If a church decides to obey God in the matter of church discipline, how does it go about doing it–from a practical standpoint? (Part 1 of 2)
Count the Cost: But Remember God’s Priorities!
First, we probably need to resign ourselves that anytime we make any change in the church, there will be some who get upset and complain and perhaps even use it as an excuse to leave the church.
Of course, it is never pleasant to watch people leave the church. It causes grief, heartache, and loss of sleep.
If our primary goal is to keep as many people who are currently attending our church (whatever their spiritual status and personal behavior) in the church as we can, the idea of any kind of discipline will probably seem to be a bad idea.
If I may use an analogy here, there are parents whose main goal in their relationship with their children is for their children to like them as parents. Actual discipline of a child threatens that goal (for at least a while, the child won’t like you)! So many parents cannot bring themselves to discipline their children. But hopefully most parents decide that it’s ok for a child to "not like them" for a while, knowing that discipline is in the best long-range interest of the child.
In the same way, churches must decide (based on Scripture) that discipline really is in the long-range best interest of the members of the church–even if some members react to the idea with anger and rejection.
Realize that Many Members Have Unfortunate Misconceptions about Church Discipline
Unfortunately some members cannot get past the words "church discipline" because they have so many negative, antagonistic, and false impressions of it. Some fear lawsuits. Some picture "witch hunts." Some think it is "harsh," "judgmental," "unloving," etc. Satan has seen to it that the "deck is stacked" against those who would desire to obey God in the matter of church discipline. For that reason, it must be done with great care, lots of prayer, and lots of teaching.
Where’s the Pastor?
If the pastor is opposed to (or unsure about) this whole issue, there must be lots of prayer for the pastor. After lots of prayer, you may wish to print up this set of posts, tell your pastor you have a burden about this issue, and ask him if he would please read it, pray about it, and share his personal thoughts with you about it.
There are some aspects of church discipline that church members can follow, even if the pastor is not sure about the whole concept yet. But the full-blown use of church discipline as the Bible describes it would be very difficult without pastoral support and leadership.
Start Educating the Members
It would probably be good, not only for the pastor, but for other significant spiritual leaders and teachers in the church to have an opportunity to study these posts. Of course there is plenty of other material on the subject. You might want to do a Google search, find good books on the subject, or request materials from other churches who are already implementing Biblical church discipline.
At some point, sermons could be preached on different aspects of church discipline. Materials such as these posts could be used for Discipleship Training classes, small group studies, and Sunday School classes.
It would be important to have at least some of the studies done in an atmosphere where people can react openly, express misgivings, and ask honest questions. (This may be difficult if the only venue for instruction is worship service sermons. Although a sermon, followed by a statement like, "I’m sure this message has raised lots of questions in your mind. If you’d like to discuss some of these things in a more informal atmosphere, we’ll meet (at such-and-such a place at such-and-such a time)."
If a church has not been practicing Biblical church discipline, it will probably take some time to help people overcome their fears, misconceptions, and misunderstandings. But it is better to begin that process as early as possible. It can be much more painful for a church to have to go through a disciplinary process if it has not been prepared well in advance.
I would recommend discussing the principles in as non-threatening way as possible. For those who have serious misgivings about the whole idea, statements like these might, "God teaches this in His Word and perhaps we haven’t done it because we have misunderstood what it really means." Or "Let’s study this issue thoroughly. We will not do anything at all until we have prayed it through carefully and had plenty of time to discuss it fully and answer all the questions."
Palms getting sweaty? Relax! When we contemplate obeying God in "new territory," Satan will try to work us over and back us off with fears. But when we decide to do what God wants in the WAY God wants (very important phrase!), God will certainly bless it!