What does a Christian do when their pastor sins?
God holds the pastor and the leaders of the church to a higher standard (James 3:1 is an example). He has given us high standards to use in determining who is qualified to be a leader (1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9). These two passages refer to the qualifications of church leaders who are biblically called elders. When a pastor or a leader violates these standards, they are no longer qualified to continue in their role. These qualifications include his gender, his high moral character, his relationship to his family, his ability to be a good manager, his knowledge of God’s Word, and he must be gifted or skilled in teaching. If he fails here he is to be removed from being the pastor or as a leader. Here is a check list for you.
Step One: Are They Disqualified?
Christians usually highly regard their pastors and leaders as spiritual leaders. So it is hard, when a pastor or church leader commits a grievous sin or is discovered to be involved in a pattern of sin, to accept that fact and realize that he might be disqualified (according to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9). We want to be loving, but if and when they disqualify themselves, action must be taken.
If after reviewing 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 you come to the conclusion he is disqualified, you might want to read the following as encouragement to proceed to the next step. Here are some comments God made about His priests and prophets in the Old Testament,
“. . . [Priests] who handle the Law do not know [God]” (NASB) Jer 2:8
“An appalling and horrible thing has happened . . . the prophets prophesy falsely, and rule on their own authority, and my people love it so!” (NASB) Jer. 5:30-31
“For both prophet and priest are polluted; even in My house I have found their wickedness.” (NASB) Jer. 23:11
“Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: the committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one has turned back from his wickedness . . .” (NASB) Jer. 23:14
“Your prophets . . . have not exposed your iniquity.” (NASB) Lam. 2:14
“. . . the sins of her prophets and the inequities of her priests, who have shed . . . the blood of the righteous.” (NASB) Lam. 4:13
“. . . priests have done violence to My law . . . they have made no distinctions between the holy and profane, and have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from the sabbath . . .” (NASB) Ezek. 22:26
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest.” (NASB) Hosea 4:6
“[Priests] feed on the sins of My people, and direct their desire toward their iniquity.” (approve of sin – their own & the people). (NASB) Hosea 4:8-9
“. . . priests instruct for a price, and her prophets divine for money, . . . yet they lean on the Lord saying, ‘Is not the Lord in our midst . . .” (NASB) Micah 3:11
“For the lips of the priest should preserve knowledge . . . but . . . you have caused many to stumble by the instruction . . .” (NASB) Mal. 2:7-8
“. . . [priests] are showing partiality in the instruction.” (NASB) Mal. 2:9
A common accusation that some hurl at those who believe that action must be taken is that Jesus taught us to not judge others. But such comments miss the point of Jesus’ teaching. If their comments are true, no one could ever evaluate the teaching of a false teacher or evaluate someone for the position of pastor. Scripture clearly teaches that we have the responsibility to evaluate the character and conduct of others but only with objectivity, righteousness and fairness.
Years ago a pastor told the church leadership team that he wanted to be the “number one leader.” He proceeded to tell the leaders that if anyone disagreed with him, they were disagreeing with the Holy Spirit. What he failed to see was the pride in his own life. He violated 1 Timothy 3:6. Unfortunately, pastors who should no longer be pastors often remain because they twist the Word of God to make it support themselves (see Jer. 5:30-31). They get a Jeremiah complex. They are gifted with words and can defend themselves well. But God is not deceived. Moses was removed from ministry when he sinned (Num 20:8-13; Deut. 3:23-26; 32:48-52).
Step Two: Seek Their Repentance
If you conclude that your pastor is disqualified, you must take action. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 tells us the pastor does not have special privileges when it comes to sin and error.
“Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” (NIV) 1 Tim. 5:19-21
This passage assumes that the initial step of church discipline as given in Matthew 18:15-20 has already taken place. The chart below outlines the various steps of church discipline. The reader is encouraged to read the question “Should I act as though my son’s divorce is okay?” since it describes the steps of church discipline in detail.
The first step of church discipline requires that anyone of us go to a believer who committed a grievous sin or is trapped in a pattern of sin. It assumes that those who are aware of the pastor’s or leader’s sin will go in private, in humility and with kindness (Gal. 6:1) to seek their repentance. If they do not repent, then you are to approach them again but this time with one or two more people (second step). If they still do not repent, then take the issue to the leaders. The leaders cannot take action unless there are two or three witnesses.
The goal is to seek repentance in a spirit of kindness. We need to pray for the individual and ourselves. We need to go not in anger but in humility desiring that our brother respond to the Lord in humility and confession. We will be praying for you that you make the right decisions.