This article may be somewhat controversial to some. My hope is that this can begin a healthy discussion on the process of how to restore someone back from failure. Being a pastor, I deal with mistakes all the time—be it with a member or even in my own life. Overcoming shortcomings keeps me balanced and busy. I know a few things about falling down and getting back up again; lessons that I hope will benefit the readers of this article.
The idea to write this came with numerous public failures and the responses that followed. One example happened when Michael Vick signed with the Eagles. Living in South Jersey, this was major since most people are Eagles fans, Philadelphia being closer then New York. The debates on local and national sports channels had me curious how Jesus would respond if He were now on earth. This article is neither about Vick nor about anybody else who has failed; it’s just a simple curiosity about how the Bible would apply these current events. Let’s look at a few biblical principles that can give us direction.
First, I believe that failure is an opportunity to manifest God’s love. The extent of His love is revealed in His sacrifice to those who don’t deserve it. He is notorious in giving people another chance to get it right. That same love should be working in us. When someone fails, it is a time when people should see God in us. We also have an opportunity to fulfill two of our assignments: the perfecting and equipping of the church. When people fail, we shouldn’t avoid them but come close and be the living example of God’s love. The reality is that the problems of people are the reason we have a job. No sin, no need of a pastor. When people fail, it gives us a moment to come close, work our gifts and show the grace of God.
Another principle is that we must accept that it will happen. Not that we condone it but we should be prepared for the situation when it comes up. When Jesus foretold of Peter’s denial, He accepted the fact and prayed for Peter. He didn’t pray that Peter wouldn’t fail but that his faith wouldn’t fail. He accepted what Peter would do and prayed that after it was over, he would be restored and get back to work. Jesus is showing us that we need to be in constant prayer for our people. We need to pray that when they fail, they will recover and not run away from God. A lot of people make mistakes; instead of running to God, they avoid Him and the church. We need to have open arms to show people that if they do fail, they have a safe place to run.
My favorite part of this process is to use it as a teaching moment. Leo F. Buscaglia says, “We seem to gain wisdom more readily through our failures than through our successes. We always think of failure as the antithesis of success, but it isn’t. Success often lies just on the other side of failure.”
Failure is a method of learning—not the preferred method, but it is one. A lesson is learned by researching why it happened and what we can do better the next time. This is how we should navigate the moment to teach. Help the person discover the source of their failure and what they can do so the same mistake won’t happen again. This is simply a method of Jesus. Correct and teach. He always used it as an opportunity to explain what should be done. He was patient enough to guide people in the process of recovery. I remember experiencing this when I made a crucial mistake and my pastor, Bishop Evans, sat me down and showed me this step in the process. Him modeling this concept of compassion and patience was humbling and gave me a guide on how to deal with people who have fallen short. Failure, if maximized correctly, can be a learning tool.
Lastly, it gives us a chance to bring about restoration. The Bible says in Galatians that those who are spiritual should restore those overtaken in a fault. To restore is to put back in its proper place. When people fall out of place, it is our job to position them back to where they are supposed to be. Now the scope of restoration is different according to the infraction. Based on the offense, some people will never be able to go back into leadership in the church. As we know, restoration does not remove the consequences. However, restoration should lead back to some sort of usefulness and benefit to mankind. When Jesus foretold Peter’s denial, He said that when you are converted, strengthen the brethren. Part of the process in restoring the person is for them to go and help others.
The process to restoration is not to keep the person down but to build them up. Zig Ziglar said it best:“Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.”