Everywhere one looks in the church at large today, there are stories of once-powerful spiritual leaders who did something or were accused of something or offended someone that lead to their removal from ministry, either by their own choice or that of someone else. Most often, when this happens, the former leader is subjected to public shaming and the equivalent of the scarlet letter “A” emblazoned on their ministry, if not on them personally.
As we wrote the re.CLAIM.ing book, we heard many stories of men and women whose stumble, failure, or earthquake had gravely wounded other people, and sometimes entire churches and movements. However, equally stunning was the number of men whose ministry had been shipwrecked either by their own actions or the actions of another and they found no place of grace in which to land.
A Safe Place to Land
We have some friends who fly under the radar in their ministry of restoration due to the negative publicity sometimes attached to those who fail for whatever reason. Their leader makes a good distinction based on some old evangelical language. He talks about how we often debate whether people can fall from grace. I certainly believe that God can keep that which he saves until the day of redemption, but there are untold numbers of stories of people falling from grace where the church is concerned.
These folks served the church their entire life and did much good. At some point, for whatever reason, their lives and ministries, as Paul the apostle described it, were shipwrecked. One who was a person of grace – teaching, loving, pastoring, mentoring, or serving the body with great grace – finds themselves facing an uncertain future separated from their support systems and unsure of where to turn. At a time when they need grace as they have never needed it before, they find that in the church world, it truly feels like they have fallen beyond the reach of grace.
My restoration friend tells me that herein is the dividing line that proves what we truly believe about grace. When it feels like one has fallen from grace, will you be the one who steps up and helps them to fall IN grace? The simple reality is this: when a person has harmed the body of Christ after giving it his all for an entire career, or when he has sabotaged his marriage in a moment of weakness, or when he has been outed by a besetting sin or habit, that is when he needs grace more than at any time in his life. Sadly, it is also the time when the body of Christ has never been less equipped to help him fall into grace instead of fall from grace.
Being a Person of Grace
What any church leader that falls needs at that moment is a friend. He or she needs a place of safety. They need someone who is still on their team when they have nothing left to offer. That is the moment they need a place of grace and a person of grace to cushion their landing.
I am in no way suggesting there should be no consequences to sinful actions or that you should pat them on the head and send them on their way. However, I am an advocate that the Father is the one who disciplines His children; and church, while not getting in the way of that, should be a place where broken and hurting people can find grace. Does that describe you and the church of which you are part? If not, consider some simple things you can do the next time you hear a church friend has gone through a divorce, gotten into some trouble, lost a job, or suffered some other type of setback or implosion.
You may not agree with what they did; chances are, you will not. However, you can still be a friend. Being a friend means going out of your way to stay in contact with them. Being a person of grace means taking the initiative to make sure they do not fade away. Saying, “Call me if you need anything” is not the answer. To be a friend, you have to pursue them.
- Have the first conversation. When you have been wounded or you have been outed or you have been fired, it’s hard to know who is sitting in judgment and who is a true friend. Sometimes, the path of least resistance is to say nothing because you don’t know what to say. That is the wrong answer. Say something to them, even if it is “I don’t know what to say, but I am sorry you are hurting.”
- Don’t promise what you cannot deliver but offer what you can. If they are separated from their family, invite them to dinner a couple of times per month. If they need a job, put the word out in your network. Vouch for them. If they are isolating, invite them into your world and workflow. If they are looking for housing, do your best to connect the dots.
- Pay attention to the little things. When they come to church, do they sit by themselves? Invite them to sit with you and to share a meal after church. Invite them to your small group.
This is a very short list but I hope it will trigger your own thinking. My co-author in re.CLAIM.ing – A Handbook for Developing a Restorative Culture in Your Church told some stories that honestly, I did not remember, but they were little things I and others did that made he and his family believe there were still people of grace in the church. Those little things may very well be the difference between a friend falling from grace and falling into grace.
Do you have more questions about helping others through restorative ministry? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.
Do you know someone who needs grace and help after a fall or ministry implosion? How can you help? Can you tell us about them so we can reach out also?
2 thoughts on “Falling Into Grace”
Extending Grace to a fallen pastor is not easy especially when he has left a brokenness to so many church members and the church body.
I am a member of a church with no pastor, no shepherd. His wife remains and thankfully the church has extended grace to her.
It has been over a year and yesterday the pastor search committee dissolved and have given up the search.
I am praying for direction for myself to know if I should seek another body of believers to join. When I said this to one of the remaining ministers his reply was: ” Following God’s plan is a daily prayer for me. I feel that should be my lifelong focus.” Well, yes, it is my lifelong focus as well, but as you know doing and knowing the will of God does not always come easy. I felt he was being condescending and dismissive.
The church is hurting, attendance was falling before the closure and now is very low. Like it is said “we are all like sheep and have gone astray”. Jesus is my Shepherd, but I am older, more experienced. and “tougher” than most. But Jesus knew we needed a shepherd to lead the church and now the “sheep” are just wondering around and many are finding new flocks to join.
I know that prayer is the key. Reading God’s word and not only talking to God, but listening as well is how to know his will. ( I use to say that I wish He would just send me a postcard with what He wants me to do. It would be easier. Had to stop saying that because now I am afraid it would get lost in the mail! )
I have ordered your book and look forward to receiving it. I thank God for you and your willingness to share and be a help to others. I re-read the section on prayer in your first book from time to time. I believe that if more churches would focus more on prayer the work of the church would be more pleasing to God and much more effective in the community and world.
I am sorry for the delay in responding. I have been sick, probably covid, but feeling a little better now. I am so sorry for both you and your church to be hurting so. If you think I can be of help in any way, I would be glad to drive down at my own expense and spend some time with your leaders to just encourage and give them some hope. Let me know if I can do anything at all. Lori and I love you and think of you often. Have a blessed day.