What Does Restoration Look Like?

An interview with John Walker

By Alan Ahlgrim

What would you like a struggling leader to know?

First of all, they need to know they’re not alone. Everyone has struggled, is struggling, or will struggle with a life-limiting or ministry-threatening issue. Everyone. Sadly, too many not only struggle, but fail to the point of falling out.

Dr. John Walker is founder, executive director, and chief psychologist of Blessing Ranch Ministries.
Dr. John Walker is founder, executive director, and chief psychologist of Blessing Ranch Ministries.

Is there a pattern to the failure situations you’ve seen in ministry?

Not really, except to say that to some degree, sooner or later everyone messes up or gets stuck. We’re not about blame, shame, or punishment. We’re concerned about restoration and healing. That’s why there’s never a “one-size-fits-all” approach. That’s legalism. We must be in love with grace, and as some like to say, “Grace is messy!”

What does restoration look like?

In our experience it’s usually a three-step process of assessment, acknowledgment, and adjustment.

Assessment by the therapist involves exploration of the deeper reasons for bad choices. We all have a propensity for sin, but there’s a difference between sin as an “event” and sin as a repeated pattern. We need to consider the motivations for duplicity or addiction, compartmentalization or immorality.

The real difference between those who merely go through problems and those who grow through problems has to do with the capacity for objective self-assessment.

Acknowledgement by the individual requires understanding and owning the private logic that led to the difficulty. Why do we at times live in contradiction of what we believe? This has to do with exploring the common threads and root causes of our problems and not just focusing on a particular failure, which is typically the result of a deeper struggle.

In order to flourish, we all need help. We need to explore what is getting in our way and causing us to either stumble or get stuck in the pursuit of God’s best.

Adjustment means change. In the Bible, repentance involves a change of heart, mind, and direction. It’s sometimes turning from the bad to the good; other times it may be turning from the good to the better. It’s not just about “saying no.” It’s about pursuing “the bigger yes!”

Everyone benefits when a leader gets better by moving forward. This is never just a one-time event. This is a lifelong pursuit. Even on our best days it may be two steps forward and one step back.

When a leader fails is he automatically disqualified or finished?

Far from it! After two decades of serving kingdom leaders, I’m delighted to see so many who once struggled, now still serving so well. Restoration is not a jail sentence or a punishment; it’s a commitment to a process of growth and devotion. While this may be rigorous and even painful, it is more than possible.

What does genuine repentance look like?

It’s beyond merely being shattered by the consequences of our problems. It’s true brokenness over the root cause. That requires a submissive and nondefensive spirit. It means full acceptance of responsibility.

Repentance is reflected through humility and a relentless seeking of understanding. It’s then a willingness to fight for personal congruence of head and heart.

How can a person know if he is ready for restoration?

True restoration involves vulnerability with one or two others, not just for accountability, but for encouragement. While most of us in leadership excel in extending grace, we stink at receiving it! We’re not nearly as effective in working all this out in ourselves as we might think we are. In our innermost parts, often we might even think we’re not worthy of love because of our sin.

For many, the harshest critic lies within. We need others to both hear our confessions and affirm our future. Without the contribution and validation of others, we are likely to repeat our problems rather than move beyond them and finish well.

What does it mean to finish well?

I believe it means being more in love with Jesus and his church at the end than we were at the beginning. Grace extended to us and empathy received by us brings healing over time. By God’s grace we have everything to look forward to!

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Read Alan Ahlgrim’s advice for a church coping with a leader’s failure.

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Alan Ahlgrim served as founding pastor with Rocky Mountain Christian Church, Niwot, Colorado, for 29 years and now serves as pastor-at-large. In addition, he serves as director of pastor care and leadership development with Blessing Ranch Ministries, New Port Richey, Florida. 

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