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Indispensable Leadership Skills #5: Let’s Get Honest about Restoration

He made the front page of the local paper. His sin was published almost before he was released on bail. Both his employers and his church closed their doors to him immediately. He was unclean, a pariah, too messy for anyone to help. Weeks later someone who knew him invited him to visit my church. Over the next year and a half, he was surrounded by a committed group of men who walked with him as he was restored in his relationship with God, his family, and the church. It was an investment of love, but had we not practiced restoration, who knows what might have happened to this man.

Too many leaders have a throw-them-under-the-bus approach to sinful people who do not immediately repent and confess. Or even if they do repent and confess, little is offered to help them restore their walk with God, the congregation, and their family. The danger to this approach only becomes apparent when the condemning leaders get caught in sin themselves.

Restoration is something Jesus himself practiced with Peter after he denied Jesus in Pilate’s courtyard. Had he consigned Peter to hell for his denial, we would be justified to do the same with people who mess up in our congregation. But everyone who leads in Jesus’ church has to follow Jesus on this as well.

Restoration is not always a popular choice. Once when I chased a man caught in sin who was not looking to repent—looking more like he was happy to keep going deeper into the pit, I was told by other leaders that since he was not repentant, it was a waste of time to try to restore him. I knew they were wrong and they came to see that they were.

Mastering restoration is about learning how the gospel saves the saved. The power of the gospel not only restores the lost, it restores the saved when they willfully stray back into the enemy’s camp. Even if your congregation has a transformational culture, you will have plenty of people who will need restoration at one time or another. But you have to choose to practice it. You will not restore believers merely by wishing they would repent. Sometimes you have to lovingly chase them and they may just fight you until God wrestles them to the ground. Other times, people will be relieved to be caught because they hated what they were becoming.

For restoration, you will need to cultivate two characteristics and master two skills. The two characteristics are gentleness and humility. We all have the tendency to be disappointed to the point of anger at people who fail. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in us that gives us control over our words. Humility is a product of our recognition of our own failure to be good for God. To be humble is to have learned that there is zero difference between us and those who are in the grip of sin. He or she could have been us and maybe someday it will be us. The combination of gentleness and humility guides how we become safe to help our siblings trapped in sin.

The first of the skills you need to master is the intentional confrontation, characterized by Nathan’s challenge “You are the man!” to David when David ‘secretly’ impregnated Uriah’s wife and then oversaw his ‘accidental’ death. Intentionally confronting someone produces two results apart from potentially seeing the person restored. It announces to the rest of the body that we are not helpless. Secondly, it tells them that saved people matter to God and therefore matter to us as well.

The second skill is leading someone on the pathway back again. A full description of the restoration pathway can be found in my book, Build Deep: Developing a Culture of Transformation in Your Church. But understand that you only really gain mastery when you actually do it. And you will find that it changes you. Every time I have participated in restoring someone caught in sin, I become more in tune with my own need for God to reign over me, more aware that I am prone to wander, too. And I become more conscious of how much I need my church family to watch over me. You cannot practice restoration and be unaffected yourself.

Mastering these four practices—repentance, confession, reconciliation, and restoration—will make it possible for you and other leaders to help develop a transformational culture in your church. You will be able to disciple others so they can do them too. This is how people become confident that there is a reality to their faith. People in your congregation will go where you go or they will go out the door. Give them every reason to stay and grow with you into a transformational church by becoming leaders they can imitate.

-Steve Smith