Christianity 201

November 29, 2012

The Often Painful Discipline of Church Leadership

Just three months ago we included a post by Blake Coffee at Church Whisperer (churchwhisperer.com) but we’re back again because he has a wealth of material that those in church leadership, and those of us who aspire to serve God to the utmost need to consider. In this post he’s looking at ‘the rest of the story’ regarding the man in II Corinthians who is under church discipline. Is the job finished when someone is simply removed from fellowship or does our responsibility go deeper? Blake titled this post, When The Painful Part is Only The Beginning, and you’re encouraged to click through and read it there and then browse the rest of his blog.

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.  The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.  2 Corinthians 2:5-9 (The Message)

Years ago, I was in a race with several hundred other people.  It started on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas.  After a half-mile swim in a very choppy ocean, we all ran to a transition area where we quickly put on cycling shoes and rode off on a 25-mile bike ride, about half of which was directly into a stiff and steady 20-mph headwind.  I considered myself a reasonably strong cyclist, so I was surprised that so many racers passed me on that windy ride. By the time I got off the bike, my legs were jelly and my body was exhausted.  I sat down in the transition area, thinking about the 10K run still ahead of me.  I was genuinely torn about what I would do…I could quit now and just lie back and relax (that’s exactly what a large part of me was wanting) or I could strap my running shoes on and stand up and “will” my legs to work again.  What I did next would reveal my real intentions…my heart.

Matters of Christian accountability, especially those related to church discipline, are never as simple as finding fault and imposing consequences.  Those painful parts are only the beginning of discipline…they are just stages in a much longer process, one designed to ultimately turn the heart of one of God’s children.  Think about when you disciplined your own children.  It never ended with just a punishment.  There was always the continuing conversation to make sure the reason for the consequences was clear and that a lesson was learned.  There was always the hug and the “we still love you” message.  There is always a transition from the painful part to the loving part…a critical continuation of the process.

That was Paul’s point to the church in Corinth when, in 2 Corinthians 2, he encouraged them to continue working with the man they had disciplined, even after the “punishment” had taken place. The whole point of church discipline is to “win the brother back”, so the process never ends with just removing fellowship from him. Like my triathlon, there is still more race to run and there is a necessary transition into that next phase.  I have walked prayerfully through this discipline process with a few churches.  I always caution them along the way to check their hearts and to make sure their motives are right.  Are they doing this out of love and concern for this brother, or are they just trying to get rid of him so they no longer have to deal with him?  The easiest and clearest evidence of their real motive comes after the discipline is imposed…what they do next will reveal their true intentions.

Churches who “discipline” a member and have little or no follow-up contact with him are not really practicing discipline at all.  Churches who are truly heartbroken over the whole process and who have the “sinner’s” interests at heart will certainly stay in contact with him and work to turn him around.  The race is not yet over.  In fact, it is just beginning.  Now it is time to transition to the next stage…now it is time to forgive and to love and to reconcile.

Oh, back to my race… I did finish my triathlon.  I did not set any records.  But I finished, because it was what I had set my heart on doing from the beginning.  I finished what I started.  That time, anyway.  :)

© Blake Coffee

Other posts by Blake here at C201:

Church Whisperer has been added to the blogroll here.

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