Grasping Mercy’s Reach!

I’m on a quest trying to understand how restoration can happen in community rather than out of community. The best I can do in this blog is lay out the burden and come far short of reaching any answers. Perhaps raising the question can get us to figure out how we can do a better job seeing people healed and restored with the help of community. I know it’s the biblical thing to do, I just don’t see it happening much today. Perhaps our way of doing church doesn’t make it easy, or even possible. shame

When our pastors fail, ethically or morally, typically, if not always they are asked to leave. Rarely does the community they served play a role in their restoration. If anything they are told to leave quickly (and quietly), get help and get better and perhaps we might consider someplace they could serve again. Unlikely in the same ministry. If they do serve again it’s usually by wearing a clearly visible badge of shame.

Last month, Dallas Cowboy’s quarterback Tony Romo was seriously injured. A broken collar bone forces him to sit out the remainder of the season. You’ll see him again, not on the field, but wearing a sling in the players stand with many second string players. He will stay with the team until he is well again. And the team will contribute to his healing. Team doctors, trainers and coaches will do all they can to make sure he recovers certainly and quickly. Encouragement from fans and teammates will motivate Tony back to his starting position.

What would it look like if a church contributed to the healing of the injured around them? What would happen if rather than sending away we embraced and loved and cheered toward full restoration. An elder blows it morally, and while, yes, he must step down, he is not shamed. He remains and embraces the love, accepts the discipline, but still shows up – immersed in the acceptance of the body he served. The body contributes to his healing, and one day, possibly, he’ll serve again stronger and healthier than ever before.

Remember the pastor you know who had the affair with the secretary? He was led out the back door the day he was caught and never seen again. That Sunday an elder stood before the congregation; you sat there feeling the tension in the air, knowing something was wrong. Rumors swirled that the pastor had to leave suddenly, but no one knew why. An announcement would be made that Sunday.  You sat there, breathing heavily, tears pushing past the lump in your throat expecting the worst. Your gut told you the pastor, that man you looked up to and respected and loved did something terribly wrong. Stan Headelder stepped to the mic; you saw him take his own deep breath. His left hand shook as it reached for the inside of his suit pocket and pulled out a worn, wrinkled piece of paper. You thought you saw tear stains on the edges. Stan read slowly, voice shaking. The statement was short, but firm. “Pastor Daniels was asked to resign because of an affair with the secretary. The elders ask all members not to contact the pastor, nor Charleen, his wife. The two need time to heal, to reconcile. They’re meeting with a counselor, therefore in good hands.”

The lump in your throat seemed to drop to your stomach and you felt like throwing up. You wanted so badly to see pastor Daniels and Charleen and just hug them. To forgive him. You pushed aside the urge to stand up and ask why you couldn’t see them. After all he served us, loved us and shepherded us for fifteen years. Oh well, the elders must know what they’re doing, so you pushed away that impulse.

I meet a number of pastors and ministry workers who live in isolation, ostracized by the community they need for their healing. They fear being seen, knowing their scarlet letter is clearly visible. They, too, have a longing to be embraced. To be told they are forgiven. To confess sin and cry with those they sinned against. To hear some say, “We struggle with that, too, and we love you”. They live in the silence of the phone call that will never come, the knock on the door that exists only in their imaginations.

A popular pastor I listened to regularly on podcast spoke often about grace. It was his drumbeat. He confessed that he was a sinner who needed the gospel preached to him daily. I felt refreshed listening to his messages. I swam daily in the ocean of the mercy and grace he spoke about that flowed from the cross and shed blood of Jesus. The depths of that pool was immeasurable. Then one day I heard this pastor had slipped up. His messages were no longer available. All past sermons, removed. Every fingerprint of his life and message wiped clean. He was forced to resign. I’ve no idea what happened to him, or how he is doing.* I pray often for him. Yet, knowing he believed so strongly in his message of grace, I sense he’s taking it more seriously now than those who asked him to leave. I am stretching myself trying to imagine how possibly he could have stayed and experienced discipline, healing and restoration by the community he served. I’m struggling picturing it. Not because the gospel doesn’t call for it, but more, because our lack or inability to truly understand and extend grace doesn’t seem to match our claim that it is so important.

I’m not suggesting we diminish the severity of the sin, or that we overlook sin. I’m longing to grasp mercy’s reach that pulls toward full restoration, not just in the sinner’s life, but also for the community.

I’d like to hear your thoughts. What is your story? What do you long for that would have been done differently in a story you know? How was it done right? 

*I discovered yesterday that this pastor was hired by another ministry organization, filling a non-pastoral role that will allow him to make a living, and continue healing while surrounded by a loving, graced-filled community of believers. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

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