Some years ago, I conducted a study and wrote a book on membership classes in local churches. Many of those churches included teaching church covenants in their membership class, but they talked very little about church discipline. That is, they established expectations but did not always talk about accountability. Since then, I’ve conducted an ongoing informal survey to see why churches don’t do discipline. Here are the primary findings, in no particular order.
1. They don’t know the Bible’s teaching on discipline. I can only guess what percentage of regular attenders in evangelical churches even know that the Bible teaches the necessity of church discipline. This topic is one that some pastors choose to avoid.
2. They have never seen it done before. Some of the reticence to do church discipline is the result of ignorance. Frankly, I admit my own ignorance when I began serving as a pastor 30+ years ago. If you’ve never been part of a church that carried out discipline, it’s easy to let any of these following reasons halt the process.
3. They don’t want to appear judgmental. “Judge not, lest you be judged” takes precedence over any scripture that calls for discipline, especially in a culture where political correctness rules the day. Judging, it seems, is deemed an unchristian act.
4. The church has a wide-open front door. Church discipline is challenging to do if membership expectations are few; that is, it’s difficult to hold someone accountable to standards never stated in the first place. The easier it is to join the church, the harder it is to discipline people when necessary.
5. They have had a bad experience with discipline in the past. For those churches that have done discipline, the memories of poorly done discipline seem to last long. They remember confrontation, judgment, heartache and division—with apparently no attempt to produce repentance and reconciliation.
6. The church is afraid to open “Pandora’s box.” If they discipline one church member, they fear establishing a pattern that can’t be halted as long as human beings comprise their congregation. To put it another way, they wonder how many members will remain if they discipline every member with unrepentant sin.