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Thursday, July 16, 2009

When Leaders Fall: What Must We Do?

1Cor.13:11-Finally, brothers rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Gal. 6:1-Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Over the course of my life with Jesus I have had the sad experience of witnessing, and sometimes, walking through chaotic fire with Christian leaders who have stumbled and fell because of sin. With many, the results were devastating to them, those they loved, and those who trusted them. The pain for a few involved can be excruciating to the degree they even leave the faith as a result.

I am doing so again these days.

Most of us are well aware, I think, that leaders in the church are held to greater standards because of the amount of trust given them to lead. They are granted unique influence and power in the lives of people who follow them. People assume integrity and feel safe under their leadership. They count on substance and strong character.

Church leaders are expected to exemplars: real people, but Christ-like to a different degree than the rest of us it seems. Nevertheless, leaders should be people we can look up to, even with feet of clay. Only Jesus is Jesus, remember.

And our expectations can be wildly unrealistic and tragically unfair. Leaders suffer when that is the case.

The harder issue, I realize, has to do with what a church and other leaders within it do when someone in their ranks, perhaps the senior leader falls. What should be our response? Unfortunately, I have not witnessed well-handled crises like this. I am sure there are good examples, but I have not been privy to them, at least as I remember.

To me, the central questions are: 1.) Should a church be the community in which this person can heal? 2.) How does a church help restore the fallen leader - assuming he or she wants it? These are complicated questions I know, but a way forward is possible.

I understand that, depending on the reason for the fall, great care needs to be taken. For instance, sexual sin involving another member of the congregation will require much wisdom, prayer, and dialogue to respond well. And no one should be put in harm's way because of the leader's sin. Forgiveness is not foolishness.

No matter the leader's type of fall, there also needs to be time given for the initial trauma wear off and to healed in the church. It may take awhile. People must be able to process their conflicted emotions over the crisis. There will be all sorts confusion and turmoil to calm. The unthinkable has happened and people need to make some sense of it to feel safe.

So, should the church be the community in which a fallen leader can heal? According to Paul the answer looks to be yes. He is writing to people in community as the church. He says that restoration is to be the goal and that people who are spiritually mature should take the lead in making that happen. Although leaders have a particular influence in the community they are also a part of it and should benefit from the grace God gives to everyone. The restoring should be done as gently as possible without glossing over the severity of the sin. The goal is living at peace with one another, a hallmark of the Kingdom of God of which the Christian community is its earthly expression.

I am firmly convinced that the Christian community is central to healing and restoring a fallen leader. In Christian community we all learn to deal with learning to accept human brokenness and sin in such a way that forgiveness and restoration are constantly practiced. We need to find ways to overcome our fears in this regard. By being together in the awkwardness of having to work our way through tough stuff is God's way. No one is to ever be shunned or treated as a pariah, including leaders who betray trust and fall.

The question remains how does the church go about restoration, especially when emotions are high, every one has been hurt and the sin was particularly egregious?

1. The leader is asked to step down into the care of elders or other spiritually mature leaders who have wisdom, gentleness, and discernment. He or she stays away from the larger community for as long as it takes for things to settle.
2. A prayer team is comissioneded with the express purpose of interceding for the fallen leader, the elders/leaders and the church. They are kept abreast of the restoration process as it unfolds and are commissioned for the entire duration.
2. A formal process is put in place by elders or leaders to let people ask questions, express their anger, confusion, hurts, and fears. It is done with both individuals and as a group. The goal is understanding and to set the stage of the fallen leader to be reintroduced into the community. This may take weeks as well.
3. The fallen leader must get into counseling and stay accountable to the elders as to his/her progress. He meets regularly with them to discuss what he is learning
4. When it seems right to the Holy Spirit and the elders/leaders (after frequent prayer), the fallen leader and the community meet to engage in a dialogue with the goals of forgiveness and healing. The ultimate goal is restoration to community worship and fellowship at this point. More than one meeting may be necessary. This process should not be interrupted until all that needs to be said and heard, is.
5. If this stage of restoration is achieved a support group of leaders and others in the community is formed with the purpose of deepening fellowship and aiding restoration. The fallen leader is a member, not the leader. It continues through the duration of the restoration process.
6. As counseling continues and healing seems to be occuring in the leader and community discussions can begin about his or her involvement in service or ministry as a member of a team.
7. If the person continues to get better and relationship with the community grows and normalizes the leader should invited to partner with another leader in ministry for a number of months both for assessment and restoration.
8. The final step is to begin an evaluation period to begin with leaders, elders and members to assess the leader's suitability for restoration to individual leadership responsibility at a level determined by this group. his assumes all are in agreement that such a leadership should be restored.

The process I outlined should take 1-2 years depending on the leadersd and community involved and the seriousness of the sin. Some leaders may never be restored to a leadership role for a number of reasons. Some should be restoreed to a leadership role. All should be give the chance to do so. The betrayed community should have the chance to learn how to work through the trauma of when leaders fall.

Lastly, the miracle of the Kingdom God is establishing in and through us as the church is that we have the chance to work through hard issues in a way unfamiliar to most people. We are to love and forgive one another . We are to aim for restoration of people who fall into sin. We are to live at peace with one another in such a way that demonstates the Kingdon have God has begun on the church and even peole of great influence have another chance when they fall from grace and hurt people who have trusted and followed them.

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