After watching over many years different Christian leaders fall into sin, I thought I would weigh in on the subject of restoration specifically. When a leader who is truly born again falls into sin there is a process that begins once that sin finds them out. The first part of the process is confession by the offender and rebuke before the church (1 Timothy 5:19-21). If a church leader is not willing to submit to the church for discipline, then they are not repentant.
Scott Brown has written an article titled, Is He Repentant over @ www.ncfic.org which deals with the subject of true repentance. I recommend this article to you. What I want to deal specifically with is the subject of restoration. The rest of this post will deal with the answer to the question, “Can a fallen Christian leader be restored to leadership?” and what does that look like. First, I want to consider how a Christian becomes a leader in the Church in the first place.
The qualifications for elders and deacons, the leaders of the Church, are listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. If you read these lists you will see characteristics which can be described as observable faithfulness to Christ in public life. The two sins that take Christian leaders out are adultery and theft. Please notice the many characteristics mentioned that speak directly against these two sins: blameless, a one woman man, of good behavior, not greedy of filthy lucre, not covetous, ruling his own house well, and a good report of them that are without.
As far as the amount of time it would take for a new believer to become an elder, Paul gave this instruction in 1 Timothy 3:6, that an elder should not be a novice because of the very real danger that a new believer would be lifted up in pride and fall. Paul also said in 1 Timothy 5:22, “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” One last consideration as far as time is concerned is the word “elder” itself. The very word means an older man. If someone would like to argue that this means spiritual maturity rather than physical age (I think it is a combination of both) I would ask how many years would a man have to be born again before they would be spiritually mature? As I have done my own survey of asking pastors, “How many years went by from the time you were born again and when you became an elder?”, the answers usually hovered around ten years and many were beyond that. Also, in those ten or more years every elder I have talked to could point to many ministries that they were involved where they were faithful in the smaller spheres of leadership. They were faithful in the little things and God gave them more.
The second point for consideration in answering the question of the restoration of fallen Christian leaders is to ask whether there is a biblical example. There is no example of a Christian elder or deacon committing adultery or stealing from the Church and then being restored to leadership. Judas stole from the money bag which led him to betray Christ which led him to suicide which led him to his own place eternally separated from Christ. There is a man who was a fornicator mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 who seems to be restored in 2 Corinthians 2 but he was not an elder or deacon of the Church. Demas is mentioned as a member of Paul’s ministry team in Colossians 4 and yet in 2 Timothy 4 it is said of him that he forsook Paul and loved this present world. There is no indication that he was ever restored. Two examples of men who were restored to ministry after a failure of faith (a moment of fear) were Peter and Mark. Peter was restored by Christ after denying him and Mark was restored by Barnabas after abandoning him and Paul. Neither of these men were guilty of theft or adultery.
The one example from the Bible that most would point to as an example of someone who fell into serious sin and then was restored is David. He committed adultery and murder. He was confronted (publically rebuked) by the prophet Nathan and confessed his sin. He is the biblical example of true repentance. His heart was truly turned to God. But before a fallen Christian leader points to David, he may want to consider the terrible consequences that David endured because of his sins. His daughter was raped by his son. Three of his sons suffered untimely deaths. And, his son rebelled against him and stole the kingdom from him. If you total the number of years from when David sinned with Bathsheba, faced the consequences mentioned above and finally was restored to the throne after Absalom’s rebellion you will find at least ten years.
In summary, I believe that fallen leaders can be restored to positions of leadership in the Church. However, I believe after they have been publically rebuked they should once again be considered a novice in the faith, a babe in Christ. They should start down the path of faithfulness in little things which qualified them the first time they became elders. After a period of at least ten years of showing the fruits of repentance, I believe a biblical case can be made for having a fallen leader return to a position of elder or deacon. The mistake that is made over and over again in the Church is restoring the fallen leader way too soon and just reinforcing the pride that caused the fall in the first place. Charisma, charm, good communication skills, and personality are very poor substitutes for righteousness, holiness, and a faithful witness.