A friend of mine recently wrote me to ask, “A local friend who is a professional consultant for non-profits and church ministry (organizational leadership) went through a divorce this past year (after 20 years of marriage and 5 kids). We meet together last week. I sought him out to for purely relational follow-up – we had been out of touch for just short of 3 years. He took advantage of my invitation to share with me all that had transpired. In our discussion I asked if he had any sort of “restoration” or “rehabilitation” to leadership in place for himself. (As this may be important for future clients to know.) Nothing official as such. He has sought individual services and support, but nothing that is outside of his own initiative. Hence, he invited me to present a plan or concept – to which he would be most grateful. I thought I’d ask you if – you had any quick thoughts on this or reference points handy.”
I wrote him the following response.
Yes, I have personal thoughts on this however I don’t have any resources for you. So, let me start with a definition and move on to come comments. Restore: renew, rebuild, or to bring back into existence. It is a process epitomized in Psalm 51: 10-15.
Typically the issue around Christian ministers is that some governing body has suspended their credential because of some mitigating circumstance or trauma to: (1) build the margins needed to work through the trauma; (2) work through the pain and the loss incurred to seek restoration of broken relationships if possible; (3) reaffirm the gifts and the calling of God for the sake of the one being restored (God’s gifts and calling are without repentance however the one traumatized is often filled with self-deprecating grief and guilt); (4) represent the person to the body of Christ as one who has been made whole/healed and so is able to re-engage the demands of ministry with integrity and accountability.
In the case you outline the only thing missing is a governing body that would start the restoration. So, your friend is subject to the diverse opinion of his potential clients. These fall into three categories in my experience:
1. Those who know him and know of the way he has worked over the years to attempt restoration to no avail. These watch at times with uncomfortable uncertainty about what to do while others make sure that he does not collapse from weariness, guilt, grief, or shame or any combination of these by checking in with him regularly. A process of restoration is important for this group because they care about his well-being and such a process will reassure them.
2. Those who don’t know him and may treat him as though his trauma is contagious (it is actually a reminder that nothing in life is certain and that scares people). They may reject him or marginalize him by holding him at arm’s length not really trusting the integrity of his character and spiritual health or because they simply are uncomfortable facing the messy, painful realities of following Christ in a broken world. A process of restoration is important for this group because they need to see that painful loss is not the end – they need the reassurance from others that your friend is a trustworthy man in whom they can be confident.
3. Those who don’t know him but will gladly throw him under whatever self-righteous bus happens to pass by. I have never really understood the rationale of these except it seems to me that causing pain somehow momentarily eases their own pain or at least gives them someone else to focus on before the gravity of their own narcissism pulls them back into themselves. A process of restoration is important because it will combat the attempt to destroy your friends reputation and ministry that these people will attempt.
To enter a process of restoration (on the assumption that something has been lost and something has died) requires a group of leaders that your friend trusts and that others respect as leaders – people who can help him walk through any blind spots, or areas still immobilized by grief, or emotions that have yet to find good expression, or anger that still must be processed and expressed, or fears that try to limit his reach. This group must have permission to probe and ask hard questions. They must name, with your friend, what the end of restoration looks like because they put their reputations on the line for your friend. This is what the body of Christ looks like.
I urge you to put together such a proposal, ask your friend who he trusts, and then recruit these people to (1) hear his story completely; (2) define what restoration looks like for him; (3) walk out the process I just described; (4) affirm when the goals have been reached for both your friend and anyone else who asks; (5) so that his ministry in the body of Christ can be warmly received and released without fear of future failure stemming from some unresolved residual issue around the mitigating crisis.
That’s all I’ve got, he is fortunate to have a friend like you who has raised the subject.