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Is Your Church/Staff CYBER-SAFE?
Part III: Recovery

This is the third part of a three-part post and is updated for 2012.

The topics to covered in the series are:

  1. Is Your Church/Staff Cyber-Safe?  Introduction
  2. Is Your Church/Staff Cyber-Safe?  Implementation
  3. Is Your Church Cyber-Safe?  Recovery

NOTE:
Some of the approaches in this article may be controverisal.
Please read the entire post before you allow yourself to react!
You may want to print it out to read it.

RECOVERY

In the previous posts I talked about how to make your church a cyber-safe church, or at least a cyber-safer church.  In this post I’d like to share my thoughts on what to do when/if “something” is found.

We’ve all heard the stories of fallen comrades, and we have seen the statistics. They give a clear message:

In the area of sexual sin, be it adultery or pornography, clergy and staff are just as susceptible as the laity.

There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Stress of the job, with its demands on time that adversely affect couple/family time.
  • Temptation, in cyberspace or “realspace”.
  • Lack of proper, in-depth theological equipping on sexual purity and God’s Word. We were taught more theology about stewardship and evangelism than purity, so we’re standing on the same foundation of sand as everyone else.
  • We’re no different from anyone else, we are just as fallen and sinful as the rest.
  • Forgetting that we’re no different from anyone else.

So, what do you do if:

  • Your network/system scan implicates a professional or lay staff member?
  • Your filter/monitor later catches a professional or lay staff member?

scandalLet’s look at a sample scenario. In this scenario it is assumed that the church either discovered the problem while implementing cyber-safety or had not secured their own networks.

The education minister at a church was charged with locking up the offering in the administrative spaces during the service.  After accomplishing that task he would use another computer in the admin suite, at random, to surf porn sites until the service ended.  The company that managed the church’s network detected the illicit material during a routine maintenance session.  Subsequent investigation revealed the minister’s behavior and sin.  In this case, fortunately, all the material and web sites visited were legal.

At first, the answer is obvious:  You’re fired!

Sometimes, unfortunately, the answer is:  “Resign and go away quietly!

I take issue with this.  The Church’s response to sin should be somewhat different than the response you would get at IBM, Texas Instruments, Bank of America, or elsewhere in the World.  It should also not be a cover-up.

By immediately firing the staff member, as the world expects and does, you are accomplishing the following:

  • Removing the spouse of the staff member from her/his support network at a critical time.
  • Removing any children at home from their spiritual support network at a terrible time.
  • Cutting off the family’s source of income and benefits at a time when family stress will skyrocket, anyway
  • Giving Satan an opportunity to finish this family off“.
  • Telling the man/woman in the pew who is struggling with the same or similar issues that “we will cut your head off.”
  • Giving Satan a prime chance to stir the pot and damage your congregation and staff.

In letting him/her resign you are causing as much damage by:

  • Not holding the offender truly accountable.
  • Failing to help them be restored to fellowship and service in Christ, as we are commanded.
  • Saddling some unsuspecting church with a time bomb.
  • Copping out on our duty to “rescue the perishing.” (And fallen staff members NEED rescue.)

Historically, the Church does one of the above.

The question is: How is the Kingdom advanced with this approach to staff/employee sin?

Answer:  It’s not.

What is advanced is:

  • Soothing our sense of betrayal and our anger.
  • Getting rid of a potentially embarrassing and painful problem.
  • Regaining the status quo.
  • The ticking of a “bomb” in the congregation.

Here is where I would like to propose a new approach:

RECOVERY & RESTORATION

Consider, instead of termination, the following actions:

  • Before anything, assemble a trusted team and spend time in prayer and study of the Word.  Consult trusted peers or denominational resources.
  • Then, assemble the evidence and “witnesses” (if any).
  • Confront the staff member, as in Matthew 18:15-17

Now, Matthew 18 is talking about individuals sinning against individuals and working towards restoration.  Certainly it is different for a sinning staff member, no?

No!

While the particulars will vary, the principle is the same, for the object of the Matthew 18 process is to act in line with Jesus’ ultimate goal for sinners: RESTORATION.

I recognize that such sin does have a wider “blast radius” and that the nature of the staff involvement does have its unique complications and nuances.

DiscussionBut, if the staff member is repentant (and nothing illegal has been done) then I believe that we have a great opportunity to advance the Kingdom instead of dealing a fatal blow to a family.  I propose that the following actions are more in line with Scripture and will result in taking the “initiative” away from the Enemy and giving it back to the Church:

  • If married, the staff member must confess their sin to their spouse in the presence of  the Senior Pastor and/or Elders, and possibly a counselor.
  • Dependent upon their age, the staff member’s children MAY need to be told, but privately and before any public announcements.
  • Depending on their position in the church, the offending staff member will have their duties partially reduced or re-assigned for an initial 90-day probation period.
  • The staff member is required to begin long-term spiritual and, if needed, psychological/biblical/emotional counseling to address the causes and other factors in this situation. He/she will be assigned an accountability partner to meet with 2 x week.  Participation in a program such as Celebrate Recovery (at a different church) is strongly encouraged.
  • After talking to the spouse the church will work to supply 2-3  mature and godly men/women/couples (depending on the situation) to come along side the spouse…in confidence!
  • If the children are old enough to understand the sin and may “hear about it”, then the youth/children’s minister will also come along beside them, proactively.
  • The staff member will be required to have church-specified (and provided) software or hardware installed on ALL home computers.  Any reports/warnings/alerts would be sent to a trusted, confidential source such as the church lawyer or a non-staff counselor/clergy.
  • If both activity and counseling indicate progress, then a second probationary period of 180-days will be imposed.
  • During the second probationary period the staff member is restored to full duties with the advice and recommendation of the counselor.
  • The monitoring and filtering provisions will be made permanent (all staff should be so protected, anyway.)
  • Any major violation or trend will likely, but not automatically, result in termination. (Recovery is a process.)
  • At the onset the deacons and/or elders are informed of the situation and action plan.  (You may have to deal with their reactions!)
  • The congregation needs to be told of the general nature of the situation, that a “moral failure” had occurred and that Biblical steps were being taken outlined.  This DEFUSES the uncontrolled rumor bomb that has damaged so many churches in a scandal.
  • Should the staff member reject  this process, or fall away from it, then the Church has done its duty, all per God’s Word, and separation may then be pursued.

This is to be presented to both the staff member and their spouse in a spirit of love, concern, and not condemnation.  Acceptance and willing participation in this recovery program is then a condition for continued employment.  They will also be told that, should they reject this plan and “just resign,” that any future church they go to WILL be informed of the facts of the situation. They can’t duck out of the situation, and you won’t let your problem get shuffled off to an unsuspecting Church. (Your lawyer may have just had a coronary!)

“You’ve GOT to be kidding me?????!!!!”

Yep, that’s the response I get, sometimes, so let me address some of the reactions that I actually get when talking about the above recovery plan.

couple-in-bed-w-girl-regretfulFirst off, the staff member’s entire family is affected, and so the entire family must be ministered to.  Now, young children are exempt for this, of course, but the spouse and older children should be involved.  The choice is to either manage the crisis (always difficult and unpleasant) or let the family twist in the wind, so to speak.  There are more lives than just the staff member’s impacted, here.  While it was not necessarily for “moral failures”, I know children of ministers who have left the church because of how their father/mother was treated.  Plus, by bringing this up in a restorative manner, it is quite possible that one or more of the children will be drawn to address similar sins, if they are involved as well.

Secondly, the probationary period is not as financially burdensome as you might first think, especially for professional staff.

“But, I don’t have the budget to have someone
on reduced duties, or leave, for 90-days!!!”

Sure you do, in the form of the salary you were already planning and budgeted to pay the staff member for the next 90-days.  Here are three things to consider:

  • In the case of professional staff, you probably can’t form a search committee and get it up and running in less than 60-90 days!
  • Even with termination, most churches I have seen go through scandal like this have included 1-3 months of pay/benefits, anyway, “for the sake of the family”.
  • Your comrade has been wounded on the battlefield and is a “high visibility target” for the Enemy.  If they couldn’t work due to an accident or serious illness you would not fire them during their recovery period, would you?  Wouldn’t staff members pull together to shoulder duties?  What would you attempt if the sin were alcohol-related, or related to the  mis-use of prescription drugs (easily done if they had been seriously ill/injured).
  • Termination due to moral failure almost always results in bitterness, discouragement, and divisiveness in a church.  And, it’s not just the rumor mill. I know of one congregation that had a large group of members follow a fallen pastor after court documents proved guilt alamy pastor right or wrong“.

Third, some will say that the staff member is no longer “above reproach“, per Timothy.

Right, and if all OUR sins were known there would be a lot of vacant pulpits!  Look at the statistics.  Just in the realm of pornography and other sexual sins the public “failure rate” among pastors is far too high.  The real rate is undoubtedly HIGHER!

This is NOT giving “easy forgiveness”, nor am I talking “well, let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.  But I contend that RECOVERY & RESTORATION is Our Lord’s true desire, not RETRIBUTION & RECRIMINATION.

So, the staff member is no longer “above reproach”.  As stated, we all sin.

The real question, then, is:  “Can Jesus restore fallen clergy to duty?”

Fortunately for Peter and 10 of the others, the answer is “Yes!!

The problem is that we often don’t know how to address such problems, or we don’t have the motivation to work for restoration.

couple praying mixed MEDSo, what are the potential benefits of our going through the pain and difficulty of this type of approach:

  • A trained and experienced minister, previously called by God, will once again be made effective.
  • A family devastated by sin may hopefully be salvaged and healed. (Spouses have to be on-board, too.)
  • Those in the pews will see that we really DO believe all we say, and that they will not be “roasted” for coming forth with sin, especially embarrassing sexual sins.  Instead, they may now think:  “Wow!  I CAN get forgiveness and help, here.  They even try to restore their own leaders who, apparently, are a lot like ME!
  • As word gets out, and it will, there will be a great opportunity to share the Gospel to the curious and questioning, both in and out of the church!  You might even make the news.  (‘Cause you sure ain’t doing what is normal & expected!)
  • Others outside the church who are wounded by sin will see your church as a sanctuary where they can be healed and delivered, regardless of the sin.
  • Even if the staff member rejects restorative help, the congregation and community have demonstrated a model for Jesus’ followers.
  • The Kingdom is strengthened and, hopefully, enlarged.

I recognize that different approaches and considerations may be needed depending on the facts of the case, and if the fallen staff member is professional clergy or lay support staff.  This example is but one of many scenarios playing out in the macro-Church.

Remember, too, that the two “conditions” for resolving this scenario were based on the staff member being repentant and that there were  NO laws were broken.

If EITHER of those two conditions exist, however, then termination is required.  In these cases the following is proposed:

  • Cooperate fully with authorities, if they are involved.
  • Be up front with the lay leadership and, later, the congregation.  Specifics may or may not be appropriate.
  • Early on, begin damage control efforts to protect the congregation from Satan’s stirring of the pot.  This may require meetings or special Bible studies.  It surely requires urging people NOT to gossip, etc.
  • As the situation warrants, consider the transition/support of the staff member’s family, both spiritual and financial.

If your church is alerted to sin through the efforts of becoming cyber-safe, or if  systems put in place later reveal sin, it will be a very difficult time, no matter what approach you take.

The question is:

What is Jesus‘ goal in the situation?

Finally, two last points:

  1. 1 Corinthians 10:12
  2. This story in this scenario REALLY HAPPENED!!

How do you feel we should approach these situations?
Leave a comment and let’s discuss!

Let us know if we can help you or your church
weather the storm caused by a “staff situation” related to sexual sin.
Contact us at: 817.715.4074 or info@knightsquest.org

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