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Because of the personal and sensitive nature of this question, we changed the name, city, and state.

Rick R. from Runfield, Wisconsin, asks:

I have moments where my past of sexual immorality haunts me. I’m 23. A few years ago I used to lead worship in college ministry but was walking in sexually immorality. God convicted me of what it really meant to be a member of church, and I joined a church and quickly confessed my sin to older men in the church who removed me from worship leading and got me help. Two years later, I’m married now and walking in light and confessing little parts of my flesh that still desire old sinful ways (I’ve been faithful to my wife and pray God will continue to protect my new marriage).

My question comes still, am I disqualified from ministry? I wasn’t married during that time, but I fear sometimes I’ve just sinned too much to be used in formal church ministry. I was sinning as a leader in a ministry. I’m not doubting my salvation, just haunted sometimes about if I’ll ever be able to be used by God or not.

We posed this question to Scotty Smith, founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

Dear Rick,

Your vulnerability and humility encourage me as I consider your important question. Thanks for being open about your sin and remorse. There are few things as beautiful as grace-generated repentance.

In fact let me start there. I’m glad you don’t doubt your salvation; but I hope you don’t doubt God’s love for you either. Jesus paid the full price for our sin—not just to send us to heaven when we die, but that we might live in God’s favor while we live. It’s Jesus’ righteousness, not ours, that makes us beloved sons and daughters of God. You don’t need to be haunted by anything in your past. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, Rick.

Affirming these things, here’s my counsel. First, I do believe men who’ve sinned sexually can be fully restored to fruitful ministry. In fact, I’ve had the joy of being personally involved in a wonderful restoration of a pastor friend. However, each story is different; and each situation requires discernment, community, the rebuilding of trust and time.

Rick, I trust you and your wife are currently committed members of a healthy, gospel-centered church, and that the leaders of that church know your story. If that’s not the case, that’s where you need to begin. If you’re to be in a formal role of ministry leadership, that needs to be determined, and celebrated, by a group of godly elders who’ve invested in your life and walked with you over a period of time.

Appropriately, you didn’t give me any of the details of your sexual sin; but your current elders will need to know more of the specifics, so they can safeguard the peace and purity of the whole church. This will probably involve their talking with the leaders of the church to whom you first offered your confession and repentance. This will give them important history and perspective, and an understanding about how the larger community was affected by your sin. But it will also encourage everyone about your ongoing commitment to grow in grace and to serve the Lord Jesus.

Last, Rick, I encourage you to love your wife well. Make being a good husband a much higher priority than leading God’s people in worship. Stay engaged with her, pursue her heart, and take her on this journey of restoration with you. Jesus is a great and gracious redeemer.