Recently, the subject of church discipline has hit the radar in many circles due to some high profile controversies and scandals.
The way some churches appear to poorly exercise church discipline is as distressing as the way many Christians reacted to the concept. There has been a collective incredulity about church discipline as some kind of “strange fire” in the evangelical world.
I can’t help but think that this aversion is partly because, as God has built his church, his church leaders have not always kept up with what makes a church a church. So even to mention the idea of a church disciplining its members strikes tenderhearted and undereducated Christians as weird, mean, and legalistic.
How do we work at keeping church discipline from seeming weird? Here are 5 ways:
1. Make disciples.
Many local churches have simply become keepers of a fish tank. A surface level of fellowship is often in place, but the central mission of the church – to make disciples – has been neglected.
Instead, churches are structured around providing religious goods and services, offering education, or even entertainment options for their congregational consumers. People aren’t being trained in the context of ongoing disciple relationships. But this largely what “church discipline” is – training.
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. Matthew 18:15
In discipling relationships, we are always disciplining one another, not chiefly or only in the fight against sin but largely in our encouragement of each other, edifying one another, teaching one another, and sharing one another’s burdens. In short, disciples know each other. And so Matthew 18:15 might be happening all the time, perhaps weekly within loving relationships where there is no imminent danger of somebody being kicked out of the church but rather a constant iron sharpening of iron.
In churches with healthy discipleship cultures, church discipline is going on all the time in helpful, informal, everyday ways. When the more formal processes of church discipline become necessary, they are much less likely to be carried out too harshly or received strangely. The church will already have a positive training context for knowing that discipleship requires obedience, correction, perseverance, and mutual submission.