Oops! I made a wrong turn. What do I do now?
Some wrong turns lead to an exit ramp. This means that pastors and spiritual leaders who make these turns may have to leave their ministry assignment for times of personal restoration, recovery, relief, or relocation to a new place of service. The nature of the wrong turn and the attitude of the leader who took it will determine whether or not the exit ramp is a temporary or permanent condition.
That God uses broken vessels is amply testified in Scripture. David was impetuous, had a roving eye, often didn't listen to counsel, engineered a rivals death, and doubted God, just to mention a few of his shortcomings. The Apostle Paul was the chief of all sinners, had a sordid past in regard to Christ and the church, was a jailbird who struggled with emotional and physical problems, and didn't understand why he did so many un-Godly things. Probe into the lives of other great Old and New Testament leaders to discover their feet of clay, dark, sinful nature, reliance on his grace for saving and sustaining them, and genuine surprise that he could use someone like them for his kingdom purpose. Reading them all makes me even more humble that he could use a sinner lie me.
And, they made wrong turns, some of them grievous in nature. Noah got drunk. Abram lied about his wife. Moses killed a man and disobeyed God. King David committed adultery and then had Bathsheba's husband killed in a deceitful way. Yet, they are among the heroes of God's redemptive plan and memorialized in the hallways of faith because of the heart they demonstrated toward him and the repentant spirit they indicated when confronted with their sin. They were not perfect in any way. At the same time, they weren't spiritual slackers either. When the time came for them to man-up, they did.
Spiritual leadership doesn't give anyone a hall-pass against making wrong turns. Neither does our sinful nature give us a permission slip for them either. And, some wrong turns lead to an exit ramp, either temporary or permanent. Let's consider a few---
1. Doctrinal error can led to an exit ramp until it is resolved. If the error cannot be
corrected according to the doctrine of the church or denomination, the exit ramp
can be permanent.
2. Malfeasance, misuse of funds, or mismanagement can be cause for dismissal.
3. Staff conflict that cannot be resolved may result in an exit ramp for those
involved in the difficulty.
4. Sinful behavior can result in termination of ministry. These offenses may
include alcoholism, a long list of addictions, a flirtatious lifestyle, adultery, crude
behavior or language, violence, and violations of 1 Timothy 3: 1-7.
5. Public disgrace to the church or to the kingdom.
The heart and disposition of the person may determine whether or not the exit ramp is permanent or temporary. Read through Psalm 51 and judge for yourself the sincerity of King David's confession and repentance after his affair with Bathsheba and the killing of her husband. Evidently God forgave his sin, restored him to the throne of Israel, and permitted David to lead the nation. That's not the end of the story though. There was punishment, that is, consequences for David's sinful ways. Because of the blood on his hands he was not permitted to build the temple of God in Jerusalem. This privilege was reserved for his son Solomon.
Congregational polity puts many of the wrong turn matters into the hands of local church leadership, governing documents, and accepted policies and procedures. In Southern Baptist life the exit ramp is used by church systems for just about any wrong turn or minor infraction the pastor or church staff or spiritual leaders may commit. This is disgraceful and is an abuse of congregational rule. Even when one of the five wrong turns mentioned above is obvious, restoration, recovery, and relief are more appropriate than automatic relocation. On the other hand, without confession, repentance, a broken and contrite spirit, the local church my insist on permanent ministry privilege revocation. In some instances church may also withdraw the ordination of the person under review.
The exit ramp, should, however, be the exception and not the rule. Wrong turns can be corrected. That is, as long as the person involved is soft and malleable in the hands of the potter. People hardened by their self-centered hearts or sinful ways may only be good for the trash heap.
The exit ramp.