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One spring night several years ago I stood in line waiting to buy a movie ticket. The young couple in front of me were talking about the Easter Sunday “disturbance” at their church.

“Well, it was a pretty short skirt,” said the guy.

“That’s just the way Julie dresses,” answered the girl. “She needs to have people notice her.”

“She got noticed all right. One of the deacons went and got a video camera and took video of her in that outfit so that when they confront her about it they’ll have visual evidence.”

“That’s just wrong,” said the girl.

“Which?” asked the guy: “Her skirt or the video?”

Sometimes I make things up to prove a point. This conversation, however, was real. I wish it wasn’t.

Setting aside for a moment the creepy factor of middle aged deacons running for a video camera to tape a girl wearing a short skirt, the case of the really short skirt demonstrates the reasons so many believers are done with the church. The incident makes it difficult to suggest that participating in church life is a vital aspect of following Jesus. It’s hard to be in favor of the church when the church is manifestly flawed.
 
But what about Julie? What if she really does “need to have people notice her?” Who will help her, and how can it be done? The camera wielding deacons are not the answer, they are part of the problem. Yet church discipline should exist to help believers find freedom in Christ.

“Church Discipline.” The phrase is either an oxymoron or a neon sign warning all who see it to run for their lives because this church is nuts.

But what about the example of New Testament churches? The Apostle Paul not only planted churches but considered church discipline a life-giving necessity, even if the words ring harsh in our 21-st centurty ears:

So 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 flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord . . . I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5: 1-5,  9-13)


What are we to do with Paul? No one would suggest that he is a camera-crazed deacon! Or what should we do with Jesus, who laid down guidelines for handling  conflict within the church ending with, “if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Perhaps we need to be reminded that redeeming love extends to the life of the church as well.

Yet we must also acknowledge that church history is filled with bad examples of applying church discipline. So how does an obscure blog from the peaceful hills of Central Kentucky solve the problem? It doesn’t, other than to suggest three key factors every follower of Jesus should consider about church disipline:

1. Experiencing the presence of Jesus is the first and best kind of church discipline. Jesus is the head of the church. He is alive, active, and he has opinions about the actions we take and choices we make each day. The best way for a disciple of Jesus to avoid camera-wielding deacons is to live in the presence of Jesus as a way of life. The same gun-toting Apostle Paul who spoke such harsh words to the Corinthians concluded his advice to the Philippians like this: "All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you." (Phil 3: 10-11) Toward an immature church Paul raised a strong hand. To a healthy church he commended them to the still small voice of the Father.

2. Church discipline in the Western world is nearly impossible today...or, is it? In the U.S. alone there are more than 6,000 denominations today. That’s denominations, not churches. Is it any surprise in a consumer-driven society that a follower of Jesus would have 6,000 choices of how to express his or her faith? If your skirt is too short for one church, head for another. If you are a greedy idolatrous businessman you can fit in nicely somewhere. You don’t even need to change denominations, just “move your letter” to the other side of town. Even when church discipline is exercised with perfect love and care (a rarity, I grant you), the object of such love can easily pack up his problems and head somewhere else. The only difficulty is that the problems go with him: "wherever you go, there you are." Set your calendar, the need to be noticed--or whatever your problem--will surface again.   

3. Loving someone enough to help them find freedom from their fears and appetites is the heart of church discipline. If you knew someone was suicidal, would you take action? How about alcoholic or anorexic? We instinctively agree that love takes action. Imperfect action is better than no action when life is on the line. But the truth is: life is on the line every day. What if Julie's need to be noticed grows into the choice to marry an abusive husband? By the time everyone agrees on taking action much of the harm is already done. Godly leadership (not the deacons in my example!) is empowered to see and take action. Godly leaders are the shepherds of our souls: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” 

Is that crazy talk? You tell me.


What about you? Do you have examples of church discipline gone bad--or gone right? Tell your story in the comments below.



Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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Joji Jacob Kaden

commented on Jul 21, 2011

It is true of many churches that they have turned out to be social gatherings or clubs where Christians can do what the world does without having to feel the guilt. Fashion display, gossip and partying are done in different ways that are churchish. Young people are competing with each other in minimizing clothes and displaying their skin. Many grown ups also come in clothes that reveal their inner wears. Children are not ashamed because their parents never discourage them from these. Pastors do not bother because they are interested in getting the 'largest church' tag. It is sad that the church has lost its testimony trying to be like other peoples and to please everyone, when the Lord has called it to be different from the world. Discipline is derived through discipleship, the mature believers modeling Christ like character and encouraging the younger ones to follow their example. This is what Jesus and Apostles did. Paul wrote about this challenging the church to follow him as he himself follows the Lord Jesus Christ. Bring back discipleship and you get discipline.

Pastor Jeffrey Turner

commented on Jul 21, 2011

This is a perfect example of where "leadership" has failed the Body of Christ in America and abroad. The Body of believers are to be a beacon of Christ and the word of God to a lost and dying world. As Jesus told us, in Matthew 5:13,"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. " Yes, we are to be the visible and tangible reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and we are to reveal His power to transform lives. This is both a wonderful miracle and a tremendous responsibility. Peter reminds us of this command,1 Peter 1:16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. What is it to be holy? It is to be set apart by God , and for God. We are to be distinct from this world. We are to be as Peter informs us so wonderfully in 1 Peter 2:9," 9But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; " Ok, I have said much to say this, Church leadership, pastors, and the "popular front men and women" for the church today have dropped the ball in promoting, encouraging, instructing, and edifying the Body into not only seeing our role, but living it as well. They are too fearful of being seen as harsh, so they temper the word of God. They are fearful of an empty pew, so they never teach that which will make the listener uncomfortable. They are fearful of diminishing book sales, so they write what people want to hear. There is little said of modesty in life and dress, so the example shown to the world is no different than the world; therefore the world looks at the "church" and either sees hypocrisy or a powerless faith. Neither are true of a God. It is time for the leadership in the Body of Christ to start pleasing God. It is time for them to step up to the proverbial "plate", and speak the truth with love. It is time for them to develop a backbone. May the grace and peace of our Lord be with you, in you, and always work through you. Amen.

Stuart Balmer

commented on Jul 21, 2011

Great article, Thanks. I'm in the UK and the problem of church discipline is just as difficult! But I'm convinced it needs to be talked about and used. The problem with the girl was not the short skirt was it - it was her attitude. Our church discipline needs to start with the individual having their every decision made under the guidance of god, and that attitude has to be taught, taught and taught from the scriptures. if we establish that principle it becomes much, much easier to in our fellowships to deal with the issues when they arise. We won't need camcorder wielding deacons (the mind boggles!) but simply caring, gentle leaders who can draw alongside those who's attitudes we see are causing them to behave in inappropiate or compromising ways. prevention is much, much better than cure, so my plea is not for more discipline but building of good, caring relationships allied with consistent teaching about the importance of christlike character. This will help prevent many of the problems we encounter.

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Jul 21, 2011

Most people will not exercise discipline for fear of being sued or afraid of losing half of their membership because of discipline or the fallout afterwards. As to modesty, it is interesting that one of the the ten things that have happened in any major revival is that Christians changed the way they dressed. Most consider attire and affectations are nonessential or peripheral issues but it does appear that they are important enough to be affected when God moves upon His people. These areas can be a sign post for the need of revival.

Chaplain Shawn Kennedy

commented on Jul 21, 2011

When I was a youth pastor and one of our girls would dress inappropriately, one of the older female leaders would quietly take her aside and have a t-shirt or other clothing available. Hey wait! It's biblical! Titus 2:4.

Kevin O'brien

commented on Jul 21, 2011

Excellent. We've found that church discipline is a non-negotiable essential in a church that is enfolding new believers and seekers into the life of Christ. In the case of new believers this kind of correcting only seems to work in a small group where personal accountabiity to local/shared convictions and to God's Word is provided among trusted

Chris Green

commented on Jul 21, 2011

I agree with what you're saying, however I think you're being unfair to the deacons in your article. You call them the "middle aged" "camera wielding" deacons, and paint them in a negative light. I'm certain you don't have the full story, where they're coming from, what they've dealt with previously, etc. Maybe they did confront this woman in a very Christ-like, loving, appropriate, biblical, gentle manner and used the video to support what they're saying and avoid the "your word against mine" stuff. Just sayin'....

Richard Hopper

commented on Jul 21, 2011

The very thought of church discipline sends shivers up and down my spine and makes the hair on the back of my head stand up straight. It's scary business to discipline someone in the name of the Lord and trust that you get it right. Most of the time this simple process goes awry and everyone leaves with broken hearts and bad feelings. But that is where the rubber meets the road, are we willing to do the hard things in order that the greater things can be achieved. I'm not talking about a bigger, happier crowd on Sunday morning. I'm talking about someone finding peace who may be trying to draw attention to themselves due to a serious addiction or serious problem that they have sought an answer for every place else and have finally turned to the Lord as a last resort. It is the last place most people turn for help by the way. We need to be a beacon of love, hope and compassion. Rome wasn't built in a day and a person doesn't start living a Christlike life overnight. Have some patience and pray for the Holy Spirit to do His transforming work asap.

Hal Harker

commented on Apr 13, 2014

Richard, you are exactly correct in your statements about being compassionate and a beacon of love and this is exactly why scripture states that these things need to be handled carefully and in love. If done this way

Miguel Pinell

commented on Jul 21, 2011

Good exposure, Discipline should be handle with love and must of all it should be done as Jesus did.

Dr. Luke Kauffman

commented on Jul 21, 2011

The article has an agenda when we are told the age of the deacon. At that point, as one who grades student papers, a yellow flag appears. Something does not pass the smell test.

Scott Dossett

commented on Jul 21, 2011

I like the approach presented in this article. The phrase "church discipline" has hideous connotations for too many people and may need to be retired unless it can be infused with a more positive meaning. Whatever is done about the terminology, the concept must be reconsidered and re-evaluated. Quoting Hebrews 13 ("obey" and "submit") just doesn't cut it in our current culture where leaders are no longer above scrutiny and leadership is a community effort. We must help, encourage and challenge fellow believers in overcoming behaviors and attitudes that destroy both the self and the community and which work against the purpose for which we have been created. But the approach, attitudes and methods which may have worked in the past (even the biblical past) have to be retooled. Even if you could prove that it is morally right for our culture (Paul condones slavery too - Titus 2:9-10 - but few would suggest that as a legitimately moral alternative today), airing peoples' sins publicly and/or kicking them out of the church just isn't effective in our world. Foremost, let us address the planks in our own eyes before attending the splinters of others.

Frank Vega

commented on Jul 21, 2011

I was once that deacon who had to talk to a young sister about her to short skirt except that I was only 26. I felt a bit ackward but it was at the direction of my pastor; sad to say but she eventualy did leave the church. I dont know if she ever returned since I was sent out of state to serve

commented on Jul 21, 2011

Your article is in the right place. I agree with your thoughts but there are a few things I would add. You talk about Paul in 1 Cor. 5:1-13, Paul expels the brother why, he says "so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord."(Verse 5). I don't know about you but it seems to me that the way you would treat someone after expelling them would be quite different if you were planning to bring them back into the fold, than when you just were sending them away forever. He wasn't sending them away forever but sending them away so they would learn and return to Christ. Or Jesus words, "treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector" now I may be remembering wrong but Jesus treated pagan or a tax collector a little differently from the rest of society. He ate with them he loved them he gave his life for them. It sounds to me that treating someone as pagan or a tax collector means giving anything to bring them to Christ. I don't know about you but these don't seem like the first reaction we might make to someone refusing church discipline but two thoughts come here. 1. Our discipline is love. First, why do we think of discipline as anything other than love? I know non-mature Christians would probably think of it as something else, but discipline is love. I don't have a child (though I desire to have one, and I hope that the lord will bless we with one in his time) but if I don't discipline a child than he is not going to grow up to be a mature adult and when I look at the child when they are old and they still don't take responsibility for their actions, who should I blame? Only myself. For a child to grow up they need discipline when they make mistakes. For a Christian to grow why would that be any different? Yes the Holy Spirit convicts people of what they are doing wrong and we do need to work slowly with a new christian but no discipline also results in an out of control life. Continued on next post

commented on Jul 21, 2011

Continued from previous post 2. Correct action doesn't always feel good. Second, we need to act even if that action will ultimately hurt ourselves. I hear the argument "that we will lose people in our church by correcting this person" but the fact is that is a bad reason not to correct someone. It has nothing to do with what that person needs, the person becomes a means to keeping people. It might even have to do with our own greed for a large church (not in every case but let the Lord speak to you about that). Sometimes that person won't continue to come once you disciplined them but if we as the Church (the Church universal) are together trying to raise Christians than I have to believe that one of my brothers/sisters down the street at another church will also be willing raise this Christian brother (I am not talking about the deacon) up beyond this point if he refuses to accept my correction and when he finds that brother still needs that correction he will correct him too and hopefully the Body of Christ will raise him through this problem, and if not him the following one, and so on. What this brother needs is not a impotent Church unable to correct but a Church that is willing to hurt itself, crucify itself, to do what is in the best interest of this individual. Christ died, it wasn't painless, it was painful and he did it for our interest, because it was for our benefit, not his. Are we unwilling to die? Or unwilling to lose a few people to a different church, or even many or all people. As long as we are afraid of losing people, are we able to do what Christ did or has called us to do? As long as we are afraid, will we obey God when he leads to correct a brother? As long as we are afraid, are we not also a slave to that fear? Romans 8:15 "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God's children. And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) - if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us."

Derrick A. Cook

commented on Jul 21, 2011

This is a great topic, however, it is a major problem within the church. Many churches are trying to appeal to the culture that we are now encountering. The church buliding does not look like the traditional church. Instead, a person would think it was a community center. There was a time when people would dress modestly going to worship God, now they wear biking shorts, daisy duke shorts, and holes in their jeans. I find it strange that if they are confronted about their dress code within the context of the church they get offended. However, within the workplace they have dress codes--and they comply with the rules and regulations. But they rebel against the church if the church ask that the people dress in a way that will be pleasing to God. Not revealing their body parts. I think the whole problem with the church is that we have sold out the gospel for big buildings, big names, and popularity. The question we all need to ask is this, how will Jesus handle this issue? Let us remember however, santification is a process!

Dr. Luke Kauffman

commented on Jul 21, 2011

While I see this disscussion is good for church cleansing, I take issue with the writer in his opening paragraph, where he states that the Deacons are a part of the of the problem. How can a serious writer be taken seriously with such an absurd generalization of the Body of Christ? This is next to slander to the 1,000's of Godly Deacons who serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please read the writer's assessment of Deacons!

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Jul 21, 2011

Scott, retooling has been part of the problem. The Word dictates to the culture not the culture to the Word. If someone needs to be shunned as the Amish and Mennonites call it so be it. If they need to be turned over to the devil until they repent then we need to do so. That is why we have so many tares in with the wheat and disharmony in the Body. Evil does not fear entering the Church because it knows we will be at home with it and even console and comfort it rather than it being convicted unto repentance. We need more power and prophets and fewer psychoanalysts in the Church.

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Jul 21, 2011

Dr. Luke, while I can agree that there are some good deacons/elders/trustees and such I have learned that there is good reason for Duke calling its mascots the Demon Deacons. Many churches suffer because power mad and bitter men and in some cases, women are at the helm to thwart any move of God in the Church and to treat the Pastor like the lowest of the low.

Douglas Mays

commented on Jul 22, 2011

With Chris Green, I choose to hope that the deacon's pulling out the camera had a little kinder motivation than the article asserts. To correct Dr. Shultz, it's Wake Forest [an historically Baptist school] that has Demon Deacons. Duke, an historically Methodist [as am I] school, just has Blue Devils. The devils come to church in the deacons and supernaturally in other ways, too [sometimes even through us pastors], hence the need for church discipline, as Hollenbach calls for it. May God help us all to humbly and prayerfully help the Julies and the camera guys.

Andrew Ward

commented on Jul 22, 2011

In response to Dr. Luke Kauffman. To be fair, I don't believe the author was trying to throw all deacons under the bus. Just the camera wielding ones:)

Dr. Luke Kauffman

commented on Jul 22, 2011

To Andrew: With due respect, as a professor I am sensitive to adjectives that qualify nouns, as Angry Deacons. Hope this helps you see my perspective, Brother.

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Jul 22, 2011

Well, you can tell it has been awhile since I have been in Carolina and that I have no real interest in sports. Devils, Demons, Deacons are all the same in some places. ;-) I do remember something about Duke is puke and Wake is fake but the team I like is NC State. ;-) Angry deacons? One church had a head deacon who would come to the meetings drunk and if he did not like what he heard he went back across the street to his house and brought his shotgun back to break the tie. So church discipline is old hat, eh? I don't think the deacon had much compassion compared to those whose are afraid of offending someone by discipline. By the way, this was an SBC church, not an IFB. We don't need to be drunk to bring guns to the meeting. LOL!

Bert Foster

commented on Jul 25, 2011

Church discipline is painful, messy, necessary, and commanded by Christ. I do not like to confront anyone, and am hesitant to do so. Even when I know there is a significant sin to address, I struggle with knowing how to speak the truth in love. All my efforts at discipline so far (with members of my leadership) have been messy, and have lacked the happy endings I have wanted. I am not good at this, I don't like to do it, but I do it because Christ did it himself with his group of disciples, and because he tells me to do the same. We pastors are not good judges -- only God judges perfectly -- but we have been given the mandate and the authority of the One we serve to judge in His name. He commands His church to be holy, and enlists us to help Him in the sanctifying process. This is an awesome and humbling responsibility.

Lance Rogers

commented on Jul 26, 2011

Having just come through a church discipline trial, I am thankful for this insight. On the thought of the video "evidence" I came within a "toad's hair" of using my phone camera in a similar situation, but realized that it was so bad, the "evidence" might have been evidence used against me in a child pornography trial. Presently I have survived both trials.

Lance Rogers

commented on Jul 26, 2011

Having just come through a church discipline trial, I am thankful for this insight. On the thought of the video "evidence" I came within a "toad's hair" of using my phone camera in a similar situation, but realized that it was so bad, the "evidence" might have been evidence used against me in a child pornography trial. Presently I have survived both trials.

Lance Rogers

commented on Jul 26, 2011

LOL! I might clarify. The "evidence" was for my wife. I was thinking, "She will never believe this."

Ricky Winstead

commented on Jan 5, 2012

the bible clearly and plainly tells us our instructions,we either follow its teachings or we allow the church to be what the world wants, a place to feel better about our sins ,and ease our conscious ,, repentance was and is the only way to have a relationship with God,be willing to confront sin and be a leader and trust god

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