Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lack of Restoration for Fallen SBC Clergy

Dave Miller, moderator of SBC Voices, former SBC Vice President, a leading pastor in Iowa, and almost always a sagacious and insightful blogger has a nice article on clergy restoration.

Can a fallen leader be restored?

The piece is built off of the fall of a nationally prominent former pastor, Mark Driscoll.

Miller's conclusion is that, in time, a fallen leader can be due time.

I don't disagree with him (although I would offer a couple of scenarios where a wise former pastor would leave the pastoral or church ministry permanently) but I would point out this:

There is no effective program, system, or protocol for clergy accountability in Southern Baptist life and, therefore, there it is extremely rare that any minister is held accountable to other ministers or churches. The logical outcome of this is that there is no restoration for fallen SBC clergy because there is no body or group that can hold them accountable. 

If a pastor or staff member destroys his ministry by committing adultery, stealing from his church, or any of a number of other sins that cause him to be dismissed from his place of service and leave the ministry, if he is "restored" or not, if he requalifies for active ministry, if he is certified to have overcome the issues that caused his failure, almost always it's up to him and him alone.

He says, "I'm ready to return. I've settled my problems with the Lord. Here's my resume."

Of course, this is a function of our cherished autonomy and autonomy has its drawbacks. In the case of wayward clergy, accountability, and restoration autonomy has failed us as a loosely tied, collective body of churches and ministers completely.

The failure point is in the disconnect between ordination by a particular church and the distance, ministerially and often geographically, between that church and the modern itinerant pastoral ministry.

  • Local churches ordain men called to ministry in ways that are often casual and perfunctory. The church pastor usually drives the process and however he chooses to conduct it is acceptable to the church. That pastor will leave the church after a few years at most.
  • The newly ordained minister will likely leave the area to be educated and serve. His ties to the ordaining church may become tenuous in time.
  • The ordaining church, should they become aware of moral failure is highly unlikely to initiate any action involving a restoration process, suspension or revocation of ordination.
  • Many ordinands choose a church other than their "home" church in which to be ordained, often by a more visible and reknown minister presiding. It is a matter of prestige for these latter churches to ordain large numbers of men. They are unlikely to have much incentive and perhaps lack the resources to follow the men they ordain and hold them accountable, much less have a system of accountability and a process of restoration.

In over three decades of ministry in SBC churches, I have been involved in exactly one revocation of ordination and I was not aware if there was any attempt at restoration prior to that. I have heard of a few others. I am aware that there are some avenues for fallen ministers to voluntarily submit themselves to a program of restoration. 

To be candid and blunt: we have a system that lacks accountability. There is only one point at which a minister is held accountable and that is at the church he serves. They can fire him. They cannot disqualify him from moving to another church.

Where this is especially grevious and harmful is seen in clergy who have abused children. There are several prominent cases where ministers who sexually abused children were forced to move but easily found places of service in another area or state, sometimes to repeat the same behavior.

If ordaining churches do not exercise accountability over those whom they ordain, if associations do not have sufficient involvement in influencing the process, if state conventions and the national convention are powerless to hold ministers accountable, who does it?

No one.

You want to be restored? It's simple. Pronounce yourself restored and move far enough away from where your reputation was destroyed so that no one knows.

People have often complained about nosy bloggers who involved themselves in places they don't belong. We should rather thank God that there are some individuals who think that holding ministers accountable is important to us all and that they have a means to do so. 

I see no workable solution in all this. It would be nice if there was a body of SBC clergy, a guild that had some standards for membership, that was respected and relied upon for clergy certification. 

Brethren, we are professionals in our system of ministry, like it or not, accept it or not. Too bad there is no professional organization open to us whereby we would have some broad, SBC wide accountability.

Not an ice cube's chance in Gehenna of that. 


David Rogers said...


Great post. I think part of the solution involves overhauling the way we approach ministerial ordination. As I see it, there is no scriptural basis for ordaining people to general at large ministry, only for recognizing them in a particular ministry position, laying hands on them, praying for them, and commending them to the Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of their ministry responsibilities in that particular ministry position--in other words, what we normally call installation.

William Thornton said...

I read, and appreciated, your comment on SBCV and article on SBCI. I just don't have much optimism about overhauling ordination. The best we can shoot for is to encourage churches to pay more attention to whom they ordain, before and after the act.

David Rogers said...

I hear you, but ultimately, I think that will be kind of like putting band-aids on the side of a broken jar that leaks through the bottom.

William Thornton said...

I don't disagree. I just don't see any workable system with a realistic chance of being implemented.