I think this is an honest and daunting question.
Could someone who struggles with past sin be disqualified from preaching? At what point does a man who struggles with pornography be disqualified from ministry altogether? Can a man who is divorced or remarried be a leader in a church? Can he ever be restored again?
These are some questions that take time and we certainly need some time to process through carefully.
Before I dive into the answer of yes or no, let us look at a few biblical examples of how God responds to fallen, broken messed-up people in the Bible.
The Adulterous Murder and Man After God’s Own Heart
A story that is familiar to children all around the world. This man was an artist, musician, warrior, theologian, and King.
David was known as, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22), because of he had a tremendous relationship with God (2 Chron 16:9). He prayed prayers such as, “Teach me Your way, O LORD, that I may walk in Your truth. Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name.” (Ps 86:11).
Ultimately, through the lineage of David (Matt 1:1-17), Jesus Christ the Messiah was born (Mic 5:2), and the Davidic Covenant was fulfilled in the Savior King (2 Sam 7:1-7).
David is a classic example where not to judge a person by skillset or experience. God spoke to the prophet Samuel by saying, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature. Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
David sinned in a big way as he was not perfect. David committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:1-5), murdered the husband Uriah the Hittite (1 Sam 11:14-16). These were no little things, but David was sincerely broken by his own sin and repented, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Ps 51:4).
As a result? David was restored because God’s irresistible grace was poured forth over this broken-hearted sinner. Certainly, David did not escape the consequence of his sinful act (2 Sam 12:15-23), yet we see how a man of his statue was restored by God’s grace.
The Contradiction Denier and The Rock of the Church
Peter was one of the first disciples Jesus called to follow him (Matt 4:18-21). Jesus walking along and runs into fishermen. He comes upon Peter, Andrew, James and John and says, “Follow me.” (v. 19).
But Peter probably wasn’t the first choice of the qualification chart of making a great leader! Peter had a big problem with his mouth and was a bundle of contradictions (Matt 16:21–23).
Yet, Peter later in ministry was an incredible man. Jesus said, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18). Peter was later condemned to death, and crucified on the cross. Origen says that Peter felt even unworthy to be put to death in the same manner of his Master, so he was crucified upside down.
People marveled as Peter was an ordinary nobody. The book of Acts says: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
As believers, sometimes we forget that God wants to use unschooled ordinary people to change the world.
God often used mere ordinary, uneducated people to turn the world upside down. Jesus chose Peter a man with many weaknesses. Jesus chose a nobody like a fisherman and turned his weaknesses into strengths.
Then, we come to the account of the Gospel where Peter messed up big time. Peter denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times (Matt 26:69-75). Earlier in Matthew Jesus said, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 10:33).
Jesus approaches Peter before his ascension and restores him back by asking the question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:15) and Peter was commanded to feed God’s sheep (John 21:17) and to follow Jesus whole heartedly (John 21:19).
The Gracious Loving Kind Restorer
Can you imagine if either Peter or David came to the church office to apply for an Associate Pastor position? Neither of them according to the current standard will make it on the team.
“Peter, you really got some awesome stuff on your resume! But, tell me a bit about your skeleton in the closet where people accused you of knowing Jesus? And you not only denied him once but three times?” If it were not God’s restoration, the night of Pentecost wouldn’t have happened where 3000 people were added that day (Acts 2:14-41) .
What about David applying for a Family minister’s position? “David, you have a head start with all your past experience! But what about this little detail where you raped your best friends’ wife and tried to cover up that story?”
It seems like to me, God is in the business of restoration of broken people. Biblically speaking, regardless of any past circumstances, God can redeem a person for His own glory.
That doesn’t necessarily always mean a platform, a certain title, a church position, or be on a ministerial staff which could be discussed in another article. Every situation looks different.
Our churches need to figure this out well. We need to pray fervently and look to God through His Word in each situation. Why? Because we have men who feel condemned disqualified and belittled who don’t find forgiveness in Christ and are leaving the church left to right. If someone is broken by sin, we should restore the person gently (Gal 6:1).
Every person is a sinner (Rom 3:23), and no one is exempt from perfection which is only reserved for Christ (Heb 2:10; 5:9; 7:28). When people think ministry leaders don’t make mistakes, they have automatically set leaders up for failures as there’s only One perfect leader, Jesus.
Yet, people were still disappointed with Jesus himself to the point where people hated him (John 15:18-25), so much ultimately murdered (Luke 23:25) as well as the perfect Prophet and perfect Priest.
Therefore, hold against to bring discord (Rom 16:17), being divisive (Tit 3:10), grumbling (Phil 2:14), slanderous (Prov 10:18) or gossipy in the church (2 Cor 12:20). Do not be quick to create disunity in the body but instead, expect the best in all believers (1 Cor 1:10; 1 John 2:6). It is easy to point fingers at other’s sin, but instead, let us examine ourselves (2 Cor 13:5) and kill our own sin (Rom 8:12-13) with the help of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).
If you’re a leader reading this, I want to encourage you. You do not have to do everything and act as if you have it all together. I know it is a shocking statement, but you really are not perfect. It’s ok to make mistakes and fail at times. You are not Jesus. You are just a human. Rest assured in the hands of a gracious God (Isa 41:10). He is close to you in the pain (Psa 34:18) and will never forsake you (Heb 13:5).
Jesus is greater and stronger than all the past mistakes. And above all, He is indeed a gracious and compassionate restorer.