Bible Question:

My pastor sinned and repented. Is he disqualified from the ministry? Can he continue serving as the pastor?

Bible Answer:

1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 gives us a list of the qualifications that a man (not a woman) must meet in order to be an elder or a pastor in a church. That means that violation of those qualifications is reason to disqualify the individual. There are a number of key qualifications. A man can actually be disqualified without having sinned.

The Principle

Also, there are sins that an elder or pastor can commit which disqualify him from continuing as the pastor. God says that if a pastor or church leader continues to commit certain sins he is to be rebuked before the congregation.

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. (NASB) 1 Timothy 5:19-20

Often sexual sins are the only sins that churches will deal with, but God does not say that for adultery the elder should be rebuked. The sin is never mentioned. Why? Because there are other sins, besides adultery, which can disqualify a man. Whatever the sin, we are not to show favoritism. We are not to make excuses.

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 Timothy 5:21

It is easy to become confused and think that church discipline is unloving. They would say that we all sin. Therefore, to disqualify a pastor, especially if he is a warm and caring man, is wrong. They might say that we need to show him “love.” But this is not biblical. That is the opposite of our loving God’s clear statement in 1 Tim. 5:21. We are not to show partiality. If a man has a pattern of sin, he has disqualified himself. The church did not establish the standard. God asks the church to recognize it and fulfill His will.

What Sins?

Violation of some of the qualifications is a sin. Here are a few examples. One disqualifying sin is a pattern of getting drunk or addiction to alcohol (1 Tim. 3:3). Another sin would be the love of money (1 Tim. 3:3). This one can be hard to prove. Or, how about adultery, a pattern of pornography, or any other sexual activity that does not include his wife (1 Tim. 3:2). Scripture is not talking about same sex relationships. This passage is talking about a male and female relationship. Another sin would be a pattern of anger (1 Tim. 3:3). In short, any pattern of sin will disqualify him, because he is not above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2). This means that other sins such as stealing, murder, a pattern of lying, idolatry, a pattern of jealousy, a pattern of arguments, for example, also disqualify a pastor.

Some will say that this requires us to judge another person, and judging is not biblical. But God disagrees with this conclusion. Even Jesus told us that we can judge another person, and told us how.

Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing? (NIV) John 7:24, 51

If we believe that judging is wrong, then how do we determine that a person is a false teacher? How do we select leaders in a church? You may be interested in a previous study from the Sermon on the Mount which talks about judging others.

Conclusion:

God has a high standard for pastors and elders. That is the message of 1 Peter 5:3.

. . . but proving to be examples to the flock. (NASB) 1 Peter 5:3

They are to be examples of holiness to the flock. Another key passage is Hebrews 13:7. A man can return to the ministry again, but only after many years in which he demonstrates a new pattern of godly living. Only then can he return to the ministry. Confession and forgiveness should occur immediately, but that does not mean there are not consequences. It is like the man who commits suicide by jumping off a a cliff. During his fall down to the ground he may confess his sin to God and God will forgive him, but he will still hit the ground. God wants leaders who are godly examples. God is showing His love to His church and to the sinning leader. It is God’s desire that His saints, including the sinning leader, become more and more holy – He is holy!

Reference Links:

Sinning Pastors: What to Do?
Should I act as though my son's divorce is okay?
Do Not Judge!