Every pastor has a private life and a public life. An inevitable train wreck happens when these lives don’t match. It seems like there have been an unusual number of messy ministry exits this year.
Today’s post is not a pile on for those pastors. Lifeway Pastors exists to lift up the arms of pastors, not beat them down. Here are five simple (not easy) steps to restoring a prodigal pastor.
- A Private Conversation
An intervention for a pastor needs to begin with a one-on-one conversation.
If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. Matthew 18:15
In my experience, most pastors will repent in this first conversation and are willing to go to the next step in a reconciliation process. If your pastor or pastor-friend is defensive and unrepentant, fall back and regroup with plan B, which is a group intervention.
- A Group Intervention
Your church’s polity will likely determine who these decision-makers are, and it may already have a formal process to follow. This level of church discipline needs to be made by a group, rather than an individual.
But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. Matthew 18:16
- A Restoration Team
This handful of people can literally make or break a pastor’s ministry in the long term, as well as the short term. I have benefitted from several of these types of pastor support groups of loving lay-leaders in the last three decades, all of which I have initiated. I also benefitted from an accountability-type of group which basically whipped me back into shape! Five is the ideal number in my opinion.
- A Restoration Plan
The Restoration Team needs to have clear objective, which is to restore the pastor, not railroad him. If a group’s intention is to simply get rid of their pastor, they probably need to come under church discipline before the pastor does.
Keep the plan simple and make the “wins” obvious for the pastor. Once it is clear what is expected of everyone, schedule a regular meeting. Most of the restoration teams I have been a part of typically last about 6-8 months.
- Offer Practical Solutions
Lifeway Pastors wants to help pastors win at home and church, so we regularly offer resources and referrals we think will be helpful. I provided a list of options for struggling ministry marriages in a post called Where Can Ministry Couples Get Help?, and also written one about depression in the ministry. Be on the lookout for a new post about options for addictions. Some restoration options may cost money, but they are a worthy investment in the kingdom.
- Celebrate the Win
When your prodigal pastor makes progress, it needs to be celebrated in real time or they may get discouraged and give up altogether.
In a recent post about pastors and alcoholism by Dr. Ed Stetzer, several resources were listed, including an email link to me. Of the pastors who bravely contacted me, I was proud of one in particular who took a huge step worth celebrating:
I want to thank you for your reply. I truly appreciate it. I did it. I went to my first AA meeting tonight. I may want to talk more with you and even over the phone. Just nervous and scared. It’s hard being vulnerable, but at the same time – I love it. Does that make sense? Anyway, just wanted to give you an update. Be blessed.
Restoring fallen members or ministers is not rocket science; it is simply living out the Gospel within our own faith family. If a pastor you know is struggling, talk to him instead of about him. It is worth the risk, for both of you.