With all the moral failures in ministry lately what's a path to restoration? To my knowledge, The Bible doesn't lay out a path for "pastoral restoration" per se. I could be corrected, but all the things I have read on pastoral restoration use biblical passages on general Christian restoration. Let me propose that is because we have made the pastoral ministry something it was not meant to be. Have you ever heard the phrase "called to the pastoral ministry". That is kind of a misnomer because the role of pastor/overseer/elder are filled by particular spiritual gifts, not this huge hierarchical position that we have turned it into. That is why the the scripture only lays out qualifications for those who practice their pastoral gifts. If a man falls into a "sexual sin" he is just no longer qualified because he is not "above reproach" anymore.
Let me ask you a question to clarify. If a person with the gift of evangelism is caught in an adulterous relationship, does that disqualify them from the spiritual gift of evangelism? No, of course not they have just fallen into sin and need to be restored, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:1-2 ESV)
Or put another way. What if another with the spiritual gift of helps and hospitality has been found to have abused their hospitality, and had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a guest? Are they disqualified from the spiritual gift of hospitality? No they still have the spiritual gift they just need to be restored in a "spirit of gentleness."
I believe that the problem is that we have elevated the "ministry" to a place where I believe the New Testament did not mean it to be elevated to. The New Testament writers talk about the pastoral giftings as "one among many" gifts that are equal to any other gift in the body. So, in our current structure, when a pastor falls into sin it is more egregious than a when a person with the gift of hospitality falls into an inappropriate sexual relationship.
Also the modern pastor has more visibility than in the past. With the rise of the of the Internet with sermons online, and other organizations like the Gospel Coalition, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Acts 29, and pastoral conferences with thousands in attendance, and other such church planting and ministry training organizations, there has been this unbiblical and unhealthy move toward superstar attractional ministry leaders. You can probably name your favorite pastor. Where do you know them from? Probably online. I am as guilty in supporting this as any other. How often have I watched a sermon from a talking head superstar pastor? How often have I read their books? How often have I visited their church or personal websites? This feeds the system. However, the New Testament had a completely different style of pastoral leadership. It was a bottom up, one of many, servant leadership type of shepherding ministry that was happy to be unknown outside of the congregation of which they were shepherds.
They (i.e. The Apostles) didn't train for years and years in seminaries separated from the local body they had come from. Only to return later to another Church that they had no previous contact to. Being devoid of any real practical experience besides a one year practicum/internship, in which they got to preach one time on a Sunday where almost the whole church was away on vacation. See my point? We have to radically rethink the pastoral ministry.
Besides all this. If the spiritual gifts are spread out in the congregation relatively equally, how many with the pastoral gifting would there be in a typical church. Probably in a church of 200 there might be up to 10% that's about 20 or so. What are those men doing with their pastoral gifting? Probably sitting on their hands because the lead pastor has his "Kung-Fu grip" on the reigns of leadership. They probably aren't even aware they have a pastoral gifting. I bring this up because if there were 20 pastors of a church it would protect the church when one of the pastors fell. The church could carry on and the church would be able to "restore such a one with gentleness" without everything collapsing. But as is the current leadership structure, there is one pastor who has full and final authority. Elder and Deacon boards do nothing in practicality. Actually they do something, everything the pastor tells them to do. This must change!
Let me be clear, I do not believe that a pastor caught in a extra-marital affair should just be kept in ministry after forgiving him. Or worse yet, one week later hired somewhere else. What I am saying is that the whole system is unbalanced, and lends to a unbalanced pastoral ministry. We need a practical pastoral reformation, kind of like the great theologies that were was won for us in the first reformation (i.e. "the priesthood of all believers."). That Priesthood of all believers needs not just to be believed, but practiced in our current congregations. In other words "every member a minister."
The current Ashley Madison controversy exposes many problems and we are all going to talk about the sexual aspects and what is wrong with pastors. We definitely need to bring those secrets out so that the Church can deal with it, and seek to be a righteous and pure bride once again. But I want to challenge us to think in Biblical paradigms, and not to leave the current hierarchical pastoral position untouched.
Pastor, please do not continue to usurp authority, but rather give it away. What I mean is in areas that the Bible does not prescribe for you to have authority over, please give your authority to other gifted men who are there already in your congregations. Train others to take your job and take your place. Its kind of like working yourself out of a job. In the end you and your church will be stronger and more protected as a result. Ultimately God is in control of His Church, and He will see that it is transformed from the top to bottom. Let us with renewed vigour make Jesus Lord, and ask our congregations to practice the priesthood of all believers along with us who are spiritually gifted as pastors, so that the body can be whole from the bottom on up.