When we go to church regularly, we trust our leaders. We assume the leaders will demonstrate leadership qualities that will help carry out the vision the church has to further the work of the Kingdom.
Hebrews 13:7 gives us the steps necessary to ensure unity is achieved: “obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
By submitting to your leadership, you ensure all leaders receive the respect they deserve to achieve the vision they have been called to do. But even leaders are fallible human beings, and on occasion, they fall into sinful behaviors.
1 Timothy 3:1-4 tells us about the qualifications for leaders:
Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.
Just because pastors fall into sinful behavior doesn’t mean they have to leave ministry entirely.
There are a few people for whom leaders can be held accountable to ensure their sinful behaviors are corrected so it doesn't affect the entire congregation.
1. Accountability Partners
All leaders would benefit from having an accountability partner that they can call or contact regularly to confess sin and receive wise counsel on sticky church situations. Ideally, this is someone outside of the church.
But a leader may also find a wise counselor within his church, a person who is mature enough to keep things in confidence and not allow sinful behaviors to spread throughout the congregation.
When leaders seek the help of accountability partners, they assume a posture of humility that says to the rest of the church, “I'm a human being, and I'm sinful just like everyone else.”
A person whom they choose to keep them accountable should be able to provide wise counsel when needed and also challenge them to repent from their sins so they can be in the best emotional, physical, and mental state for their church.
2. Elders or Other Leaders
Pastors are also held accountable through elders or other leadership boards. The above passage from Timothy reminds us of the qualifications of an elder. This goes the same for pastors. Both their inner and outer lives must reflect Christlike character.
They must also be able to manage their households and their marriage as well because if they can't manage their own households, how can they care for their church body? If an elder receives a concern from a church member about their pastor, they must (in love) confront them privately about the issue.
But first, they need to give the pastor the benefit of the doubt and allow the church member to contact the pastor directly. If the dispute cannot be resolved, an elder should be able to intervene and mediate the issue on behalf of both the pastor and the church member.
An elder must be able to handle things in the most diplomatic way possible, as well as act as a witness to all verbal and written exchanges. If the dispute still can't be resolved, the elder can then contact someone above the pastor to help oversee the next level of the situation.
The elder must do their due diligence, check their facts, and collect evidence as necessary. They simply cannot allow a claim to stand or have someone make a false claim without having it substantiated by evidence.
Just as people would be treated in a court of law, the plaintiff, or the person making the claim, must be able to provide evidence to prove the defendant is guilty of the offense.
In the same way, the elder must research and do the appropriate checks to make sure a church member is not simply lashing out or causing trouble to promote disunity among the body.
If it is proven that the pastor has committed the offense, it is the elder’s responsibility to create a process with the pastor to show repentant behavior.
3. Their Denomination Head
Not only is the pastor accountable to his elders, but he's also accountable to the person who oversees his denomination. Each denomination has its own set of theological views and is sometimes in charge of a cluster of churches to help carry out its vision and mission for its church.
If a pastor has been found guilty of an offense, it is part of the denomination's job to determine the right course of action. It is not the church member's job to decide what should happen, and the elders can have input into the disciplinary action.
An elder cannot see clearly as they may have a biased opinion about their pastor. The denomination head can see things objectively and create a grace-based yet disciplinary action to promote reconciliation, peace, and repentance.
Above all, leaders are accountable to God when it comes to their actions, both in private and in public. God favors grace-based discipline. This, however, does not mean leaders are “off the hook” because they've received grace and mercy.
On judgment day, all leaders will be held accountable for what they did and did not do in this life. While it is important to conduct Matthew 18 when it comes to bringing an issue before a leader, the leaders are ultimately accountable to their board, to their denomination, and finally to God.
If they choose to preach on the Word yet not do what it says, God may not choose to bless their ministry. They may see little fruit from their efforts and may find themselves in the midst of strife and constant conflict.
But if a leader consistently confesses their sins to God, God is faithful to forgive their sins and choose to remember them no more.
People see outward behaviors; God sees the heart. God discerns whether a leader's intentions are pure or selfishly motivated. If the leader is only out for personal gain, they will be held accountable for their actions.
However, if they are struggling with sin and want to repent yet struggle to do so, God will honor that and will support them and encourage them during this time. Leaders who enlist the help of others to keep them accountable for their sinful behaviors will help in achieving repentance.
Pastors are sinful human beings, just like everyone else. While they may strive to act above reproach, they will, at times, fall into sin.
By becoming accountable to their elders, denomination heads, and God, we can be sure that the church, as sometimes messy as it can be, will strive to act in a way that causes the vision and kingdom work to be furthered for God’s glory.
For further reading:
What Does Matthew 18 Say about Conflict Resolution Within the Church?
8 Ways to Show Your Pastor That He Is Appreciated
How Should the Church Respond When Pastors Admit Sin?
Why the Church Should Never Cover Up Sin in Light of the SBC Scandal
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Matthew Ball
Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.