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Restoration: Can a Fallen Leader be Restored?

Written by: on March 16, 2021

I didn’t grow up in a perfect home. My parents weren’t perfect parents. Despite that, I have many fond memories, many of which are oriented around items of restoration. I always enjoyed being part of seeing old things brought back to life, whether it was an old farm tractor or a piece of furniture. To me there is something sacred about making old things new. Yet, I do realize that there are some things better left unrestored. I inherited a 66 F-85 Oldsmobile from my grandfather when I graduated from high school. It wasn’t a pretty car. It was actually a rust bucket. The interior had seen its better days but the V8 330CID 250 horsepower engine ran like a top. I knew it was beyond my ability or financial means to retore so eventually it was sold to someone who saw it for what it could become. I also had a 1959 Dodge pickup that I dreamed of restoring. I overhauled the little flat top 6-cylinder engine with my dad. Canister oil filters were a challenge to find, so there were times that single ply toilet paper served me well as a filter. It was a fun truck to drive, but just like the Oldsmobile it was too far gone for my ability to restore. I eventually gave it to my dad for a ranch truck, and it served him well. Eventually it too was sold to a wide-eyed individual who had a similar love for restoring things.

In his book, The Undefended Leader, Simon Walker discusses the undefended leader and the challenges that are faced to become one. He dives into both the challenges associated with the front stage and the back stages of each leader. He explains that he has never witnessed a leader whose leadership approach wasn’t molded by their childhood. During the formative years there are many things that can mold one’s behavior; parents, friends, teachers and youth leaders. Positive and negative experiences. Even one’s genetic makeup can influence how a leader will lead. No matter what the influence is, Walker explains, “the root of the defendedness they exhibit as a leader, the strategy they use to make themselves safe, lies in the experience of trust they record as a child.”[1]

Walker unfolds the root causes of the “defended self.” When looking at the four leadership egos each one has a particular response to childhood trust. He dedicates a complete chapter to each leadership ego. A shaping leader’s ego struggles with being overconfident and the need to rescue others. The defining leader’s ego struggles with being overzealous and very driven. The adapting leader’s ego struggles with taking on too much responsibility and being anxious. The defending leader’s ego struggles with being oversensitive and being suspicious of others.[2]

As I read through the discussion of each leader’s ego, I couldn’t help but take a moment to reflect on areas of my own life that I could see where some of these tendencies unfolded. I also could see some of these tendencies in leaders I have served under, some of which have fallen morally. In the wake of having witnessed friends and fellow leaders along with world renowned leaders failing morally, I wonder about the restoration process. How do these egos interact with the morality of a leader? Should a morally fallen leader be restored? Can there again be a place of productivity in the Kingdom of God for them? Can they ever be trusted again? What should the restoration process look like?

Obviously, the context of leadership makes a difference. In the business world, morality issues don’t seem to be a major concern. Not that corporate leaders don’t have moral issues! Corporate America tends to hide well the private lives of their leaders. Even when they don’t, there appears to be a greater tolerance for moral failures within the business world than in the church. As long as the stockholders are happy, little concern is shown toward a leader’s personal indiscretions until certain legal boundaries are crossed. But within the religious world, the church context of a personal moral failure becomes a scandalous event.

When looking at 1 Timothy 3 on the qualities of a leader, there may be some areas that should be considered when looking at restoring a fallen leader. Paul unfolds the importance of being of good reputation, being above reproach and being able to lead one’s family. One of the questions when looking at restoring a leader, needs to be restoring them to what? I believe in forgiveness and restoration. Can a fallen leader be restored to their Christian faith? Most certainly. Can they be restored back to their family? I think so, but that depends on the willingness of the family.  Should a leader be restored back to leadership? What do we do with examples of biblical characters that were restored after doing some pretty horrific things? The Apostle Paul persecuted Christians. Moses was a murderer. King David was a womanizer and a murderer. Peter denied Christ.

When exploring leadership restoration, here are some more questions that may need to be considered. Is the leader repentant? Are they truly sorry for their failure? Is there a possibility that they will commit the failure again? Has the leader completely lost their credibility? Can they get credibility back if they re-enter leadership? How deliberate and lengthy should the process be? Can trust be restored?

Restoration is important. The leadership journey is full of potholes and pitfalls. Part of restoration is restoring trust, and also includes forgiveness and healing. But recovery goes beyond healing; it goes to the deep issue that caused the problem in the first place. The value of the Undefended Leader is not only to give vital insight to a leader looking to prevent a moral failure from happening, it also gives a solid starting place for recovery of a leader who has fallen and needs guidance and is willing to do the deep work involved in restoration.

[1] Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader: Leading Out of Who You are, Leading with Nothing to Lose, Leading with Everything to Give (Carlisle, Piquant Editions, 2010), 61

[2] Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader, 62-100, Chapters 7 -10 discuss each ego in great detail.

About the Author

mm

Greg Reich

Entrepreneur, Visiting Adjunct Professor, Arm Chair Theologian, Leadership/Life Coach, husband, father and grandfather. Jesus follower, part time preacher! Handy man, wood carver, carpenter and master of none. Outdoor enthusiast, fly fisherman, hunter and all around gun nut.

15 responses to “Restoration: Can a Fallen Leader be Restored?”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Solid post, Greg. There’s a ray of hope in the midst of the fallen “heroes” we’ve seen lately. I think in the process of restoration, one important facet is continuing to have a community around the person who loves and supports them as they move away from their failures into a new life. What safeguards are being placed around them so that they don’t go careening off the side of the cliff again?

    I think our gut reaction at times is to excommunicate a fallen leader, but is doing so actually helping them? Or is it setting them up for a deeper fall into the pit down the line? This isn’t to excuse them for their actions — there needs to be consequences when people have been hurt. I just wonder if our gut reaction is the best in this regard.

    • mm Greg Reich says:

      Dylan I agree that we so quickly discard gifted individuals. There ought to be a bridge of restoration of some sort and it should be deliberate and well thought out. One of the challenges is that not all churches are the same. An offense in one denomination is not always an offense in another. It is pretty easy in this day and age to leave one denomination and just join another without full disclosure. It is even more complicated if the churches are nondenominational and they are independent without ties to other churches, It is a complicated issue but one that needs to be looked at.

  2. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Thanks for this Greg. Because I’m not sure that you answer your own question, I wonder what you think. Do you think a fallen leader can be restored to leadership and ministry?

    • mm Greg Reich says:

      Jer, I am openly torn, our choices should and do have ramifications. Gods forgiveness cleanses us from sin but it doesn’t erase the ramifications of our choices. A criminal that comes to Jesus still pays for his crime. I know God is able to do all things and I want to believe that all leaders deserve a second chance but some offenses are hard to recover from even with hard work. Our society and culture are not overly forgiving to fallen Christian leaders. It often depends on what the offense was and whether an individual is willing to do the deep work. It’s also depends on how long the offense has been going on. Some offenses are hard to come back from especially if they have been going on for a long time. Being restored back into faith and into the body is different than being restored back into a leadership position. I have seen it happen on a local church level but the process was very deliberate and the individual was moved to a different church with full disclosure to the leadership of the new church.

      • mm Jer Swigart says:

        I’m not sure that I, personally, have witnessed this form of restoration. I wonder about the one example that you speak of. What were one or two of the most helpful “deliberate” actions taken in order to restore the individual to leadership?

        • mm Jer Swigart says:

          As an aside, I still marvel at the fixation by Christians on sex. I’m troubled by how Christians have labeled sexual sin as the chief of all sins when it, in no way, is the only form of abusive power being embodied by mostly male Christian leaders. In my view, patriarchy in all of its forms should be taken with the same measure of seriousness and grace as sexual impropriety. Wondering if you have any thoughts on why sex has become the wrong-est wrong and the one thing that would disqualify a leader from being restored to leadership?

          • mm Greg Reich says:

            Jer,
            I find it interesting that a former drug user, womanizer or criminal that comes to Christ can be seen as a trophy Christian because of their testimony but a christian the falls into sexual sin is often asked to leave a church. In many cases you can be a alcoholic, drug abuser or recovering from divorce and you are greeted with open arms. Very few church have a porn addiction recovery program.

            I think part of the reason why sexual issues have been raised to the top of the list is because society has a dichotomy of acceptable behaviors and it is one of the most common misuses of power. I also think that sexual abuse in leadership is seen as more news worthy that a leader bullying or verbally abusing an individual. I can’t remember a time I read of a leader being fired for racist slander, bigotry, verbal abuse or bullying. Though there are other forms of leadership abuse sexual abuse seems to cause the largest breech of trust. I do find it concerning that christians that are non-leaders in the church can be abusive in one or more ways and nothing is done but when a leader is reported all hell break loose. Both should be issues of concern. Maybe the reason why we treat them different it because we close our eyes to the personal lives of others and don’t want to get involves. Leaders lives are open for public scrutiny. Maybe this is why the bible warns about leaders (teachers)are held at a higher standard. (James 3)

            Sexual issues are also no longer just a male issue though I believe men tend to abuse it more. The last 10 years there has been a amazing number of female teachers convicted of sexual abuse with male students. The statistics are alarming as to gender infidelity and pornography use between men and women. The numbers are closer that one would suspect.
            https://ifstudies.org/blog/who-cheats-more-the-demographics-of-cheating-in-america

            https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/process-addiction/porn-addiction/related/pornography-statistics/

            As far a leadership abuses I think there are more common abuses like bullying and verbal abuse that are never taken seriously but sexual abuses are. To me both are equally damaging and both should be confronted.

            The Assembly of God denomination has a bridge of restoration process for a fallen pastor caught in infidelity. It is a long process that requires counseling and accountability to several pastors. I also know that Pure Desires has a process for pastors and their wives that entails a lie detector test so full disclosure is maintained. As far as the success rate of these programs I don’t know. I know of 2 people that saved their marriages and are back in ministry due to these programs. Both have a high level of accountability to this day.

  3. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Is restoration the same thing as reconciliation or redemption? Though we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation, I’m always amazed at how poorly many in the Church do reconciliation. Often individuals and communities resign to “it is what it is,” especially when a leader topples from their podium. We simply turn away, embarrassed for them, angry at them, ashamed we believed in them. We try to sweep the fall under the rug, silence voices, mitigate the spreading of the story. And once the story is out, we hear little, if anything, about the restoration or reconciliation process of the leader and their community. What role does a community play in the restoration process? Where have you seen the restoration of a leader done well? What were some key components to that process?

    • mm Greg Reich says:

      I would see restoration, redemption and reconciliation as related but different. I don’t have space to discuss all three but I can say this from personal experience. When I screwed up in corporate America. I was forgiven by the company and my relationship with my superiors was made right but I was not restored to my position in leadership. I broke no laws, it didn’t affect my work performance nor did I harm another individual in any way but as a leader my screwup was seen as a breech of trust.

      When it comes to Christianity we tend to kill our wounded leaders instead of offering them a bridge of restoration. The bible gives us a mandate to confront one another in love and if we see a fellow Christian in sin to go to them (James 5, Mt. 18, Gal. 6 and 2 Tim. 2). Confrontation with the intent to restore is a very loving act. I wish some one close to me would have confronted me with my issues head on before they almost ruined my marriage. A community that is loving, forgiving and part of the accountability process has been the key to my healing as an individual. No one volunteered I had to recruit people to be in close community which I found concerning years ago. I am not sure a lot has changes other than churches are starting to offer recovery programs for people. I find this concerning since severely broken people feeding off of one another brokenness with out wholesome relationship out side of the group is not healthy.

      In many cases sexual infidelity is the most common form of leadership failure within Christianity. Other forms of abuse like verbal abuse, bullying and racism are seldom confronted in the church which I find concerning. In some of my other responses when it comes to sexual infidelity I have referred to the Pure Desires pastors recover program. Also Steve Gallagher founder of Pure Life Ministries has a pretty strict live in program that has a high success rate for sexual addiction recovery. I know of two pastors that made it through the Pure Desires program as pastors who are back in ministry. What I understand the level of accountability in the pastors program is high and it includes a mandatory lie detector test. Restoration is important but it shouldn’t instantly done. Deep work needs to be done.

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    Like others in this thread, I’m wresting with restoration and reconciliation. To me, “restore” means to put back to its original condition and “reconcile” means to put back into balance or make peace. I have a friend who is nearing the end of a lengthy prison term. He was in ministry when he committed his crime, he surrendered his credentials (before having them removed,) and he will never ever be allowed to serve in a traditional ministry setting ever again. This is part of the punishment that is the natural consequence of a crime such as his. And yet, he had (and has) gifts for ministry. He has regularly been asked to teach and lead Bible studies and worship services for other inmates. He and I exchange letters and have face-to-face conversations of deep spiritual significance. He will never be fully restored as an ordained pastor, nor will he ever be fully forgiven by many of those he hurt. And honestly, I doubt he’ll ever be fully reconciled with members of my clergy community who were so disgusted by his crime that they put as much distance between him and themselves as possible and have never looked back. Obviously, your post brings lots to the surface for me on this subject and it’s good to have the chance to work on that some of that in conversation with Walker. My friend will be released in two years and will likely look to me for help and guidance since I’ve been one of just a few people who have maintained any kind of friendship. Can you give me a bit of coaching on how to help my friend recognize what can truly be restored in him?

  5. mm Greg Reich says:

    John,
    Every denomination is different. I find it interesting that some denominations will disqualify a leader for an indiscretion and yet ordain a repentant ex-drug user or womanizer. The only difference is one failed while a christian and the other before they became a Christian.

    John I think the church needs to redefine the concept of ministry. Ministry is not just within the church walls. That is why there is such a great need for a theology of vocation within the church. Paul in Ephesians tells us God gifted certain leaders to be equippers to equip others for works of ministry. I doubt that Paul had in mind training Sunday school teachers, greeters and ushers. At that time church was an infant idea not a structure or formal religious organization. Every pew sitter in the church is called to ministry.

    I would suggest helping your friend first deal with that shame and stigma associated with leaving pastoral ministry. I would help prepare him in knowing that society is not always forgiving and there will be a certain stigma that will follow him. Some choices hound us forever. Help him find a church body that is willing to help nurture him and heal him through acceptance and forgiveness. He will need a place of community. I would invite him to a place of hope. I would cast a vision for a broader sense of ministry out side of the church building. I would help Him realize that his past doesn’t disqualify him to minister to people it uniquely equips him to walk along side others that have fallen. I would also recognize that there are some denominations and non-denominations that may consider him still able to be licensed as long as there is full disclosure and a level of accountability. Restoration to kingdom work is possible. Part of the problem is our narrow definition of kingdom work.
    If you think I can assist your friend feel free to connect us. He will not be the first prisoner I have been pen pals with and a messenger of hope.

    Jesus didn’t send the demonized man away who had a legion of demons in him. He freed, healed and restored him. The man wanted to join Jesus but instead Jesus made him a missionary to his own people by telling him to go and share his story. There is no defense against a changed life. Whether that change comes through a salvation conversion experience or through a repentance and change after deep failure and walking through a restoration process.

    • mm John McLarty says:

      Thanks Greg. It will definitely be a tough road for my friend. This and your responses to other comments rightly raise the issue (and hypocrisy) that some sins, indiscretions, and crimes seem to be more forgivable that others. We definitely still have lots more work to do.

      • mm Greg Reich says:

        John,
        With God all things are possible. As far a somethings being tougher to forgive than others let me say; in repentance I believe God instantly forgives and restores ones relationship with him As to the the human factor we are much slower and less forgiving. The hope to cling to is God is on our side even when humanity is not. Your friend will have to maneuver the short mindedness of humanity and our slow ability to forgive and trust.

  6. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Recovery and restoration often seem void of the conversation with fallen leaders, so I’m glad you traverse this space. I remember the look on someone’s face when we were talking bout Matthew 18 and confrontation. If they don’t listen, treat them as you would a “pagan or a tax collector.” I asked them, how would you treat someone outside the family of faith? Wouldn’t it be with love, patience, prayer, and hope for connection with God and His people? We get so busy stratifying people that we forget the call is to love and restore.

  7. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Thanks Greg, always thankful to learn from and perceive growth from your posts.

    ‘But recovery goes beyond healing; it goes to the deep issue that caused the problem in the first place.’

    Leaders today, as I have seen, are ones who have learned to ‘play the game’ well. Socially and personally, first.

    David, Noah, Paul…all of them. Getting past the idea of a leader ‘being fallen’ may be what it takes (even) for people to come to Jesus.

    He was publicised a blasphemer. That’s a pretty fallen state to be in. The world doesn’t like his representation here so much either, the history of His Body could be perceived as ‘fallen’.

    Then, to get to Jesus. Beyond the feelings and emotions, to a rejected one, a man of sorrows, one we can identify with.

    Looking for ‘perfect’ leaders today, that’s what the world always wants…and, these ones, rock-like statues, will perform and play the part well because they know how to play the game.

    Yes, I’m interested the ‘broken’ and ‘awoken’ ones. I’m curious to hear their story. Wise and gentle, because even the ‘broken-awoken’ ones can learn how to the play the game; to get what they’re after for their own pocket.

    I’m not interested in being played. True stories and souls and Home, all these matter more.

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