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A pastor is not a spiritual “superman”. He too struggles with sin. Sometimes, some may persist in sin. At such situations, some claim, "Do not touch the anointed one." Others say, "Since a pastor is God's servant, let God Himself judge him. Who are we to judge him?" Such responses are carnal and not according to God’s Word. Pastors are not kings of the Old Testament. They are servants of the church.
After speaking about elders/pastors being worthy of double honour (1 Tim. 5:17-18), Paul immediately addressed the necessity to confront the problem of persistent sin in them (1 Tim. 5:19-22). Discipling pastors is as significant as honouring them. Unfortunately, we only focus on their “honour” and neglect their need for “discipline”.
Pastors require church discipline, just like other members of the church. Here are the steps that Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, presents on disciplining pastors who persist in sin:
FIRST, "Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses" (1 Tim. 5:19). Every charge against a pastor must be examined, having evidence of two or three witnesses. These charges must be true and biblical. Hasty judgments, baseless hearsays, and unbiblical accusations must be denied. We must protect elders from false charges.
SECOND, if the sin of elders is proven, "As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all" (1 Tim. 5:20). No pastor exists without committing sin at all. But “persist in sin” speaks about “continuing to sin with no evidence of repentance and change.” Such pastors are deliberate, arrogant, and stubborn in their sin. When Paul wrote "as for those who persist in sin," there seems loving private confrontation first (as Jesus prescribed in Matt.18:15ff), giving enough chance for them to repent before facing public exposure.
THIRD, "As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear" (1 Tim. 5:20). The Scripture says that if the charge against pastors is true, and if they refuse to change even after a private confrontation and still persist in sin, such church leaders must be rebuked publicly, so that the rest (perhaps the other elders, even the entire congregation) may stand in fear. But who will take this responsibility? The other elders, or in case of a single pastor, some mature brothers in the church. This process is hard and painful, but isn’t this what God commands? Discipline upholds God’s holiness and spreads His fear in the church. Lack of discipline undermines the holiness of God and pollutes the church.
FOURTH, Paul wrote, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality” (1 Tim. 5:21). Here is a difficult claim to digest: Not disciplining pastors who persist in sin is partiality and sin against the holy God. If we neglect to discipline pastors/elders who persist in sin and show partiality to them, we harm them by not giving the opportunity to change, bring disgrace to God’s name, and put His church in trouble. Isn’t this true of many modern churches where leaders persist in sin with no church discipline?
FIFTH, because of the painful consequences the entire congregation goes through when elders persist in sin, Paul exhorts, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22). “The laying on of hands” speaks about “appointing elders” and “restoring fallen elders”. In both cases, we must avoid hastiness. We must be hasty to obey God’s Word that commands us not to be hasty to “appoint” or “restore” pastors. Carl Laney, professor of biblical literature and author of A Guide to Church Discipline, states:
Restoration takes time. If the service station attendant gives me directions which result in my getting lost, it will be a long time before I trust his directions again. If a husband commits adultery, it will require a long period of faithfulness to restore his wife’s trust. Similarly, sufficient time must pass for a disciplined Christian worker to be tried and proven. The leader who has fallen must once again earn the reputation of being “above reproach.” It took years of faithful Christian living to qualify the first time. It may take that long to re-qualify for leadership after a fall.1
1 Carl J. Laney, A Guide to Church Discipline: God's Loving Plan for Restoring Believers to Fellowship with Himself and with the Body of Christ (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1985), p. 124.