Now first of all, the wrecked ship needs restoring and
repairing. The damaged hulk will have to be dragged off the rocks and hauled to
a safe place for rebuilding and restoring. No such place may be available,
which is not unusual. There are generally few resources to cover the costs of the
time and money involved. There is often absolutely no help at all.
Christian leaders may actually
want to be out from underneath the pressures that go with ministry. They may
create a crisis, even on an subconscious level, which effectively forces an end
to a ministry. This, in fact, describes many leadership failures. In such
circumstances, the minister may eventually, after rebuilding, long to be back
in action—somehow, somewhere.
Most people do not realize the
pressures weighing on a minister, especially the pastor of a congregation. The
pastor/teacher is carrying a load that few are aware of. Pastors rarely feel as
though they are succeeding and are mostly aware of what is not getting done.
They are painfully acquainted with people who are hurting and whom they do not
seem to be able to help and encourage. Other care giving professionals rely on
creating distance from those they serve, but this does not work in Christian
ministry. The load is upon the shoulders, and it never lets up. How many
pastors actually commit suicide is unknown, but from what I have gathered, it is
a small but quantifiable percentage, nevertheless. It is then obvious the size
of the rebuilding job that may be necessary.
There are many ways to serve our
Lord Jesus other than pastoring a church. Though the church is a vital venue
for service, it is not the only one. It may be publishing, writing, evangelism,
serving abroad in difficult places; it may be as simple as handing bulletins to
worshipers on Sunday morning. Over the years, I have found a number of those
who were drummed out of the professional ministry, and some of them for good
reason, who created businesses of one kind or another and therein found ways to
count and witness. Whatever it may be, there will be a place to work for the Kingdom.
The manager of the vineyard will find work for any who want it, even for those
who show up late.
Our concern here now is
rebuilding and restoration. I have learned that healing from a catastrophic
collapse is not simply accomplished. Perhaps it will be a lonely and private
struggle, as some Christian communities practice effective shunning techniques.
Or, due to circumstances, there may be no time or money for such.
Ministers who must suddenly leave
their place of employment are often without resources. What then? Here is where
the internet might be helpful. If drugs or alcohol are involved, there are
Twelve Step programs, which can be wonderful. These folks know what it is to
stumble and to do so badly. They will be welcoming and affirming. Within the
broad range of groups within the Twelve Step family are also groups that
involve issues other than substance abuse. And there are men’s groups of all
sorts. Some of these can be discovered on MeetUp.com.
There are Christian congregations
that have mature believers who can be counted on, even among churches that are
Christ-centered and biblically faithful. Christianity is far from a
cookie-cutter phenomenon. It takes searching, asking, phoning, whatever it
takes—but the point is, no one can do it alone. Even those who take up a
monkish lifestyle and head for the desert or a mountain to pray, meditate,
reflect, repent, and go back to basics—this is only a beginning. The Church,
the blood-bought community of faith, that gathering where Jesus walks in its
midst, is the place of ultimate healing.
After a crisis some Christian leaders fall apart and
apparently, seemingly, depart from the faith. I have seen plenty of this. I had
also seen that some of these “fallen” often make a comeback at some point. This
is more often the case than one of no return. Once born again from above and
one is a son or daughter of God, this does not change. Parents know that
whatever happens, their kids are still their kids. Is it not so with the Father—does
He not continue to love His erring and damaged children? Will He not lead them
out of sin and its consequences and into green pastures? You know the answer,
at least in your head if not in your heart.
Let us examine, briefly, some helpful passages of Scripture
that speak to our issue.
James 5:19–20 reads:
 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth
and someone brings him back,  let him know that whoever brings back a
sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a
multitude of sins. (ESV)
James, half-brother of Jesus, who many think was the first
pastor of the first Christian congregation in Jerusalem, whose letter is likely
the very first inspired document to emerge from the Christian Church, speaks to
the issue of shipwreck very directly. The “if” in the first sentence is a
conditional clause of the third class and is predicting the high probability of
an event where someone wanders from the truth. To wander or stray from the
truth is certainly a shipwreck scenario. Pastor James was concerned about such
brother and sisters and encourages members of the flock to bring them back, the
result of which is of the highest good.
James does not consider these wandering sheep as hopelessly
lost at all. Perhaps echoing the teaching of the Good Shepherd who leaves the
ninety-nine and goes out searching for the single lost lamb, he actually
concludes his general pastoral letter with this beautiful, sensitive, and
In 1 Timothy 3:1–13, we find Paul’s qualifications for
overseers and deacons. The lists are formidable indeed: above reproach, the
husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable,
able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a
lover of money, a good manager of his household, have submissive children, not
a recent convert, well thought of by non-Christians, dignified, not
double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy, having a thorough
understanding of the Faith, tested beforehand so as to prove themselves
blameless, and with wives who are dignified, not slanderers, sober-minded, and
faithful in all things.
It might also be helpful to look at 1 Thessalonians 4:1–12 as
My thinking is that if anyone of us in Christian leadership
was to sober-mindedly examine these qualifications, we would have to resign
immediately. The calling is extraordinarily high, and this is in addition to
loving the Lord our God with all we are and our neighbor as ourselves!
As I write this section, I cannot help but say to myself, “Woe
is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst
of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of
hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5) Then the angel of God assured Isaiah, to whom the words
were directed, that by the grace and mercy of God he was forgiven and by that
grace he would fulfill his calling.
By my own strength I can only fail. Though appearing outwardly
like I am faithful and obedient, I would know, and I do know, that I do not
measure up. Though I may often be briefly commendable, to be honest, I do not
qualify. The issue is that no one does, and those who do not know this about
themselves are like a mine in the minefield. Am I too harsh in my judgment
after fifty-two years in pastoral ministry? I think not.