Truth-Telling and Church Discipline
- Friday, April 25, 2008
Leaders and churches that are committed to speaking the truth in love learn that church discipline is part of the package. If we truly care about people, we will not look the other way while they shipwreck their faith, destroy their lives and run from God. Discipline is not a hammer for crushing the wayward brother or sister. It’s a redemptive intervention that calls people to turn back to the Lord, who loves them.
The leadership team at Corinth Church is committed to speaking the truth in love, even when it hurts. This means we practice church discipline as part of our ministry. Along the way, we have learned that the process is hard both for those who are disciplined and for us as leaders. But the healing, redemption and wholeness that come from loving discipline have been joys to witness. It’s worth the pain to see the Holy Spirit transform hearts and lives.
The staff and church board members have had to make some hard calls over the years. We have lovingly addressed many areas of sin in an effort to help people live in a way that brings joy to God’s heart.
In the process of administering discipline, we are reminded, every time, that we are broken and sinful people. Every member of our pastoral team and every elder is a forgiven sinner. We are still walking on wobbly legs, and each of us needs God’s grace every day. We come to people in their brokenness and acknowledge that we too walk by grace, and grace alone.
What we have learned is that most people appreciate and accept discipline when it is extended in love and humility. Yes, there are those who get angry or defensive or who refuse to meet with our church leaders. But most people are willing to meet and talk. We gather with one elder, one pastor and the person who is struggling.
We pray, share the concern, study the Word of God on the topic at hand and call the person to conform to the teaching of Scripture. At that point, it’s up to them, but to our amazement and delight, many of these encounters end with the person agreeing with God's Word and choosing to change the way they are living.
Dan had been attending Corinth for a few months. It was clear that he was in avoidance mode. When he and I finally had a chance to sit and talk, I could see the pain in his eyes. He wanted to know if he could join the church and not worry about his past following him.
I asked Dan what had happened that made him feel driven out of his last church. After he told me the story, he asked, “Do you think I could join Corinth Church?” I looked at him and said, “No!” I assured him he was welcome to come to services and that people would treat him kindly, but there was no way our board of elders would allow him to join.
Dan had been an elder at his previous church. When he was ordained, he committed to live under the discipline and leadership of the church. Along the way, he had gotten involved with a woman and had an affair. The leadership team of his previous church had asked to meet with him, but he refused.
Dan looked at me and said, “I have grown to love Corinth Church. I really want to connect here. I know I have problems, and I think I can sort them out here. Is there any way I can join the church?”
I said, “Yes. You need to go back to your church, sit with the people God has placed as spiritual leaders in your life and listen to them. You need to be restored to those brothers and sisters.”
I wasn’t sure I would ever see Dan again, but he showed up the next Sunday for worship. The next week, I received a call from Dan’s pastor. He told me that Dan had called and he was going to meet with their elders. About a week later, the pastor of Dan’s church called me again. I asked him how the meeting went. He said, “It was our best elders meeting ever! There was repentance, restoration and healing. Tears were shed, and the Holy Spirit showed up.”
I rejoiced with him and he thanked our leaders for having the courage to love Dan enough to speak the truth and help them practice loving discipline. He let me know that they were encouraged to be more diligent in this area of ministry. My prayer is that this story will inspire other leaders and churches to discover the healing potential of spiritual discipline.
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