The central message of the Christian faith is the gospel, the good news that Christ exchanged our sin for His righteousness and forgiveness. Those of us who have been rescued by His grace have been called out of the kingdom of this world and into His kingdom. We are “the called-out ones,” the Church. Therefore, a local church is only a church because of God’s grace, only a people who belong to Him because He lavished His love on us. A church is a church only by the grace of God and a faithful church constantly offers that same grace to others.
The apostle Paul wrote that when sin increases, grace increases all the more (Romans 5:20). So how should a church respond with grace when a ministry leader falls? Sadly, it seems to be happening more and more, so what should grace look like in those situations?
1. Remove the leader from the role.
“Wait,” you may be thinking, “how is removing the leader gracious and loving? Wouldn’t gracious be allowing the leader to remain in the role? Aren’t all of us sinful and broken?” In reality it is extremely gracious to remove the leader from the role—gracious to both the leader and to those adversely impacted by the leader’s disqualifying behavior.
After a leader’s fall, keeping the leader in the role is not gracious to the leader. It doesn’t allow for a season of restoration and renewal and the sweet fruit of that repentance to be seen by others. Keeping a fallen leader in the role doesn’t give the leader time to stop working on the ministry and focus solely on the work of God in the leader’s life. And keeping the leader in the role sends horrible signals to those who have been hurt by the leader’s sinfulness.
2. Reassure the leader they are qualified for fellowship by Christ.
One can be qualified for fellowship with other believers and disqualified for leadership at the same time. There are standards for leadership, qualifications to be a leader in God’s Church. So, violating those qualifications results in being disqualified. Yet at the same time all of God’s people, by God’s amazing grace, are fully qualified for Christ and for fellowship with His people. When a leader falls and repents, that leader should be immediately and passionately pursued by people who can express over and over again the good news of God’s grace. Counseling should be offered and paid for by the ministry and help should be given to the family.
3. Remind the church that all are frail.
When a leader falls, those who speak on behalf of the church should remind the people that all of us are frail and none of us are above falling (see 1 Corinthians 10:12). By remembering our fragility, we are more aware of our constant need for God’s grace. When we think we are standing strong on our own, we deceive ourselves into thinking we don’t need Him to uphold us.
4. Rejoice in His grace.
A leader falling will surely remind people of their brokenness. In the midst of the sting of our brokenness, we must rejoice in His grace. His grace is greater than our sin.