Saturday, May 30, 2015

The use of church discipline to control people or shut down discussion in the church

This week another megachurch (pastored by Matt Chandler) had to apologize publicly for how they had exercised harsh and unfair discipline among its members. In this case it was over a wife's decision to divorce her husband who admitted to a long time addiction to child pornography which predated their marriage.

This comes on the heals of James MacDonald in Chicago (Harvest Bible Church) apologizing for discipline against three board members who had spoken out about practices in the church and of course the Mark Driscoll situation at Mar's Hill where the same issues were part of the demise of the church. See the original statement of the elders of Harvest Bible Church here.

These are examples of church discipline where boards and pastors, often out of a position of power or a desire to shut down legitimate discussion use church discipline as a lever to do so. When used this way it brings huge devastation to those who are the target and in the case of McDonald and Driscoll it had a significant impact on the church - which it should have had.

Harsh discipline for the wrong reasons and done in a spirit of control and authority is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and is on the extreme end of discipline - although it happens too often, and usually for the wrong reasons.

People speaking out about issues that are legitimate issues do not hurt the church. In fact if listened to they are a great help to the church. In these cases it is usually threatened leaders who turn to disciplinary action for their own purposes of control. Ironically when this happens it is the leaders themselves who ought to be disciplined! In addition, where leaders seek to control people (the Matt Chandler situation referenced above) in ways that are inappropriate is has a cultist feel rather than the feel of a culture of grace.  

Church discipline was never designed to control people or to shut down discussion. It was designed to be a process of grace and restoration in the lives of those who perpetuate heresy, who are living in ongoing egregious sin or who are intentionally bringing serious division to a congregation. It is also designed as a process (Matthew 18) and as a last resort. When used to shut down discussion or control people it has moved from its Biblical purpose to a power play on the part of leaders.

TJ Addington of Addington Consulting has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at tjaddington@gmail.com.

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