“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon,that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 31-32

 Frank grew up in a good Christian home. He was a preacher’s kid, active in school, a good athlete and just an all around nice guy. After high school, Frank went to the Bible College his denomination supported and later to Seminary.  He married his last year in seminary to a young lady he met his first year in Bible College and they entered the ministry together. Frank was a poster child for his family and his church.

 But in those quiet times, Frank wrestled with a secret sin that plagued him since the day he found that ‘girly magazine’ in the park during Jr. High. That was the start of Frank’s struggle with lust and pornography. It followed him through high school, college, seminary and into his marriage and ministry. It had bloomed from an occasional magazine to internet porn and on occasion physical contact with the opposite sex. Frank knew it was wrong. He constantly went before the Lord and begged for forgiveness and release from the bondage. But nothing worked.

One night, Frank left the wife he loved and drove to a nearby city and met with an online friend for sex. What he didn’t know, what he couldn’t know, is that it was a police sting operation. Frank was caught red handed. In the ensuing weeks Frank’s wife left him and they would soon divorce. The denomination stripped him of his ministry. Frank ‘disappeared’ in disgrace. He spent a few years trying to sell cars and insurance. He continued to struggle with sex and relationship issues. Eventually, Frank gave up on church, God and any hopes of reconciliation.

Dan’s story is similar to Frank’s in many ways. He accepted Christ at a youth group meeting in a local church, having been invited by a girl he had a huge crush on. After high school he married that same girl. They went to Bible College, Seminary, the whole path. Although Dan and Frank were miles apart their struggles were the same.

Dan was a youth pastor in several churches. There was a pattern that developed in his ministry. He would be at a church for 2-3 years, build a thriving youth group and then unexpectedly resign and move on to a new location. During the third year of his fifth church, rumors began to surface about Dan and one of the young ladies in the youth group. The board met with Dan, who assured them that there was nothing going on. One week later, Dan unexpectedly handed in his resignation.

But this resignation wasn’t going to be so easy. Pastor Johnson, senior pastor at First Church, felt an urging from the Lord to do some investigation. He began to research a bit more thoroughly the history of Dan’s ministry. As he dug deeper into Dan’s past he found that in every church Dan had served in, there were allegations of inappropriate relationships with young ladies in the youth group. Since Dan was a likeable young man with lots of promise, each board had gratefully accepted Dan’s resignation and sent him on his way with glowing recommendations.

After much prayerful discussion with his board members, Pastor Johnson and his wife invited Dan and his wife to dinner, where he confronted Dan about his findings. Dan broke down. In front of the Johnsons and his wife he confessed to a life of infidelity. After much prayer and discussion Pastor Johnson laid out his idea for the future for Dan.

 First of all, Dan’s resignation was not accepted. Secondly, Dan was granted a paid leave of absence from the church during which time he would agree to counseling and be given every opportunity to rebuild his relationship with his family and most importantly with Jesus.

 It was a tearful Sunday morning when Dan and his wife stood side by side with the board and the Johnson’s to confess his struggle, ask forgiveness and announce how the healing would begin. After 18 months, Dan was restored to his ministry within the church, where he enjoyed many more years of fruitful ministry.

While the stories of Dan and Frank are fictional, Frank’s story is played out over and over in the church today. It isn’t always the high profile sex revelations. Sometimes it’s financial issues or relational struggles. Occasionally it may be simply a result of differing view of ministry and vision.

What excites me about the way ‘Pastor Johnson’ and First Church handled a very touchy situation is that they realized that Dan’s spiritual and emotional well-being was more important that ‘doing the right thing’. While each case is different and must be handled cautiously and with prayer, we as believers need to put more effort into restoration of struggling souls, whether those souls indwell church leaders of laity.

The ground is level under the cross. Jesus said that as the Good Shepherd He would set everything aside to go after that one wandering, stubborn, rebellious sheep. He calls us, as His church, to do the same.  

Our churches are full of ‘empty pew people’ who have failed miserably and in their shame have walked away. Some may be looking for just one person to reach out to them and show the love and Grace that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s risky business. That means that sometimes we may work on a ‘restoration project’ that takes everything out of us. And that is exactly what Jesus did when He saw me. I was a restoration project that took His very life out of Him!