Ed Stetzer is a pastor who gets this issue. His recent post at Pastors.com: "When Pastors Fall: Why Full and Public Repentance Matters" reveals what's at stake in plain terms. "When you became a pastor, you forfeited the right for your sin not to be known when the accusations prove to be true."
Yes, pastor scandals happen. They've been happening since New Testament times (and earlier, as Stezer notes). And it's disheartening. But the Bible gives clear direction on how to deal with such matters. The problem is often that people don't want to do what the Bible says.
Many times the tendency toward leniency stems from a misunderstanding of "being gracious," "forgiving," and "being loving." As Stetzer says in his article:
"Such an attitude reflects an attitude that doesn’t take the rest of scripture seriously. Sin matters, and when that sin happens in the life of a public spiritual leader, great damage can be done."
Sometimes, instances of disqualifying sin are mishandled due to ignorance, or a lack of willingness to receive counsel from people who are experienced in dealing with such matters in a healthy way (e.g. Peacemaker Ministries).
"Too many leaders are not repenting in accordance to scripture and too many churches don’t know how to work through repentance to restoration. Both matter– and scripture provides a path for both."
This "clear path" comprises of three steps according to the article:
1. Repentance must be public
2. Repentance must be thorough
3. Repentance should lead to restoration.
In the third point, Stetzer is clear that he does not advocate restoring fallen leaders to every role of leadership, but to work toward a restoration of fellowship with God and with those sinned against.
Disqualifying sin not something to brush aside or take lightly. Handling it in a way that deviates from God's Word is not only abusive to the church, but to the fallen pastor and his family. For, without proper repentance there can be no genuine restoration.
Stetzer notes in his conclusion how the watching world is also affected:
"...what we believe about God, sin and grace is proven true when we treat our own sin as seriously as we say others should."
In other words, how we deal with difficult issues like this shows whether or not we truly believe the gospel.
Your turn. Is it "unloving" to prevent fallen pastors from returning to a chruch leadership role? What experience do you have with this issue? Add to the conversation in the comments below.
Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com