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What Constitutes ‘Moral Failure?’

moral failure

Saddleback worship pastor Rick Munchow passed away earlier this year, but his teaching continues to bless the church. He was once asked to define–precisely–what we mean when we use the phrase, moral failure. The question: “You stated in a past article that you have removed individuals due to moral failure. I had to remove a band member for moral failure, but have been accused of being judgmental. Some are saying ‘we all sin and have fallen short of the glory of God.’ Could you clarify what moral failure would warrant removal and what steps do you take to restore the individual after the fact?”

Moral failure

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

Moral failure is a church membership issue. My pastor, Rick Warren, had to address this issue in the church’s 21st year, so please read the transcript from that address. Since moral failure is not a worship team-specific issue, I don’t have my own separate process for the worship team.

It is true that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is also true that we must be careful to guard well our integrity and reputation as we represent Christ and our church. As they say, it takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and just one poor decision to ruin it.

2 Biblical Reasons to Remove Someone From Ministry Due to Moral Failure:

1) The loss of the right to lead due to the failure.

2) The need to regroup and put a life back together again.

An individual in this situation needs time to reflect and just work on themselves. In my experience, many times moral failure happens because we’ve been so busy doing the work of the ministry that we are closer to the work than we are to the Lord.

Some examples of moral failure include:

  • gossip
  • pride
  • inappropriate emotional relationships
  • dishonesty
  • malicious dissention or stirring up trouble
  • adultery
  • and major family issues that need to be addressed.

There are other reasons to sideline someone from ministry that have nothing to do with moral failure. For example, they may need to be removed due to a particular need resulting from the season of life they are in, or for balance issues when life becomes out of balance, or because of physical health issues or even emotional health issues. Sometimes people just need a break to realize the privilege of serving in ministry.

When a leader makes a decision to remove someone from a ministry team, it must be done lovingly, carefully and prayerfully. Church discipline should always be done for the benefit of the person being disciplined.

You can always expect criticism. It’s unfortunate but true. Many people will have opinions and various interpretations of the situation. However, they don’t have the responsibility to God and the church that we have as the leader of the team. As a leader, we are accountable to God for our leadership.

It’s not just about the individual. We also need to take care of our team because the team belongs to God. I would suppose there are some leaders who view their team as an extension of themselves; that the team exists to serve them rather than to serve God and the church body, or who confuse serving them personally with serving the church body. There are also some leaders who make decisions based on politics. Honestly, those are tough issues within the reality of serving in ministry. Unfortunately, there are egos and politics at work even in churches. I’ve made it a practice not to make decisions based on peer pressure, politics or personal conflict with any individual. I hold myself accountable to God to take care of my team. I’m a shepherd caring for this part of God’s flock.

My experience is that the Holy Spirit is able to do the healing work that is needed, even with the hardest hearts, if given time and if the person has even a little faith in God. My role is to love and encourage the individual and to hope for the best, leaving the results to God. God disciplines those that He loves and the goal is always redemption, reconciliation and character-building resulting in hope.

For some leaders, myself included, dealing with the judgment of others is an issue. Let’s face it, part of being a leader is facing judgment. Fortunately, God’s Word is full of encouragement for leaders like us. I love the words of the entire chapter of 2 Cor. 4 encouraging us to not lose heart. Verses 8-9 are helpful to me whenever I face disapproval from others for making unpopular, however necessary decisions (in my discernment): “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” It helps me when I apply these words specifically to personal judgment from others.

We are judged but not crushed, judged but not in despair, judged but not abandoned, judged but not destroyed.

In addition, when dealing with judgment from others, remember that there are benefits for being judged. In Romans 5:2-5 we read: “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Be encouraged! Lead prayerfully and carefully, in love, always hoping for the best, and refuse to give up!