If God blesses you with leadership in the Church for enough years, you’ll inevitably hit a situation where someone has to be dismissed from a ministry role because of a moral failure. Don’t we all fail God morally and sin? For sure! But there is a precious trust that goes with a call to lead a church, whether in the lead pastor role or as another staff member. I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes church planters and management teams are tempted to avoid confrontation, soft sell sin, or try to keep secrets in a new church. None of those approaches honors God.
When a staff member or other named leader in a church is discovered in an inappropriate relationship, engaging in a behavior that is clearly opposed to God’s revealed plan, or otherwise broken to the point of being out of control as a witness for the Church, steps must be taken. Usually, dismissal is the only option that protects the church and creates a genuine opportunity for restoration and integrity.
There are exceptions to the “hire slow, fire fast” rule of course, but some principles apply in every situation:
- Tell the congregation the truth. God honors the truth and the truth honors God. Even those attending a new church for the first time and those who are unconvinced in matters of faith will appreciate a candid but appropriate explanation of why a public person is being removed or placed on “the bench.”
- Circumstances that involve church discipline are culture makers or culture breakers in a church. If your church teaches that God has a next step for everyone, no matter what they’ve done or how many times they’ve failed, then it is vital to acknowledge God’s grace. If you err on the side of harshness, no one will believe you when you teach about God’s love and forgiveness. If you pretend there’s nothing wrong, no one should accept the call to follow Jesus or even believe it matters that He calls some to lead in the church.
- While revealing the reality of a dismissal, it is not necessary to tell all the gory details of the circumstances. Innocent parties need not be drug into the mud, and family members should be cared for in any way possible. What is publicly shared must be enough—anyone wanting more details should be put on notice that gossip only furthers the pain and dishonors God.
- A space should always be sought for restoration. Seldom is it helpful to promise a staff role in the future, but personal discipleship is the goal for every individual—right?
- Church leaders should be Kingdom minded. If a dismissed staff member leaves and seeks other ministry positions—there may be no one other than you to protect that community from an unrepentant person who happens to have ministry gifts. On the flip side, if you’re involved in a hiring process, check references carefully and ask for secondary sources of reliable information.
Watching a team of leaders process bad news and allow God to use them as agents of change, healing, and restoration can be a very affirming thing.
The truth is, Jesus was all about not condemning but challenging someone to rebuild their life on a new and better foundation. That truth honors God—and God always honors truth.
(Thanks to Donnie Williams, a good friend whom I first heard use the phrase “God honors the truth and truth honors God.)
For more information on the author or Stadia Church Planting please visit: www.stadiachurchplanting.org/