Bible Question:

I am part of the board of elders in our church (small church, just 2 yrs old). We came from a ten year old church, but our pastor turned out to be greedy for money, controlling every monetary activity. Most of the congregation confronted him and fought this issue, but he did not humble himself so 80% of the body left and started a different church. The assistant pastor took over and we thought that was a good idea until he ordained five more pastors, none of whom had been to Bible school. Our church was full of questions - Why the church wasn't growing and why the pastors were not compassionate to the body. Why were they just authoritative? The Lord revealed to us that our senior pastor was having an affair when the woman approached us elders. Our pastor admitted that he had sinned. Now it is up to the six elders and one assistant pastor to decide on what to do about this. Of those leaders I mentioned, only two people stood by what the Bible tells us, (I am one of them) to expel the immoral brother, but the rest of the elders who are all pastors told us to just forgive and let love rule our church. I have been praying and reading the Word of God and this website which is full of answers on what to do when pastors sin, but I am so outnumbered by the leaders. It is 2 against 5. Now our senior pastor took an indefinite vacation but is still not terminated. They can come back and say that they have repented, I am not sure what to do next. I know that in leadership our main concern is what the Lord is teaching us and what the body of Christ deserves ...which is the truth. Please advise.

Bible Answer:

Unfortunately, this is a very common situation. Church leaders without a biblical grounding and with sentimental attitudes are repeatedly choosing to ignore God’s clear teaching in the scriptures, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees did in Jesus day. God’s pattern of church discipline is being ignored. Instead, church leaders have accepted our culture’s distorted view of morality and are choosing to emphasize mercy and love and ignore sin. When this occurs, I would recommend that you ask God to intervene. The Holy Spirit has to help the other elders 1) understand what God says about the true qualifications of an elder or a pastor, and 2) recognize that your pastor is now disqualified from ministry and should be denied the right to continue. Although you are called to forgive and love him, the main concern is to honor the Lord. In 1 Timothy we are told to discipline church leaders and to do so without partiality.

“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. 5:21

We are not to play favorites even with pastors when it comes to sin. If we are soft in dealing with a leader’s sin, how can we ever respond as the Lord demands to the sin of anyone in the congregation? In the early church, a simple lie by two people named Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) resulted in their deaths. It was an act of the Lord’s discipline. Later the apostle Paul warns us in 1 Cor. 11:23-30 that some are sick and even dead because they participated in the Lord’s Supper without dealing with the sin in their lives. Moses sinned in Numbers 20:1-12; as a result God told him that he could no longer enter the promised land (Num. 20:12). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was fearful of being discredited and not being able to minister (1 Cor. 9:27). If Paul had disqualified himself as an apostle, he could not have continued. Some church leaders and members do not understand that church leaders are to be examples of holiness (see 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:3). Why do I say that? Just consider the issue that you struggle with. The growing pattern is that we soft-peddle sin. Perhaps church leaders are soft on sin because they are in sin themselves in some area.

Many people do not understand church discipline. When it is practiced, many churches think that church discipline is only for sexual sins. But it applies to any pattern of ongoing sin. I would encourage your fellow elders to read “Sinning Pastors/Leaders: What to Do?” and “What does a Christian do when their pastor sins?” I would encourage you to provide the other elders these articles to read. I would also recommend reading chapter 8 of the book, The Compromised Church. The editor of the book is John Armstrong. The chapter exposes the decline of church discipline in our churches today.

Conclusion:

In dealing with sinning leaders, the leader must be removed from his responsibilities and his employment terminated. A minimum of seven years should be required for the leader to demonstrate that a pattern of holiness has been established before he is allowed to resume his responsibilities. Depending upon the sin, he may never be qualified to serve again in the role of pastor. If the other elders do not follow the biblical pattern, then it is time to leave the church or seek their removal from office. May the Lord bless you.

Reference Links:

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?