Pastors who are caught in lies shouldn’t always be restored to pastoral ministry. Though our sin can’t rob us of our salvation, it can rob us of our pastorate. But even if a pastor’s lie takes his ministry role from him (for a season or forever), Christ’s forgiveness remains free and full. We only need to desire it, turn in faith from our sin, and take hold of our resurrected Lord’s glorious promise (1 John 1:9).
Trust in pastors is probably close to an all-time low. Gone are the days of blind trust in the words of the one who carries a ministry title. Too many people have seen lies pastors tell brought out into the light and proven to be falsehoods. But should lying pastors be disqualified from ministry?
Let me burst the bubble for you. All pastors have lied. Every single one of us. Some in greater measure and others in lesser. But there’s not a pastor alive who has never told a falsehood. Sometimes we lie by inflating numbers. Other times we lie by telling the people in our churches what we think they want to hear. Sometimes pastors lie to cover up their own or others’ sins. How should these lies be addressed? What lies are disqualifying?
Deceit is Sinful
When I recognize every pastor has lied, I’m not excusing it. Deceit is sinful, and it rises from wicked hearts. Deceit comes from the father of lies, Satan himself (John 8:44). Though there are honorable lies, as in the case of Rahab in Joshua 2, that’s not what we practice when we share half-truths, exaggerate, or outright deceive. As we see in the example of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–5), when we lie to the church, we’re lying to God, and that must be reckoned with.
Lying to the church is a sin so grievous that when pastors deceive, it can disqualify them from ministry. But how do you determine whether a pastor caught in a lie should be removed from his office? We must consider (1) the lie’s severity and (2) the pastor’s repentance.
Weigh the Lie’s Severity
When a pastor is caught in a lie, the natural consequence is, at minimum, an erosion of trust between himself and the congregation he shepherds. Many factors affect the extent of the erosion, but it’s often determined by the lie’s severity. Did the pastor report slightly inflated attendance numbers, exaggerate a sermon illustration, lie about a contentious situation, or steal money from the church?
If churches are to respond rightly, each of these situations must be weighted correctly. Did the lie cause disrepute to be brought upon Christ’s name in the public sphere?