from: www.kingshighway.org.




Authors Ken Emilio holds an MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Valorie received her MA in History from UCLA having specialized in Christian origins.







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