“How long does restoration take?”
It’s a question I hear often from fallen pastors. It’s not an easy one to answer because the question is often loaded.
I love fallen pastors. Most people don’t care much for fallen pastors. They’re hard to love. They’re stubborn, they justify their sin, they don’t want to hear anyone’s opinion, and they’re often mad at the world. I know it. Been there. Blogged about it.
So when a fallen pastor contacts me and asks me, “How long does it take to be restored?” I know that there’s a lot behind that question. In fact, there are usually three different things that it could mean.
1. It really means, “How long before I can start preaching again.” What it sounds like to the world: “I know I just committed adultery, but how long before I can jump back into the pulpit?”
I wrote about the stages of a fall in my book. One of the stages is the justification of sin. And in the first few months after a fall, most fallen pastors spend a lot of time justifying their sin. They don’t know they’re doing it. It’s often due to their numbness to the months they’ve spent in sin. So when they finally get caught, they’re ready to do whatever they need to do to jump through the hoops of repentance.
The thing that most guys don’t realize is that true repentance is what God desires and it takes time to cultivate it. God desires true brokenness of heart. And it takes a long time to travel from getting caught in adultery to brokenness of heart.
2. It really means, “I’ve done this before, and I’m going to do this again. What do I need to say to get back into the pulpit?” What it sounds like to the world: “My wife is a sucker. I can walk all over her. She doesn’t care what I do. And my church is going to let me do this again.”
I want to be careful here. Because not all guys who call me are like this. And not all fallen pastors are like this. Not many are. The vast majority of guys who fall do it once and are done. They’ve sinned and it’s over and they move on. But there are some guys who are what I call “serial adulterers.” They’ve done it before and they’re going to do it again. If you’re a church leader, member, counselor or whomever, make sure you know the difference. If you are married to a fallen pastor – make triple sure you know the difference.
When guys who are “serial adulterers” call me, I can hear it in their story and in their voice. They say things like, “Look, my wife has already forgiven me (it happened less than a day before), we’ve been through this, I’m weak, and I just need to get back to work.” These guys have a serious problem that needs to be addressed. And honestly, they never need to step back into the pulpit. They don’t see their serial adultery as an issue.
3. It really means, “I want to know what I need to do what it takes to be restored. No matter how long it takes.” What it sounds like to the world – just what it is. True repentance and a desire to be right with God.
When a guy has sinned and he’s ready to repent – even if he’s leaning toward it a little – give him credit. Throw him a line. Sometimes people just want to know how long it’s going to take. They want to know what the process is like. Where are they supposed to go? How are they supposed to provide for their family now that they’ve failed them?
All good questions. They’re questions that will send anyone into a panic. But one day at a time, my friend.
Next time, we will be addressing the actual time period of restoration. How long does it take? Is there a set time? Should a person be looking to set a timetable? Next post in just a few days.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
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