How can a pastor wisely shepherd his church toward the ability to practice church discipline?
- Encourage humility. Help people to see that they may be mistaken about their own spiritual state. Consider the example of the man in 1 Corinthians 5 as well as Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian Christians in 2 Corinthians 13:5. Paul charges us to examine ourselves to see if we’re in the faith. Do your church members recognize that they should help one another do such examination?
- Make sure that your congregation has a biblical understanding of church membership. People don’t understand discipline because they don’t understand membership. Membership is a congregational relationship. It is not created, sustained, or ended merely by the act of an individual; it is a church’s business to decide who its members are. And members cannot simply leave when they’re in unrepentant sin. (See Jonathan Leeman’s article, “The Preemptive Resignation—A Get Out of Jail Free Card?” for a fuller discussion of this.) So, look for opportunities in your sermons to teach on the distinction between the church and the world, and how that distinction is important for the nature and mission of the church. Remember that the members must understand membership and discipline because they’re the ones who must carry it out.
- Pray that God would help you to model ministryto other Christians in your church. Work toward creating a culture of discipleship and accountability in your church, where Christians understand that a basic part of their following Jesus is helping others to follow Jesus (both through evangelism and discipling other Christians). Help them to understand the special responsibilities they have toward other members of their particular congregation. Teach them that the Christian life is personal, but not private.
- Fourth, prepare your congregation’s written constitution and covenant. Consult Ken Sande’s article for some general legal advice. Begin teaching pre-membership classes in which you explicitly discuss membership and discipline.
- Finally, never tire of teaching what a Christian is. Regularly define the gospel and conversion. Teach that a church is to be composed of repenting sinners who trust in Christ alone, and who give credible professions of that trust. Pray that you would be centered on the gospel. Resolve that, with God’s help, you will slowly but steadily lead your congregation to change.
- (This material has been adapted from Mark Dever’s article, “Don’t Do It!! Why You Shouldn’t Practice Church Discipline”)