Paul’s letter to the Galatians describes a battle that goes on within us. It’s a battle between the acts of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t always win. Sometimes the acts of the flesh wins. Sometimes we fall. Sometimes we sin. So, Galatians chapter 6 begins this way.
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. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2 (NIV).
If someone is caught in a sin, we have some options. We can ignore their sin. We can justify their sin. We can minimize their sin. We can tolerate their sin. Or we can judge them for their sin … exclude them for their sin … condemn them for their sin … or post some gossip about them on Facebook.
In one extreme the sinful behavior doesn’t matter (ignore it, justify it) and in the other extreme the brother or sister doesn’t matter (exclude them, gossip). But Galatians 6 has none of that. Galatians 6 tells us to do something else with sinful people. It says to “restore them gently.”
That phrase comes from a Greek word, katartizo. Katartizo could describe what a fisherman would do to repair his nets. Fishing nets could get damaged as they were dragged over the side of the boat or across rocky beaches – but the nets were too valuable to throw away so the fisherman would knit them back together: “gently” restore them.
The word could also be used to describe the setting of a broken bone. It was and is the job of a doctor to gently put the bone back in place so it can slowly heal.
Get yourself a stick, any stick. Imagine that the stick is a femur, a leg bone. Now break the stick. If it’s just a stick, you discard it. But you’re imagining it’s a femur, so you don’t discard it. You gently put the stick back together at the broken point and keep it together as long needed. You’ll use duct tape, superglue, or whatever it takes to gently restore the imaginary femur.
I’ve had seven knee surgeries, two broken feet, a severed Achille’s tendon, broken ribs, a punctured lung, a shoulder injury, several lacerations that required stitches, valley fever, a basil cell carcinoma, and some minor heart trouble. I’m really glad that none of my doctors decided to discard me. Instead, each time they did whatever it took to restore my health.
At PIR Ministries we deal with pastors who have been broken or for whom brokenness is a distinct possibility. And there are many in their world who would judge, criticize, and condemn them.
In the 1850’s Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a novel titled The Scarlet Letter. The setting was 17th century Boston. A young Puritan woman named Hester Prynne had committed adultery and was pregnant. After the birth, she was forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” for adultery and she and her daughter were led from town as an act of public shaming. The scarlet “A” was a badge of shame meant to denigrate her.
Pastors who fall, fail, or face a forced termination, aren’t forced to wear a scarlet “A” on their body, but in their hearts, they carry an “S” for shame, and “F” for failure, and a “?” for their future. That’s true for pastors who have sinned, but also for pastors for whom things just didn’t work out. Sometimes in their hearts they carry a “V” not for victory, but for victim. Sometimes people were out to get them and got them.
And it’s our job and the job of the church to restore them. Gently. In other words, katartizo. That means “restore” them, don’t just ignore them. And it means “gently,” not harshly. We don’t shun them. We don’t ignore them. We don’t let them remain broken. We gently restore them.
Many years ago, the renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student for the earliest sign of civilization in a primitive culture. The student thought it would be a clay pot or a fishhook or a grinding stone.
But Mead said it was none of those things. She said the earliest sign of civilization in a given culture was a healed femur. She explained there were no healed femurs in the law of the jungle. According to the law of the jungle, you break your leg, you die. But a healed femur showed that someone cared – someone provided food, water, and protection until the injured one healed. That was the first sign of civilization. That’s katartizo.
I sometimes wish the church was more “civilized.” There’s a cliché that says the church is an army that shoots its wounded. I hate clichés. And I hate even more that this one is often true.
That’s where PIR Ministries comes in. We restore, gently.
Remember that word, katartizo. And the next time you’re talking with a pastor who has sinned in some way, or been sinned against in some way, or has failed, or feels lonely, burned out, sad, confused, and ready to throw in the towel… be civilized. Do what it takes to gently restore them.
That’s why I’m with PIR. That’s why PIR exists. We are here to gently restore those who have suffered through the hardships of pastoral ministry.
God bless you and thank you for your partnership in helping us to serve those who serve.