The Send Network Church Planting Blog

Restoration of the fallen: When?

January 10, 2018 by Ryan McCammack

“I need to tell you something.” These are words no pastor or ministry leader enjoys hearing, because they are usually followed by a heartbreaking story of failure and hurt. So when a staff member, lay leader, or ministry volunteer drifts from the Lord into a pattern of sin, how does a wise church leader help them pick up the pieces and move forward?

Part of what makes restoration a tricky business is that it is not one-dimensional — that is, a biblical view of restoration has layers. What makes this even more challenging is that some of these layers seem almost paradoxical.

For instance, consider this question: “Is restoration an event or a process?” I think the answer is “Yes,” and that’s not just an attempt to be clever or witty. Rather it’s an acknowledgment that biblical restoration is in a sense both an event and a process.

Restoration as an event

When a brother or sister who has fallen first confesses sin and seeks forgiveness, the Bible makes it plain that because of Jesus, the Father is “faithful and just” to “forgive” and “cleanse” (1 John 1:9). What is more, in Matthew 18 when Jesus outlines the steps for restoring a wayward believer, he tells us “if he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” In this sense, restoration happens in an instant.

When confession is made, forgiveness is extended and a right relationship with God and fellow believers is restored.

Like the prodigal who was joyfully received by his Father, believers who have fallen do not need to clean up their act before they can enjoy the grace of forgiveness.

But this is not the whole story.

Restoration as a process

Although confession and forgiveness clear away the obstacles that hinder fellowship and open a pathway forward, real restoration typically requires more than an initial conversation.

As John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, he called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” and then proceeded to give numerous examples of what this fruit would look like in individuals’ lives (Matt. 3:8). In John’s mind, repentance was far more than just words; it was demonstrated by consistent action.

Add to this the fact that the qualifications for church leadership spelled out in 1 Timothy and Titus are character traits that can only be observed over time, and the implication seems clear. Restoration to leadership is a process.

Although every situation is unique and there is no set timetable for restoration laid out in Scripture, I think Spurgeon’s counsel on this matter is wise, when he suggested in "Lectures to My Students" that no one should be restored to ministry “until his repentance was as notorious as his sin.”

Restoration is by no means easy, but embracing a vision of restoration that is both an event and a process allows those who have fallen to experience God’s immediate forgiving grace and His constant transforming grace.

So the next time you hear those difficult words, “I need to tell you something,” yes, by all means grieve and mourn at the heartbreak. But also take heart that in this bleak situation God can show his multi-faceted grace in unique and powerful ways.

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