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How and When Does Church Discipline Begin?

How and When Does Church Discipline Begin?

This post examines key elements of church discipline that need to be understood before the formal process of church discipline begins. Uncertainty about how to begin church discipline and what concerns warrant church discipline is often the reason that church discipline either is not done or feels reactive when it is done.

How Does Church Discipline Begin?

There are two predominant paths towards church discipline: (a) stalled out pastoral care, or (b) a crisis precipitated by hidden sin. We will look at the implications of each of these paths.

1. Stalled Out Pastoral Care – Here “pastoral care” may be a small group leader, ministry team leader, lay elder, or pastoral staff member. The point is that a church leader is aware of the repeated sin, has been meaningfully involved, and has been involving “higher leaders,” but change has not occurred.

The tone of conversation as pastoral care transitions to formal church discipline would sound something like this:

“We have been talking about your struggle for [length of time]. It seems to me that your progress has been minimal or only in short-term bursts. [invite a response] We have already involved [list of people] to come alongside you [or you have resisted involving additional support]. Even with additional support, we have not seen significant progress.

This leads me to one of two conclusions: either (a) your level of honesty-cooperation-motivation has not been sufficient, or (b) you are not a believer and it is the absence of God’s presence in your life that is the reason for the lack of change.