As Tony Evans resigns from leading his megachurch following admission of sin, Justin Humphreys considers what a process of repentance, reparation and restoration should look like for fallen leaders


Recent times have seen a plethora of leaders in church and other Christian contexts ‘falling’ or ‘failing’ and either being removed or voluntarily removing themselves from their roles temporarily to enable some form of reparation and restoration to follow genuine repentance.

Earlier this month it was announced the popular US preacher Dr Tony Evans is stepping down from leading his Dallas megachurch. Few details were given as to why, but Dr Evans did state he had not committed any crimes, but rather his actions were taken “a number of years ago” and lacked “righteous judgement”. 

Hearing of Dr Evans’ case, along with so many others, is both challenging and encouraging to the wider Church. We are challenged because many of these individuals are known to us and loved by us and facing the reality of their failings, misdemeanours and sometimes crimes is difficult – especially when we have to contemplate that they weren’t necessarily the people we thought they were.

At the same time, we ought to be encouraged, because in these situations we might see God at work calling leaders back to a place of righteousness and wholeness and potentially preparing them for a return to some form of ministry (where this is appropriate).

we are right to expect that a recognisable process might follow before business as usual can resume

When leaders fail and in doing so damage is caused to others (either emotionally, physically or spiritually) or a serious incongruence between biblically-based expectations and conduct are witnessed, we are right to expect that a recognisable process might follow before business as usual can resume. But what exactly should this process look like? 

Firstly, we are instructed in the Bible to do to others what we would have done to ourselves (Matthew 7:12). That is to say that the compassion, grace, love and mercy we would hope to receive in a similar situation is what we should extend to others. That said, we need to be careful. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) is often misinterpreted. Peter does not mean that we should cover-up, ignore or avoid the truth or obfuscate responsibility. Love may cover a multitude of sins, but it does not excuse them. 

In the case of Dr Evans, the inference is that he has fallen short of the high standard that is expected of pastors and leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-10). He speaks of wanting to “repent” and “restore” his relationship with God. On the face of it, there is nothing that we can argue with here. However, where such sin affects others, possibly specific individuals through the actions of a leader, there is also a moral and spiritual imperative to seek repentance and restoration with those who have been affected, not just God.

If the sin is criminal or abusive, there is much more to say, and more steps to follow. But assuming the sin in question does not fall into either of these two categories, then this is what a process of repentance, reparation and restoration should look like:

1. Repentance

Genuine repentance requires evidence and a degree of authenticity that offers confidence in the change required. This should look like time away from ministry/leadership to allow a fully self-reflective acknowledgement and acceptance of wrongs and their impact on self and others (along with a commitment to avoiding a repeat of the behaviour).

This length of time will depend on the work required and the number of people involved who may have been sinned against. Repentance includes a desire to seek forgiveness for our wrongs (from God and others).


2. Reparation

Repairing what has been broken is a highly sensitive task, and may not always be fully possible, depending on the nature of the wrongdoing and who has been involved.

Reparation must include a full apology to those who may have been affected. In this, there will at least be the need for an open acknowledgement of the specific actions or wrongdoing, acceptance of the impact they had upon self and others and a demonstrable commitment to changing behaviour and attitudes to avoid a repeat (with whatever support is appropriate or required for all parties). This requires openness and humility and a willingness to share information at the appropriate time that will contribute to the confidence of those from whom we are asking forgiveness and seeking reparations. Without sufficient openness, it is reasonable to assume that the authenticity of our response could be questioned.

3. Restoration

Full restoration of relationships is not always possible. Full restoration to positions (e.g. ministry and/or leadership) is not always possible or appropriate. A failure to selflessly pursue reparations and make genuine apologies may disqualify a leader from returning to the role or ministry they came from.

In some cases it may never be appropriate to be fully restored to a role or ministry (e.g. serious safeguarding issues and/or gross misconduct). Any leader who seeks full restoration without having done the hard work to repent and repair is likely to fall or fail again and should not be given the opportunity to do this at the cost of others.