Jamal Bryant, Jimmy Swaggart, and You: Can Fallen Leaders Be Restored? (Pt.2)

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It has been an interesting week! Nothing gets folk going like a conversation about fallen leaders.

That’s what we started last week. Now, I’ve noticed that where you stand on this issue is often influenced by where you sit.  If the issue of fallen leaders is basically theory to you, then you probably lean heavily toward grace. If you have had first-hand experience with the issue, you probably still lean toward grace, but with a healthy dose of corrective discipline. Incidentally, the two are not mutually exclusive.

This issue is difficult because no two situations are exactly alike. The clear majority of Christian denominations and Christians themselves favor restoring fallen Christian leaders for most offensives. By that, I mean returning them to church fellowship, membership and even ministry. There is far less support for a minister or leader returning to the exact location of the offense – the scene of the “crime.”

This topic defies neat and tidy answers, but let me share a few observations.

Every leader has been restored.

There are no unfallen leaders. Some fall privately, others fall publicly, but they all fall. As I said last week, the goal of the gospel is restoration. No one is exempt, including local pastors. The best and the brightest have fallen. God’s honor roll is replete with liars, cheaters, robbers, philanderers, and even murderers. Do the math: Abraham, Moses, Samson, Solomon, David. Great men, but I’m not sure I’d leave my wife with some of them!

But the Bible is big on restoration. It’s interesting that the basic definition of restoration is to return a thing to its former condition. But the biblical definition often goes much further. The restored condition is often better than the original. Amazing!

There is no restoration without heartfelt repentance.

“Repentance includes sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. We will not renounce sin unless we see its sinfulness; until we turn away from it in heart, there will be no real change in the life” (Steps to Christ p. 24).

Real repentance produces real fruit. Not immediately and certainly not without effort, but repentance produces fruit. Sincere sorry is a fruit of real repentance. Restitution is a fruit of real repentance. Clear confession is fruit of real repentance. Real repentance not only changes actions but attitudes.

I mentioned last week that I listened to Jamal Bryant preach just days after his affair was uncovered. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until he took a not-so-subtle swipe at his accuser in his message. He lost me. His actions didn’t illustrate a genuine sorrow for what he’d done. In that statement and in interviews to follow, he seemed combative and defensive.

It also illustrated the imbalance of power that is so often a part of sexual sin and harassment. It seemed that he used the Hampton Minister’s Conference platform to go after an accuser who was totally incapable of defending herself or even responding.

Restoration and reassignment are not the same.

Restoration is a return to your original condition in Christ, not necessarily your original position in the church. The grace and forgiveness that God offers freely is never without cost or consequence. There are situations where it is clearly unwise and even dangerous to return a Christian leader to a position of authority. An embezzler can and should be restored to church fellowship, but it’s probably not wise for her to return as church treasurer. A pedophile should not be returned to children’s ministry. A philanderer shouldn’t lead the singles.

The shifting of bad leaders from one location to another has seriously undermined confidence in the Catholic priesthood in particular and the ministry in general. I personally support moving a fully recovered, restored, and repentant leader to another location to resume leadership in ministry. But it demonstrates that even a move that’s good for a restored pastor, might still be bad for a church struggling to regain public trust.

A blog seems so insufficient for a topic like this. I have about 6 pages of notes staring at me on my desk, but I’m stopping here. I pray for the countless thousands who have been hurt by corruption that the church has ignored. I pray for pastors and leaders who have fallen, but by God’s grace have risen to serve again. I pray for the church.

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