Almost all evangelical Christian leaders, including denominational heads, agree that a pastor guilty of adultery can be restored to a pastoral position, according to the May Evangelical Leaders Survey. Only 5 percent said that adultery would disqualify one from ever holding another pastoral position.
“Evangelical leaders are adamant that the grace of God extends even to ministry leaders who commit adultery,” said Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, which recently released the NAE Code of Ethics for Pastors to provide a standard professional ethical guideline for evangelical pastors.
John Jenkins, a megachurch pastor, said, “The gospel’s aim is to restore. Pastors should not be exempted from that same grace.”
Likewise, Berten Waggoner, National Director of Vineyard USA, said, “There is no sin that a person, including pastors, cannot be both forgiven of and restored in every way. This is the message of grace and the hope of resurrection life.”
Others put limitations on how pastors could be restored, particularly whether they can return to the same church, community or pastoral position.
Although the survey did not require respondents to expound on their yes or no answer, almost all commented. Most of the comments included recommended requirements for a fallen pastor seeking restoration to the pastorate. Of those, nearly all noted either a minimum length of time for a restoration process or recommended that the person not return to the same church.
Requirements for restoration mentioned include:
- Immediate breaking of the adulterous relationship
- Genuine repentance
- Cessation of pastoral ministry for at least one year
- Completion of a restoration process under denominational direction. Leaders gave varied responses regarding the time required for this process, ranging from at least one year to at least three years.
- Submission and accountability to a council of overseers
- Restorative counseling including family repair and renewal
- Supervised preaching
- Recommendations from others regarding the person’s fitness to return to ministry
- Restoration to a different church, community or position
- Restoration to a position other than the senior pastorate
- A church’s desire to receive the restored pastor
- Commitment to ongoing, systematic accountability
Anderson said, “With the strong agreement that restoration is possible for pastors guilty of adultery also comes strong agreement that the restoration process is an extremely difficult one.”
Due to some high-profile situations in recent decades, most denominations have carefully established guidelines for pastors who commit adultery and desire to return to a pastoral position.
The Evangelical Free Church of America requires a minimum of a two year recovery time for repairing relationships, a denominationally determined and supervised recovery program, and upon completion, recommendations from the recovery team that the person return to ministry. At that point, reinstating credentials is considered.
Similarly, the Christian and Missionary Alliance’s discipline and restoration process lasts a minimum of two years. After successfully completing the process, the person may request that their credentials be reinstated, but there is no guarantee of placement.
In the Assemblies of God, if conditions are met as established by the Credentials Committee, a minister may be restored after a minimum of two years of rehabilitation. During the first year, there is a total cessation of all vocational ministry, and during the second year, ministry activities have to be approved by the district superintendent.
Randall Bach of Open Bible Churches summed it up: “In short, yes, restoration is possible. As a practical matter, it is not common because such significant submission is necessary, and fractured trust in relationships at all levels is difficult to regenerate.”
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.