by Shan Caldwell
Most of us have been there. We get the text, the phone call, the email – someone in the church has been caught in devastating, ongoing sin. As leaders, we know we need to get involved – to do something – but what? How do we go about addressing the sin and restoring the sinner? And how do we grow as leaders in the process?
It is typically most beneficial for the leader to seek restoration in up to four areas: God, family and friends, church fellowship, and kingdom service. Restoration in all these areas is the goal, but only in a progressive and prioritized way. Restoration in all four areas may not be possible or even healthy.
We must first pray and act on behalf of God to restore people to God. Without a restoration to a surrendered and dependent relationship on God, further restoration is flawed. Any restoration that does not begin with a relationship to God will be hollow and will eventually fall apart. When a man says that what he wants most is to be restored to his family in a family conflict, that restoration will eventually fail if he is not first restored to God.
After being restored to a relationship with God, an individual must next be restored to a relationship with family and friends. Next is a restoration to fellowship within the Church, and finally a restoration to service within the Church. In a case where a leader has fallen, too often the leader immediately apologizes and wants to be restored to service. This should not be allowed, as restoration to God, family and fellowship must come first. A return to service will take time and a restoration plan, if it is ever possible at all.
This process of restoration is painful and messy and tempting to avoid, but as leaders we must wade in. Paul writes in Galatians 6:1 concerning our responsibility to lead people back to God who have been caught up in sin. He says that he is writing to those “who are spiritual.” That means those who are Christians and especially Christian leaders who are held to a higher standard. He goes on to say that we should seek to restore a person “gently.” Some versions also add the word “humbly.” This means that the leader must not have a goal to “win” in a conflict, but to gently restore. This also means that the leader must understand that he or she is equally guilty of sin and in danger of Hell were it not for the grace of God.
In Galatians 6, the NIV then adds the sentence, “But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” I always thought this was an odd statement because I wondered why I was in danger of falling into the same sin with which the other Christian was struggling. I now believe that Paul was warning against the sin of spiritual pride.
The primary obstacle to dealing with conflict in a healthy, effective manner is spiritual pride. When I am unwilling or unable to see that God may want to work in my heart to make me a more effective leader and follower through the input of others, I am falling prey to this pride. When we are guilty, we need to repent of this sin. As Christian leaders, the practice of trust, the overcoming of fear and the characteristic of humility equip us to use conflict as the springboard through which God purifies our leadership of selfish desires that “battle” within us, and clears the Church of obstacles and impediments to its mission. Moreover, by engaging in healthy conflict, we allow multiple points of view, led by the Holy Spirit, to create initiatives and solutions unhindered by pride. When no one “owns” an idea, the glory is given all the more easily to the One who deserves it.