The purpose of this policy is to establish and communicate the guidelines for correcting inappropriate church member behavior at YOUR CHURCH.
This document contains YOUR CHURCH’s policy for corrective action and restoration of a church member(s) who has behaved inappropriately and the church leadership deems it necessary to take action. The policy outlines the reasons for, purpose of, and process for church discipline.
As with all policies, procedures, and other documentation contained in the Management System, it is the responsibility of all ministry area leaders to ensure the details of this policy are known and followed by all paid staff and ministry area volunteers. The primary responsibility for this policy rests with the executive staff (senior and executive pastors).
Church Discipline Description
Church Discipline is the process whereby the executive staff of YOUR CHURCH takes action to correct a church member’s behavior adversely affecting both him/her and the church as a whole.
YOUR CHURCH’s by-laws state, “Discipline: In cases where a member becomes unwilling to place themselves under the authority of the Word of God, that member shall be disciplined by the church staff. In all cases, the model found in the New Testament shall be followed (Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, James 5:19-20).”
Reasons for Church Discipline
The Bible teaches that there are three instances in which church discipline is to be initiated.
Divisive Behavior – Scripture repeatedly warns Christians about the corrosive influence divisive people have on the church. Church members who seek to stir up agitation against fellow church members and/or the church leadership must be stopped. Titus 3:10-11 states, “Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” Before Jesus died on the cross he prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:20-21). Church leaders must be vigilant about correcting those who would seek to cause any division within the church for which Jesus died. This is so serious, the Apostle Paul warned in Romans 16:17-18, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery, they deceive the minds of naive people.”
Immoral Behavior – The Bible compares unchecked immoral behavior to yeast that works itself through “the whole batch of dough” (1 Co. 5:6). Persistent immoral behavior on the part of a church member must be corrected because it hurts the church member involved in the sin, but also because it creates a lax moral environment within the church. When addressing the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? …When you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the sinful nature so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Co. 5:1-2, 4).
Teaching Against Church Doctrine – The Bible tells us that Christians must “…teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1) and that pastors must “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9). When someone persistently teaches doctrine that is in direct opposition to YOUR CHURCH’s position and seeks to rally people to adopt such a position, that behavior must be confronted and corrected. The Apostle Paul talked specifically about this when he commanded, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:17-18).
The Purpose of Church Discipline
The Bible teaches there are four reasons to correct a church member. The first three were implied in what was stated above: (1) to protect the church from division; (2) to protect the church from the spread of false teaching; and (3) to protect the church from the spread of lax moral behavior. The fourth reason for church discipline has to do with the church member directly: (4) to restore the erring church member to a right relationship with God.
If a Christian is being divisive, teaching unsound doctrine, and/or is living in persistent unrepentant sin, they are sinning against God. 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 says, “Take special note of those who do not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as fellow believers.” Elsewhere Galatians 6:1-2 instructs, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
It must be noted that while the goal is to restore a Christian’s relationship with God, this does not necessarily mean their relationship with YOUR CHURCH must be restored. In rare cases, for various reasons, it would be better for a Christian facing church discipline to have their relationship with God restored but seek to worship and serve in another church fellowship.
The Process of Church Discipline
The church discipline process at YOUR CHURCH is based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15-17: “If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Step One: One on One Confrontation – This happens when one church member confronts another church member regarding their persistent unrepentant sin, divisive behavior, and/or aberrant doctrinal teaching. If the church member confronted acknowledges and repents of his/her behavior, the goal of the confrontation has been achieved – the erring Christian has changed his/her ways and the matter is considered resolved. In a church the size of YOUR CHURCH, this almost always happens at the volunteer level with no staff involvement.
Step Two: Multiple Confrontations – Oftentimes, the behavior goes unchecked even after one Christian is confronted by another. When this happens scripture encourages Christians to escalate the process to involve one or two other Christians. In many cases, when a Christian in err is confronted multiple times by multiple people they will grasp that what others are perceiving of their behavior is not one isolated perspective. If after multiple confrontations the church member confronted acknowledges and repents of his/her behavior, the goal of the confrontation has been achieved – the erring Christian has changed his/her ways and the matter is considered resolved. In a church the size of YOUR CHURCH, this happens quite frequently at the volunteer level with limited staff involvement.
Step Three: Church Staff Confrontation (Implementation of Restoration Process) – Unfortunately, sometimes Christians will not change their persistent unrepentant sin, divisive behavior, and/or aberrant doctrinal teaching, even after multiple confrontations. When this occurs, the executive staff steps in to lead the unrepentant church member through a detailed restoration process. Before the executive staff meets with the church member in question, a member of the staff will contact and interview those church members who have been involved in confrontations with or otherwise have been impacted by the church member in question. These interviews are documented for the record. At this meeting, the church member is asked to acknowledge and repent of their behavior as well as submit to a detailed restoration process. If the church member in error submits to and completes the restoration process the goal of the confrontation has been achieved. The erring Christian has changed his/her behavior and the matter is considered to be resolved. If a church member refuses to participate in the restoration process, the executive staff will proceed to step four. A refusal to meet with the executive staff on the part of the church member in question will be interpreted as a “refusal to participate in the restoration process.”
Step Four: Removal From Membership and All Church Participation – When a church member refuses to acknowledge and repent of his/her behavior, and complete the restoration process presented by the executive staff, their name will be removed from the membership roll of the church and they will be asked to leave the church. Under no circumstances will they be allowed to participate again in any church worship service or church-related activity until they have met again with the executive staff and submitted to the restoration process. If a church member refuses to complete the restoration process, a notification will be placed in the church bulletin stating the church member has been removed from the membership roll of the church and all parties affected by the church member’s behavior will be personally contacted by the executive staff. If at a future time the church member seeks to come back to the church, even years afterward, the church member must first complete the restoration process before being restored to church membership.
While each restoration will vary according to the circumstances, it will include at least the following:
Initial Meeting – The executive staff will meet with the church member in question and present him/her with the details of the case against them. If the church member acknowledges and repents of their behavior they will be asked to sign a document outlining their commitment to the following:
- Repentance to All Parties Affected – The church member will personally ask for forgiveness from everyone he/she has affected with their behavior. A list will be generated at the initial meeting of such people to contact. The executive staff will follow up with the parties the church member agreed to contact to ensure this has happened.
- One Year Probationary Period – For a period of one year the church member will not be allowed to serve in any capacity. The church member will be allowed to attend church services and participate in a small group, but that is all. The goal for this entire year to is rebuild their relationship with God and also rebuild trust within the church. Various books and resources will be recommended to the church member as well as avenues for support and counseling. There will be a face-to-face meeting with the executive staff after six months and then again at twelve months. After the twelve-month meeting, the church member will be allowed to serve again under the advisement of the executive staff.
- Five-Year Volunteer Leadership Probation – After the one-year probationary period is over, the church member may seek to serve, but in no way will be allowed to assume a volunteer leadership role in any area of ministry. After this five-year period is over there will be another meeting with the executive staff, after which the church member will be free to pursue a volunteer leadership role in certain ministry areas (with the exception of below).
- Staff and Leadership Team Ineligibility – After the five-year volunteer leadership probation is over, the church member in question will be free to explore any leadership position in the church with the exception of the Board of Elders and/or a paid church staff position.