Bible Question:

I have been in the ministry for some 25 years. After a spiritual fall, my time and ministry have come to an end. I have made peace with Jesus, and I have a relationship with Him again. But I have a longing to be active in ministry again. Will I have a calling for the rest of my life and looking/waiting for a another opportunity or has my life/responsibility come to an end?

Bible Answer:

The answer to your question depends upon the reason why you left the ministry. A man or woman is disqualified from the ministry for either a) not believing in God, b) a pattern of sin in his or her life, or c) a “major sin.”

Unbelief

It is amazing to see men who have been in ministry for years finally one day realize that they are not real Christians and then ask God to forgive their sins and submit their lives to Him. Yet, we should not be surprised. There are many people who write commentaries about the Bible, preach from pulpits, and teach in churches and seminaries who are secular writers, false teachers, and do not understand the very Bible they claim to know. Some of them are even on the radio and television. Jesus predicted this would occur.

There are many who are not qualified for the very ministry in which they are involved. If a man does not believe that Jesus is God, if he has not mourned over his sin, asked God to forgive his sins; and if he has not submitted himself to Jesus, then he is disqualified and should step down from ministry. if he does respond by believing and submitting himself to God, then he needs to step down for several years because he is baby Christian. He is a baby Christian because the Holy Spirit has not previously been able to work in his life to transform him. The fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) has not been growing, for he has been spiritually dead until he believed. Unfortunately, many believe that a knowledge of the Bible makes a man spiritual and qualifies him to be a spiritual leader. If that were true then the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes were spiritually qualified. No seminary, Bible college, or Bible Institute can make a man or woman spiritual. Only the Holy Spirit can change the heart.

Patterns of life

Continuing patterns of sin also disqualify a man or woman from ministry. These include habitual patterns of gluttony, displays of anger, lording it over others, gossip, physical violence, lying, and divisiveness, for examples. A more comprehensive list can be found in Galatians 5:19-21. Patterns of sin are not always obvious and require time to discover.

Matthew 18:15-18 describes a process to follow in helping a fellow follower of Jesus to stop sinning. Galatians 6:1 encourages us to be humble and caring in dealing with a sinning Christian, and 1 Timothy 5:20-21 warns us not to make exceptions for leaders in the church. However, this is often the case because many grow more attached to the leaders than they do to Jesus Christ. God warns us not to show partiality. When we discover that a fellow follower of God is involved in a pattern of sin, our goal is to help him or her stop sinning and not excuse him or her.

Major Sins

While God does not say that some sins are greater than others, it is clear that some sins carry greater judgment. Sodom and Gomorrah received God’s special judgment in Genesis 18-19 because their sin was “exceedingly grave.” It was the sin of homosexuality. This was clearly a pattern of sin in their lives.

And the LORD said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.” (NASB) Gen. 18:20

The great prophet and friend of God, Moses, was disqualified by a single act of disobedience in Numbers 20. The goal of Moses’ ministry was to take the Israelites to the Promised Land. That was his commission. That was his ministry. But because of his sin, God told him that he could not enter the Promised Land. Moses pleaded with God in Deuteronomy 3:23-26 and then God told him to stop. Listen to Moses’ heart plea,

I also pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, “O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Yours? Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.” But the LORD was angry with me . . . and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, “Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter.” (NASB) Deut. 3:23-26

His ministry was over, due to a single act of disobedience. Clearly a desire to return to ministry is not a qualification or a call to return. Moses wanted to continue (Deut. 3:23-26), but God said, “No!”

Adultery, divorce, pride, autocracy, rejection of God, major crimes, murder, incest, and other “major sins” carry greater consequences. God warns us not to be selective in dealing with church leaders.

Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. (NASB) 1 Tim. 5:20-21

Yet, the church is often partial. In many cases the church today looks the other way at sin in the church. So Christians are not afraid to sin. In fact, many in the church think that church discipline, except for adultery and homosexuality, is unloving and uncaring. We tend to wink at sin today.

It takes time for an individual to demonstrate that his or her pattern of life is free from the sin that disqualified him or her. It takes more than a few days or months. It takes years. Many years ago a pastor went through a divorce. His leadership team wanted him to stay in the ministry, but he knew he was disqualified. So he stepped down and left the ministry and ignored their pleas. Today, he is a layman in a large church faithfully serving the Lord. He is a great example of a sincere desire to honor God. He did not want anyone to slander God because of his desire to be in ministry. That is the heart of a truly repentant servant of the Lord.

The goal of church discipline is restoration. We praise God that your relationship with Him has been restored and you sense His good pleasure. That is a great encouragement and it honors God. Recently, I was involved in a discussion regarding a church discipline situation where someone suggested that a disciplined minister could return to ministry within a few months. Such a suggestion ignores the fact that demonstration of a changed life will take more than a few days, weeks, or months. Years are needed. A person who has committed sexual sin or who has a pattern of sin has been struggling with that area of sin for a long time. It will take years of ministry by the Holy Spirit in his or her life to spiritually change. God is more interested in examples of holiness than in satisfying someone’s desire to minister.

Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. (NASB) 1 Sam 15:22

Conclusion:

Holiness is why Jesus died for us. God wants us to be holy. That is the message of 1 Peter 1:16. In Hebrews 13:7 and 1 Peter 5:3 God calls leaders to spiritual examples of holiness. We praise the Lord that have you been restored that is the greatest news. Remember that God cares more about your holiness. There are many ways to serve Him. It does not have to be a leadership position where you are a spiritual model and an example.

Reference Links:

Can a fallen spiritual leader continue in the minitry?
Sinning Pastors/Leaders: What to Do?
What does a Christian do when his or her pastor sins?
Moses was removed from ministry when he sinned
When should a person leave a church?
Moses Call To Faithfulness