It is very serious when a man, called by God to shepherd His people (a “pastor” is one who “shepherds God’s flock”—see Acts 20:28 and 1st Peter 5:1-2), falls into sin and refuses to repent. Let’s consider the words of the Apostle Paul in 1st Timothy 5:19-20, “Do not receive an accusation against an ELDER except from two or three witnesses. THOSE WHO ARE SINNING REBUKE in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” Paul spoke highly of elders (i.e. pastors) in verse 17, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” He also knew that they would be the special objects of Satan’s attack and thus in verse 20 he lays down the rule that if anyone accuses an elder of sin it had better be on based on the reliable testimony of “two or three witnesses.” If they were indeed guilty of sinning, they were to be “rebuked in the presence of all”; that is, they were to be publicly rebuked in the front of the whole local church where they were living and teaching the Word of God. This reveals just how serious the sin of a public servant is, for their actions not only result in marring their own “personal testimony,” but also that of the local church.

If, after such a solemn rebuke before the local church, an elder remains unrepentant, he should be put under church discipline. In Matthew 18:15-17 we have a case of church discipline where if a brother (any Christian) sins and refuses to repent (after being approached by another brother, followed by 2 or 3 brothers, and finally by the whole church), he is to be treated as a sinner outside of the church fellowship. Verse 17 states, “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”

On a positive note, if he were to repent, he can surely be restored to fellowship with his brothers and sisters in the local church. But I would add that in order for an elder to be restored to his former pastoral ministry, there would need to be a public display of some kind giving evidence that he was now, based on his repentance, able to resume his work of shepherding God’s flock. We have only one example (that I know of) in Scripture of this. I’m speaking of the Apostle Peter’s restoration to public service after he had sinned by denying His Lord three times. We read of this in John 21:15-17, “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘FEED MY LAMBS.’ He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, “TEND MY SHEEP.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘FEED MY SHEEP’.”

If you recall, Peter had actually gone back to his old profession of being a fisherman. He felt so bad for denying the Lord that he thought he had been laid aside for good and would never be privileged to minister to Christ’s sheep ever again. But the Lord saw Peter’s repentant heart and in His grace He decided to reinstate Peter as a “shepherd of His sheep.” He did this publicly so all would know that Peter had truly repented and that He was allowing Peter to resume his public service. This teaches us that an elder/pastor may indeed sin and yet if there is true repentance the Lord may indeed give him a second chance and put him into public service once again. (314.6) (DO)