Christians who stumble should be treated well

Published 11:30pm Friday, March 18, 2011

The young minister felt shame. He’d resigned his pastorate at the Wednesday business meeting the night before under threat of termination. He confessed moral failure. He knew he’d let down many who had believed in him. Now his future was uncertain as the church discussed whether to pay some severance or not and as he pondered how he was going to provide for his family.

This morning he was in the church office gathering his things, taking some phone calls and making a few photocopies.

He stood at the copy machine when Sally walked in. She gasped when she saw the pastor standing with documents in hand. She stood awkwardly for a few seconds. Then with furrowed brow and clinched teeth she said, “Dennis, what are you doing here? I don’t think you should ever set foot in this place again.”

Then she stormed out.

Dennis never heard from her again.

He continued his work, knowing he should be out of the office by the weekend.

A few minutes later another church member came into the office. Beverly saw the pastor sitting at his desk and she slowly walked into his office. Dennis’s muscles tightened a bit anticipating another possible verbal barrage. But Beverly walked behind the desk, put her arms around the pastor and wept for a few seconds.

Beverly didn’t say a word before she left. But through his own tears, the pastor knew she’d actually said quite a lot.

The termination of ministers is epidemic in America. Sometimes the issue is the “winning team syndrome.”

The pastor, like the football coach, superintends a losing season so it’s time to make a change. Most often the issue is power.

As one church leader suggested, 90 percent of church squabbles are over one question: “Who’s the boss?”

But, sadly, sometimes the issue is moral failure as in this instance.

Through my affiliation in the past decade with the Ministering to Ministers Foundation of Richmond, Va., I’ve heard a number of sad stories like Dennis’s.

No one would argue that sometimes it’s a positive for the minister to move elsewhere, but even then he must be treated fairly. Ministers often find it takes six months or longer to relocate to another ministry, and those who don’t go back into ministry find it time-consuming to transfer their skills to the business world.

But whatever the case, Christians who stumble, including ministers, should be treated kindly.

The apostle Paul exhorted the church to “restore” the offender “in the spirit of gentleness,” considering our own weaknesses (Galatians 6:1).

I think we learn important lessons from Sally and Beverly.

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