Women's Ministry

CONSIDER THIS AS A CASE STUDY

There it was, plastered on the front page of our local newspaper. A picture of a girl from Bible study on the county newspaper. No doubt everyone in our class had seen it.  She had been arrested for something too lewd to even describe.  Unfortunately for us all, the story detailed every aspect of her night of sin.  The details leading to her arrest were so unbelievable that NO ONE saw this coming.  How could a sweet, seemingly innocent young girl in Bible study do such things???  Well, unfortunately, this happens, and if not for the grace of God, it could happen to any of us given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances.

After regaining my wits from having my mind blown, I began to focus on this girl that I will call Hilary.  I was concerned that the humiliation alone would be enough to keep her away from Bible study, so I decided to reach out to her.  I did not want Satan to win this war just because he had won a recent battle.

women's ministry restoration

RESTORATION PLANNING

When I called Hilary, my first thought was to simply offer to have prayer with her, as there was no getting around the fact that we both knew why I was calling.  She explained how it all happened after consuming too much alcohol with old friends, though I did not inquire.  I just listened for as long as she wanted to talk.  She did not think she could return to Bible study and face her friends for her private soiree made public was almost too much for anyone to overcome.  So, I decided to help map out a plan for her restoration to our Bible study group.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1 NIV

I suggested that if she wanted to miss a night or two, which is what she really wanted to do, some time may help calm everyone down. In the meantime, I recommended she have a private conversation with our Bible study leader about what had happened.

Upon her return, we planned for the facilitator to simply say,

“Hilary recognizes that she has sinned against God and that her actions may have offended many of you.  Hilary and I have spent some time together in prayer, and I know she is truly repentant.  She has asked God for His forgiveness and we are confident that He has forgiven her.  Hilary also desires our forgiveness and I believe it is right and scriptural to forgive her.  We love her and desire for her to be restored in our Bible study fellowship.  Before we start Bible study, let’s have prayer for Hilary.  Let us also pray for our group’s unity and a Spirit of forgiveness to be felt here tonight.”

It was to be that simple.  Hilary would not have to say anything, as our Bible study facilitator would be her advocate.  This is something that if God forbid, I ever do such a thing, I would feel comfortable doing in a small group or even before my church with my pastor’s help.

DEVALUING RESTORATION

I wish I could say that everything played out just like we had planned, but when it got to the day of, Hilary decided to forego the talk and prayer before the group.  She had decided that God had forgiven her, which I am sure He had, and that that was enough.  She returned to Bible study a couple of weeks later with no mention of what she had been through.  She participated in the discussions and confidently added input as if nothing ever happened.

How do you think that went?

On the surface everything appeared fine, but that was not the case behind the scenes.  No one else knew about the discussions Hilary had had with the Bible study leader or myself.  They did not know that Hilary had declined the opportunity to resolve this matter with the group.  And because she left this key part of public repentance and request for restoration out, it appeared to the others that Hilary was not repentant.

Because Hilary had not addressed the group, the group did not know what to think.  One of my closest Bible study friends, Chloe, would cringe every time Hilary would share something at Bible study.  She did not want to sit with Hilary or even carry on small conversations with her.  Chloe was completely repulsed by Hilary now.  And I could tell that Chloe was not the only one who felt this way.

So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Luke 17:3 NIV

WHY RESTORATION IS IMPORTANT

Although Christians are to be forgiving, there is a process for reconciliation that births the promise of restoration, and it all begins with repentance.  We must understand that once we become a Christian we also become part of a body.  When one member hurts it affects the rest of the body.  When one person is sin-sick, it also affects the whole body.  Does this mean that our personal life is subject to others in the body of Christ?  To some degree, yes, especially when our private sins are made public.  Publicized sins do bring a reproach against the body of Christ.  This has always been where the church of the living God has suffered PR problems – when parts of the body of Christ fail publicly without any public repentance.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21 NIV

 

so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:5 NIV

 

This is why a restoration recovery plan is essential for the body.  It reunites us as one body under Christ.  Without it, we look fragmented and disconnected from God, and that should not be.

Had Hilary went ahead with the restoration plan, Chloe and the others could have moved beyond it.  Without it, part of the body of Christ was suffering needlessly and less effective because of the disunity.   Don’t you know that Hilary felt the coolness from the other women in the group?  And believe me she felt it for months afterward, and eventually left the group.  All of this could have been avoided and repaired from a restoration plan.

[tweetthis]There is a process for reconciliation that births the promise of restoration, and it all begins with repentance. [/tweetthis]

 

THE WONDER OF RESTORATION

Restoration is that important.  Do you fault Chloe and the other women of the Bible study group?  Had Hilary followed through with the restoration recovery plan, and the other women had continued to react cool toward her, they they would have been at fault.

This is the wonder of restoration.  When we ask for it, after true repentance, then it is the body’s obligation to also forgive and reunite wholly.  When the body does not accept restoration from a fallen, but repentant believer, then the onus of the problem shifts to them and the repentant believer stands whole in God’s eyes.

Does this mean that we must get up before our church or small group and detail our failings?  Certainly not.  Although, I do believe that the fallen Christian should have some heartfelt conversations with the church staff or ministry leader in such cases, revealing they have repented.  And after that, some type of public display of repentance should be made in order for the body to heal properly.  It may be something scripted or the person simply going to the altar for prayer during the altar call time.

If you go back to the planned restoration script for Hilary by the Bible study facilitator, you will recall that there was no sharing of details.  The only recognition of sin would have been in general with more emphasis placed on the expectation of forgiveness and restoration.  It’s no one’s business what sins beset us, but true repentance and request for restoration is when our sins are made public.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Can we resolve to humble ourselves to walk from shame to grace within the body of Christ?

Weigh in!  How would you handle such a situation?  Do you agree or disagree with recovery plans?  What about the one I proposed?

Spur on!

~ gina

” And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” Hebrews 10:24

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Award-winning author Gina Duke is a wife, mom and the Director of Women’s Ministry at her local church. With a B.S. in Organizational Leadership, she is able to bring a clear word for authentic Christian living. Through her book, “Organizing Your Prayer Closet: A New and Life-Changing Way to Pray” (Abingdon Press), she imparts 1 Peter 4:7 with the gift of structured prayer journaling. You may also follow her on Twitter and Instagram @TheGinaDuke.

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16 Comments

  1. Oh this Hilary makes my heart sad! The fear of rejection and what ifs can so easily paralyze us from doing exactly what our hearts, our souls, need…That the ending of this story, with one gesture, could have been so very different and led to such a different ending, not just for Hilary, but also for these women sits heavy. On the brighter side, isn’t it so beautiful that we serve a God of second chances and that He has His eye on this sweet girl and her story isn’t finished.

  2. That is hard. Either way really. I agree that the restoration plan would have helped, but I imagine the difficulty of being in that situation. I do think our approach to repentant Christian sinners has to be different in the church though. Feeling the coldness of others probably did paralyze her, whereas if people had said, “we all sin and all make mistakes- but none to big for God to wipe clean,” maybe she would have felt more inclined to openly apologize. It is easy to look at something like Hillary’s actions and say or think awful things, ranking it as worse than our own sin… but we also easily forget that God sees all sin as the same. We are just as guilty as Hillary and if she asked God for forgiveness- just as redeemed. Definitely a thought-provoking post….

    1. I agree. I guess my thought is that if right from the start, she had went through with the restoration plan, it would have paved the way for the other women to gather around her and love her back. But, the thought that she was not repentant after reading the extreme details of her shenanigans did not sit well with them. Also, had she asked for restoration, and they denied her, then they are the ones definitely in the wrong while she stands white as snow (ironically and biblically). Are we afraid to expect this of others when they fall? I try to think of how I would want to be restored and if it is consistent with God’s Word, too. It is a quandary!

  3. This really resonates with me, for very personal reasons… at eighteen I was on the active end of a public apology to my fellow youth leaders and then pastors at church. It was probably the hardest thing I had ever done publicly. My now husband (of 21 blessed years) and I discovered we were pregnant. I was a part of a few ministries. On our own, we decided to join with them, explain why I was stepping down, ask for their encouragement and support and forgiveness for what kind of problems and ripples this might cause, and in turn, we were flooded with sympathy, concern, and huge love. They bathed us in prayer, and agreed with my decision to step back until God could speak to us about when and where to get involved again. Oh, the release that happened, and the presence of God.
    As rumours were squashed and explained, I know some people in the congregation judged us for our mistake, but they were few that I knew of, and God was faithful to restore and redeem at a time where no one expected us to be repentant or obedient in this area. I think they expected us to slowly drift away.
    And here’s the second part of your post that is important. We never stopped attending. Through the pregnancy, through the miracle birth (a whole other story) through a spontaneous marriage so we could honor each other the right way, we kept going to church, even when it was uncomfortable.
    And eventually, people forgot, or people realized the work God was doing, and we’ve attended ever since, taking one life altering mistake and letting God use it to alter us.
    If I could tell readers one thing, it be to confess, seek council, and stay connected. Understanding of course that sometimes people will not respond the way we hope. Find those that will endure with you for the long haul.
    God has a redemption story that starts with hard conversations so that people can see Him at work!
    Great post, Gina. I hope people see the possibility for redemption in your words.

    1. Christine, thank you for sharing. You are so right with your wise counsel. I gave the same advice to my daughter when she got pregnant before marriage, and she declined. I felt it would be appropriate for her and her boyfriend (now husband and father of their 3 sweet boys) to at least go to the altar together during altar call. Some may not get this. We are prone to think that our publicized sins are no one’s business, and while that is true to an extent, I do believe that it is important that others know we are repentant so that we can be restored. I am with you, Christine! Years later, my daughter did say that she now believes that would have been the correct thing for them to do.

  4. I don’t think it is coincidence that I am right below Christine…you see my story is the exact opposite of hers…my boyfriend and I ran away, lied and did what we could to not have anyone find out I was pregnant. We were in deep shame and gave up our daughter (my only child) for adoption and for twenty years I denied my birth mother status. Shame kept me bound, kept me from church involvement…I had been a fairly new Christian when I ran away and it would be many, many years before the word ‘repentance’ came to my ears. God set in motion an awesome restoration story. We had never confessed, sought counsel or stayed connected to the Body in real way. It was the consistent love of a long time sister in Christ, who consistently reached out to me with love and more love that drew me back into fellowship. I think the recovery plan you proposed Gina is excellent. It was planned in love and I can totally relate to how the other women in you bible study group felt. My heart goes out to Hilary. Thank you for caring.

    1. Wow, Jeannie… how incredible is God, that even with two different scenarios, His restoration remained as the outcome?! And I see the small thread that lends itself to both… there was someone, someone who loved with HIS love, even while the story was still being written.
      And then add Gina’s story into the mix… God is faithful.

      1. It is pretty awesome isn’t it Christine! Repentance to me is a reminder of how deeply we are loved, how very much God wants to be in fellowship with us. He is always watching and waiting for us. The cry of my heart has always been to be able to love as my friend did ~ I was pretty stubborn and unloveable…translate scared of a God I did not know.

    2. Jeannie, I love your story and am saddened by your experience. Thank God for His restoration and the love of fellow believers.

  5. The grace in reaching out to someone who’s made a poor choice is so beautiful! Sometimes, though, it is as we get closer to God that we discover the depth of our sin – and the desire to repent overflows. I can see how a mature Christian in leadership positions might need to go through the steps outlined, but I think that a young Christian – whether in age or experience – needs to feel the love of Christ in order to draw closer.

  6. I had a situation arise in my Ladies group a couple of years ago. We had a woman faithfully attend our meetings and we loved her. She fit in so well. Then all of a sudden she stopped coming to church. She gave the excuse that her son started attending a nearby church and she wanted to go with him. But in the meantime, it was like she shut us off completely. We were hurt to be honest. Well, I found out a year later that a fellow church member seen her buying alcohol and was known to be a tale wagger if you know what I mean.
    I was pretty upset to find this out. I don’t know if I could have changed the outcome, but I sure would have talked to her to see if I could help her in her weakness, to bring reconciliation. Anyway I’ve never forgot this. I still miss her.

    1. Debbie, I think there are many stories like this one. As the church, we’ve got to find a way to work through issues like these. We all sin and make mistakes. We need to be able to rebuke, forgive, restore and reconcile. We need to look at our fellow believers in our church and say, “These are my people for better and for worse.” and continue on forbearing one another. This is God’s will for the church.

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