Does financial security prevent ministers from repenting of sin, and if so what should the church do about it? This question assumes that preparation for ministry does not easily translate to other fields, so the economic incentive to hide sin is strong. Thus, the practical question: Should churches offer vocational retraining for fallen pastors?
The stakes are high for a pastor to remain on the straight and narrow. His own testimony, the health of his family and church, and the reputation of Christ are on the line. Of course, this is true for every Christian, but there is a particular urgency for pastors because of their responsibility before almighty God (James 3:1).
All these things raise the motivation to hide sin. The fallout of repenting would be nuclear. His personal income is on the line, and thus the security of his family. Unlike the engineer or English professor in the congregation who can fail morally but may be able to get by unfazed professionally, a pastor’s earning potential is affected the moment he’s discovered.
Finding himself in such a situation, a compromised pastor will simply promise himself (and God) he won’t compromise anymore, and that will be the end of whatever vice he’s been indulging. But it never works. Unconfessed sin is a sure way both to invite the opposition of God (Psalm 32:3-4) and to harden into self-deception (Hebrews 3:12-13). So should a church have a pre-standing offer of vocational retraining to encourage a compromised pastor to come clean?
Why a Policy Doesn’t Work
As a policy, no. The two main purposes for such a policy would be to encourage openness regarding moral failure and to show fairness to a man whose sole training was for ministry related tasks. But such a policy would fail at both purposes. First, the assurance of vocational retraining will not necessarily increase the likelihood of repentance. The genuine conviction of the Holy Spirit will jump a low or a high hurdle all the same. Second, such a policy would rob the congregation of the opportunity to actively love a fallen brother. Vocational retraining would be something he is contractually owed rather than something he is graciously given.
Let me explain both of these points a bit more. First, the promise of financial security beyond ministry will not increase the likelihood of repentance. The assurance of vocational retraining is like a safety net for a well-known tightrope walker. It may spare a broken neck, but it won’t save a shattered reputation. The tightrope walker would probably take the broken neck over the negated carrier. The excruciating cost for a pastor confessing his moral failure transcends earning potential—his professional reputation, his marriage and family makeup, his sense of the meaning of his very existence. In other words, there are plenty of other reasons his flesh will find to hide if he is not sincerely convicted by the Holy Spirit.
But if he is, then the world couldn’t stop him from repenting. I’ve watched men face withering consequences for coming to the light, convinced that any earthly consequence was tolerable if the Lord Jesus would spare them from the final judgment. This is the mark, in fact, of godly sorrow in contrast to worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10-13). In the end, no commitment by the church for vocational retraining can counter the deceitfulness of sin.
Logic of Love
Second, a policy of offering vocational retraining to a fallen minister implies fairness over love. The logic of fairness would say that since the man’s vocational preparation was exclusively for the tasks of ministry—exegesis and homiletics, discipleship training and counseling—then he ought to be offered adequate preparation for a new career. It’s only fair.
But the logic of love is different. It would say that this minister has fallen into a sin common to us all, but with uniquely devastating consequences. Love means considering his interests despite there being no official obligation to do so. Isn’t this what Jesus illustrated by the story of a compassionate Samaritan and a pair of unwilling Jews? (Luke 10:29-37)
Love is best expressed personally, not contractually. The love that Christians should hold for one another will personally motivate them to help a fallen brother. Obviously, there is no guarantee of this love. And that’s the point. Love is expressed not in contractual guarantee, but in the spontaneous overflow of covenant commitment. A church policy that offers tuition reimbursement for a fallen pastor to get an MBA is very different from a member of the church who owns a furniture business offering him gainful employment and training.
Even if the church did want to go the route of supplementing an MBA or some other training, it’s best done through an unprompted act of benevolence, not from some prior agreement. This arrangement keeps the line clear between some inaccurate sense of employee fairness and a genuine act of undeserved generosity.
For those of us in ministry, we do well to plead with the Lord frequently to spare us from being that guy. We should beg Christ for the kind of love that motives our holiness far better than the fear of earthly consequences alone. But it should also be said that God is generous to sinners devastated by the consequences of sin. Psalm 38 stands as a testimony that God welcomes prayers for forgiveness for sin as well as help for the consequences we caused by it.
No fallen pastor who is a child of God disqualifies himself from his Father’s promise to provide. A repentant pastor will learn this promise regardless in the end, and regardless of a church policy.