Can a Person Who Has a Public Failure Ever Be Useful in Ministry Again?
During most discussions about the ministry of restoration, this question comes up. “Can a person who has a public failure ever be useful in ministry again?” Most often, the question is posed by a broken, shamed, and struggling church servant who is seeking hope. Occasionally, the question is raised by a well-meaning church member or leader with conflicting beliefs, ideas, or emotions. From time to time, that person serves their church on a search committee or deacon leadership team. All, regardless of their station or role, are seeking hard truth on which to base important decisions.
The Unclear Factors Involved in Restoration
Can a person who has a public failure ever be useful in ministry again? This question stems from unclear views and beliefs about the nature of public failures and what qualifies and/or disqualifies a person for any type of ministry. The scenarios are legion, but here are some common ones:
- Robert’s marriage has been left to founder from the “busy-ness” of a large and thriving ministry. The home and marriage bed have grown cold from neglect, but other relationships look more attractive as this blind spot grows larger. Eventually, temptation and opportunity combine at just the wrong time for a moral failure that eventually becomes public.
- Pastor Alan’s injury was quite extensive, requiring a difficult, long-term rehabilitation in constant pain. In the honest attempts to aid his recovery, Alan became addicted to the pain medications. One day while visiting a church member, he asked to be excused to use the restroom. Another family member, unaware of his presence, entered the room as Alan was emptying a bottle of pills he found while searching through the medicine cabinet.
- Walt was the most-loved student minister the church had enjoyed in decades. The student ministry was growing exponentially and many were becoming involved in ministry opportunities. Since he was technically gifted, Walt also helped the youth worship team construct digital worship projection materials. One day, a student who was helping Walt inadvertently opened a computer file and discovered scores of startling images.
- Bill had struggled ever since coming to the be worship pastor at First Church. No matter the music choices or styles he employed, someone was always complaining. One Sunday the constant complaining from members and pressure from leaders to “get it right” finally overflowed, and Bill exploded. Words were spoken, threats were made, and Bill stomped away, only to be found at service time hiding in his office, shaking and unable to speak.
Each of these scenarios are imaginary, and yet they have likely happened to someone, somewhere, at some time. Stress, sex, money, addiction, pride, and other causes have triggered seismic eruptions in the life of too many of God’s servants. If this is you, I’m deeply sorry for what you have experienced. But I also want to offer hope.
The Unconditional Love in Restoration
When dealing with questions about ministry, ministers, and the local church, we have a body of truth to which we can and must turn for answers. The bible is our working policy-and-procedure-manual for all matters pertaining to the local church and ministry. Regardless of whether you are spiritually defeated, spiritually depleted, spiritually mistreated, or spiritually retreated, Scripture offers guidance.
It is of primary importance that we realize all restoration is to be lubricated by unconditional love. Galatians chapter six is universally recognized as the definitive guidance for the ministry of restoring the fallen and the broken. Those “overtaken in any wrongdoing” (Galatians 6:1 HCSB) are to be restored by “you who are spiritual.” There is no caveat that allows for tossing anyone under the church bus. The fallen are to be restored. We discuss this in depth in chapter four of re.CLAIM.ing – A Handbook for Developing a Restorative Culture in Your Church
The Unparalleled Beauty of Restoration
An example of how this process looks is also provided in Scripture. Peter’s failure and denial of Jesus is a prime example of how even the loudest proponent of our Lord can sink the lowest. And yet, this story also reveals the unparalleled beauty of the work of restoration. Although Jesus pointed out that a flaw existed in Peter’s operating software in Matthew 26:34, the full meltdown did not become public until just the right amount of pressure was exerted on his operating system.
When faced with accusers who linked him to Jesus, Peter denied, lied, and verified his refusal with a curse. Sunk so low as to be found cursing like a common fisherman, Peter realized his public failure and slunk away to weep bitterly in private (Luke 22:56-60). Perhaps you know personally the bitter taste of shameful and remorseful tears.
The beauty comes in one of the sweetest and most profound utterances found in the Scriptures. A short time after Jesus’ resurrection, the young man dressed in white outside the empty tomb tells the women gathered there, “But go, tell His disciples, and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (Mark 16:7 NIV).
Tell His disciples… and Peter…AND PETER! Was Peter a disciple? Yes. Would he have been included in the group the young man indicated? Yes. But was there a special emphasis to be sure that Peter was told of Jesus’ desire to see him and the rest of the disciples? YES! Peter was specifically and purposefully singled out in Jesus’ message. Why? Because Peter’s failure wasn’t fatal.
The Unquestionable Master of Restoration
Here is the essential answer to the question, “Can a person who has a public failure ever be useful in ministry again?” We belong to God, and it is His business where, when, and how we serve Him. Jesus is our unquestionable Master, by whom we “are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). The church (and your local church) belongs to Him, and every one of us belong to Him.
John chapter 21 details the encounter where Jesus speaks to Peter and recommissions him for service to the Kingdom. Did Peter go on to serve the Lord? Yes, he did. Can a person who has a public failure ever be useful in ministry again? Yes, they can. Those who say otherwise are free to argue their position before the unquestionable Master of Restoration.
The question is really, “Can that person who failed publicly ever hold a public position of ministry leadership again?” That question deals with public trust and the church’s trust, more than whether or not God can use her or him again. An evangelist friend of mine is fond of saying, “God can hit straight licks with crooked sticks!” That should give all of us renewed hope of usefulness!
A public failure that disqualifies a person from ministry leadership does not necessarily make him or her unusable by God. A pastor who may not lead a local church again may still be an exceptional bible teacher, discipler, giver, exhorter, or even staff person. Roles and locations are questions that hold a measure of importance; but of supreme importance is that person’s personal relationship with Christ and the church.
Restoration is not a quick ticket to a rubber stamp for re-entering public ministry. Restoration is about rebuilding a healthy relationship between the restoree, God, and the church. Jesus is more concerned with healthy disciples than heady discussions about who should or should not serve Him in what place.
More information and help is available in our book, re.CLAIM.ing – A Handbook for Developing a Restorative Culture in Your Church, and by contacting us directly through this website. Are you wondering, “Can a person who has a public failure ever be useful in ministry again?” The answer is yes, and we would be glad to help you return to spiritual health.