About two years ago one of the ministers of the church I attend was asked to resign following a confessed sin and an acknowledged act of deception. Within days of his confession and resignation, he initiated conversations with some of his ministry friends that ultimately led to the creation of a restoration team.
The minister was Todd Parmenter who served with Lincoln (Illinois) Christian Church. I was privileged to serve on this restoration team. We served together for 20 months in one of the most rewarding experiences in my more than 40 years of ministry.
Resources for Restoration
Soon after this brother confessed his sin, he was encouraged to engage the renewal and restorative services of Dr. John Walker, executive director at Blessing Ranch near Livermore, Colorado. Following the weeklong experience, Todd and his wife, Pam, returned home and enlisted the efforts of a restoration team for Todd and a support group for Pam.
The restoration process was a coordinated effort between the ranch, the local church, and a restoration team under the oversight of our local eldership. The restoration team consisted of an elder in our church, a fellow minister in a sister Christian church, the minister of another congregation in the community, and me, a ministry friend. His wife’s support group consisted of a counselor, a physician, and two trusted friends.
Since no one on the restoration team had ever served on such a body, we first consulted available resources. We read Gordon MacDonald’s book Rebuilding Your Broken World and a helpful article by Henry A. Virkler entitled “Counseling the Broken-World Christian: A Summary and Analysis of Gordon MacDonald’s Suggested Approach.” An additional resource, Pastoral Restoration: The Path to Recovery by Chris Fabry of Focus on the Family, also proved insightful.
Our brother signed a release permitting Walker to share with the restoration team information about his progress. It was evident he had experienced both remorse for his actions and their consequences, and also a measure of brokenness, which helped lead to his ultimate restoration. In his report to the restoration team, Walker indicated our brother was in many ways ahead of the curve in understanding his woundedness that resulted in his temptation and sin. He realized his vulnerability to deception and cover-up.
The restoration team initially met weekly, and then monthly, for a total of about 18 months. Every meeting was called by our minister friend and was held in his home. On those few occasions when, due to scheduling conflicts, it was not possible to meet, he stayed in touch with us by phone and e-mail.
The restoration team’s primary purpose was to serve as an accountability group for Todd. Pam’s support group was formed to help her work through the grief and loss she was experiencing. Our group also met with Pam on a few occasions to hear how she was processing the events, and to get her assessment of how her husband was doing.
Process of Restoration
Our work was directed toward the six processes MacDonald’s book describes as essential for restoration:
Making a full confession to this group. In this regard our brother demonstrated an openness and transparency that sprang from genuine brokenness. At the first few meetings he was asked to describe in detail what he had done, to express in what ways it was sin, and to explain why he did it. Throughout the process he continued to take full responsibility for and to show greater understanding of his actions.
Near the end of our restoration team meetings with him, we read the four articles on “How to Say I’m Sorry and Really Mean It” by Jim Van Yperen of Metanoia Ministries. We used these articles and the attributes of character necessary for authentic confession to assess the adequacy and efficacy of his confession. We concluded that throughout the entire process our brother demonstrated the following:
• appropriate brokenness by seeing the need for an intimate relationship with God to be restored;
• the courage to confess his sin to his wife, children, and fellow Christians and to encounter his own fear and failure with honesty and conviction;
• the integrity to name his sin as an affront to God and others; and
• the justice to seek reconciliation and to make appropriate restitution, if necessary. (See Metanoia Ministries’ website, www.restoringthechurch.org, for these helpful articles and other resources.)
Counseling. The counseling component took place primarily at Blessing Ranch with the experienced counsel of Walker, a Christian psychologist. Walker helped this leader and his wife understand the dimensions of his actions. Walker’s report provided the restoration team with a much-needed roadmap that helped us understand where our brother had been, where he was now, where he needed to go, and roadblocks that might lie ahead. Some dimensions of counseling continued as the restoration team helped him through the real-life application of lessons learned.
Discipline. The elders initiated this process when the minister resigned from his ministry. Certain restrictions were placed upon his involvement in ministry in the church and community. Also, our brother took the initiative to account to his restoration team on his personal, spiritual activities and to seek pastoral oversight.
His journey and his wife’s journey began with intense reading and reflection at Blessing Ranch, continued with regular reading and reflection, and culminated with a weekend spiritual retreat. Throughout the process they read widely, reflected deeply, and applied diligently the works of such authors as Richard Foster, Timothy Keller, Max Lucado, Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen, and MacDonald.
Comfort. Both the minister’s restoration team and his wife’s support group offered comfort to them as needed when they experienced the pain, grief, guilt, and rejection that accompanies such an event. Special attention was given to the wife’s concern that she was being personally and inappropriately disciplined and alienated for her husband’s actions.
Advocacy. As a restoration team, we spoke words of affirmation to our friend— and on his behalf in conversations with others—on several occasions. We specifically fulfilled this role in a written report, which included some requests and recommendations, that we delivered to the elders.
Official declaration to the church upon completion of the process. In the official report to the elders of our church, the restoration team affirmed that our brother not only expressed appropriate words of repentance, but also demonstrated appropriate fruits of repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9, 10).
Recommendations from the Restoration Team
The report also included a number of recommendations, which we now offer for other congregations. First, a brother who has been restored to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ should be fully restored to fellowship within the body of Christ. This is an appropriate action to be taken by the spiritual leaders of a local Christian community (Galatians 6:1-5).
Second, since the minister’s actions and subsequent resignation severed his working relationship with the elders and ministry staff, he should be reconciled with each elder and staff member. In our situation, following the submission of the restoration team’s report to the elders, a meeting between the minister and elders was arranged. At it, the minister read a statement of confession and contrition and received words of forgiveness and prayers of affirmation.
Arrangements also were made for him to meet with the church staff and for his wife to meet with the elders. In each meeting, restoration team members helped facilitate the conversations toward redemptive purposes. Our brother’s boldness to clearly state his sin, and own it, and the genuine offer of forgiveness were a powerful witness of God’s forgiveness to us. The chairman of the elders noted, “The fact that it modeled reconciliation to the congregation seemed to be a step toward helping others grow toward this forgiveness as well.”
Third, because certain details were made public at the time of his resignation, the minister also needed a public restoration. What God did in our Christian brother’s life was personal, but not private, and so it deserved to be celebrated publicly. The chairman of our elders said, “We wanted to recognize what God was doing in his life and celebrate together the grace of God in the reconciliation process.”
We had heard of churches that held special services of reconciliation as a part of the restoration process. A service of this nature is not necessarily intended to restore the minister to his former position. Rather, it should demonstrate publicly what has taken place in his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. (For an example of such a service at Hillside Christian Church in Amarillo, Texas, see “Restoring a Fallen Pastor,” http://amarillowest.hillsidewired.com/online-messages).
Our fourth recommendation focuses on the future. Since it is common that the structure and system of a large, complex church bears some culpability in the moral failure of a minister, the leadership should see that appropriate accountability systems are in place to ensure it does not happen again. Also, in the event that similar discipline is ever necessary, the church should have a written policy detailing a thorough, biblically based process of restoration and pastoral response. The leadership team of our church has begun to address these important issues.
Finally, we commended the elders for making restoration possible. We commended them for being willing to receive the necessary funds from friends for the ministry couple to spend a week at Blessing Ranch. We thanked them for the privilege of serving as a restoration team, and for their willingness to hear our report and consider our recommendations. It was our prayer that the recommendations be received in the spirit with which they were written so that our church would be a model of reconciliation locally and in the larger Christian community.
A Service of Restoration
On a Sunday evening almost two years after the resignation occurred, our church held a public celebration of reconciliation service. In a family room atmosphere, with an oversized couch and chair on the stage, this moving, meaningful service included the following elements:
The senior minister extended a welcome, offered an opening statement of purpose and prayer, and led the dialogue with the various individuals involved.
The worship minister led in appropriate songs celebrating God’s grace.
Members of the restoration team described the process and spoke words of affirmation for our forgiven brother.
Our brother openly confessed his sin to the congregation, sought their forgiveness, and expressed gratitude for their support.
The minister’s spouse expressed her thanks to the congregation and read two very personal letters that had encouraged them through the restoration process.
The chairman of the elders spoke words of forgiveness and reconciliation for the minister. The congregation was told that since this brother’s sin had been forgiven any future discussion of it would be viewed as a sin and would be treated as such by the elders.
The elders, the restoration team, the spouse’s support group, and family members gathered around the couple for laying on of hands and prayers of blessing.
The elders observed the Lord’s Supper with their restored brother and his wife.
The couple served the Lord’s Supper to their respective support groups.
The congregation was invited to come to the front to share in the Lord’s Supper and to express words of forgiveness to their restored brother.
As the elders dismissed the couple and the congregation to the family life center, they invited anyone who had an unresolved issue or a need for reconciliation to join them for prayer.
What Was Accomplished
Our efforts at restoration were rewarded, and our prayers for reconciliation were answered. A forgiven brother was restored to fellowship within God’s family, and our church provided the community with a powerful witness of the redemptive work of Christ. We are sharing our story here with the prayer that other churches will take seriously the redemptive work of reconciliation and celebrate the restoration of other broken-world Christians.
Don Green serves as director and professor of leadership at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University.
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Recommended Resources for a Restoration Team
Beyond Forgiveness: The Healing Touch of Church Discipline (Multnomah Books, 1984). This book by Don Baker describes one church’s experience in restoring a minister after his moral failure.
Blessing Ranch, Livermore. Colorado (www.blessingranch.org). This renewal and restoration ministry started by Dr. John Walker has helped thousands of church leaders in both preventing and recovering from ministry crises.
Confession and Forgiveness: Professing Faith as Ambassadors of Reconciliation (Concordia College, 2002). This book by Ted Kober provides a helpful perspective of reconciliation through confession and forgiveness as a way of life rather than as an event.
“Counseling the Broken-World Christian: A Summary and Analysis of Gordon MacDonald’s Suggested Approach” (www.sfacconline.org/counseling-the-broken-world-christian.pdf). This article by Dr. Henry A. Virkler is a concise summary of MacDonald’s book and reflections on the restoration process from a Christian counselor’s perspective.
“How to Say I’m Sorry and Really Mean It” (available at www.restoringthechurch.org). This four-part article by Jim Van Yperen of Metanoia Ministries provides a detailed description of what constitutes authentic confession.
Pastoral Restoration: The Path to Recovery (available at www.parsonage.org). This booklet by Chris Fabry of Focus on the Family is full of practical counsel for church leaders that could easily be adapted for a congregation’s policy statements.
Rebuilding Your Broken World (Thomas Nelson; 2004) In this book, Gordon MacDonald describes the insights he gained through his own “broken-world experience” and the significant role that a restoration team can play in the healing process.
Restoration Manual: A Workbook for Restoring Fallen Ministers and Religious Leaders (Winning Edge Publications, 2004). This practical workbook by Thomas Pedigo provides a step-by-step process for a restoration team with invaluable questions for church leaders and congregations.
Restoring the Fallen: A Team Approach to Caring, Confronting, and Reconciling (IVP Books, 1997). This book by Earl and Sandy Wilson, Paul and Virginia Friesen, and Larry and Nancy Paulson provides practical guidance for forming a spiritual care team that engages in a coordinated effort with the family, healing professionals, and the local church.
The Shepherd’s Covenant for Pastors (Regal Books, 2005). This book by H.B. London Jr. and Neil B. Wiseman shows how grace can transform one’s life through such principles as genuine accountability, right relationships, and constant safeguards.