Getting Spanked By Your Pastor

January 27, 2012

When was the last time you got in trouble?

Most of us remember getting grounded or spanked or our car keys were taken away.  Everyone has one event when they really really got into trouble.

But have you ever been in trouble with your church?

A well known church and pastor that will remain nameless here are causing a stir because one of their members is in trouble.  And when they gave him the proverbial “spanking,” he quit the church.  And the church sent out a detailed letter to members giving instructions on how to ostracize the offender.  Yeah… You can catch up on all the details at Matthew Paul Turner’s excellent blog (including the letter sent to thousands of church members).

And virtually everyone’s reaction has been to excoriate the church.  How dare they try to “control” this guy?  What right do they have to discipline him?  What ever happened to “grace?”

Turns out, the church got it wrong.  Very wrong.  But so did all the bloggers who bristled at the church that would dare to discipline its members.

You Can’t Tell Me What to Do!

I want to ask you something.  Would any of you submit yourselves to church discipline?  My guess is no.

We spend a lot of time picking a church that suits us just right.  The church’s job is to entertain us for an hour on Sundays, give us some inspiration, make us feel like we’re making a difference, and give us a place to pretend we’re better than other people.

We think the church works for us.  The pastor is our employee.  After all, we pay his salary.  The church certainly has no authority over us.  Everything we do is “between us and God,” and no one can tell us what we can and can’t do.

It started when we were kids.  When teachers “give” a kid a bad grade, a lot of parents blame the teacher.  Then that kid grows up to be a rebellious teenager.  Then he gets his first job, but quits when the boss “gives him crap.”  Then he lives a mediocre existence under the illusion that he is his own man and does not need to obey anyone.  Then he puts a “He ain’t my President” bumper sticker on his Honda Civic.

And so when a church calls us out on our crap, we rarely say, “You are right.  I am sorry.”  We say, “Screw you, church!”  After all, why would we put up with a church that gives us crap when we can just shop for a new, entertaining, inspiring church where we can pretend to be good people down the street.

And for all you people sharing stories about how church discipline “hurt” you: yeah, getting in trouble hurts.  That’s the point of a spanking.  And just because we’re adults, we’re not above getting spanked.  If your church disciplines people, (like the church in question) and you step out of line, you have no one but yourself to blame when the feces hits the fan.

We Can’t Tell Them What to Do

Churches, you’ve really made a mess.

The only reason a case of church discipline is news is because churches don’t do it, outside of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  When the only “church discipline” is a Witness being disfellowshipped, yeah, it sounds crazy and cultish.

We have no moral authority to discipline people anymore.  Here’s why:

The only way discipline works is if it’s consistent.  How can a church consistently discipline 10,000 members?  Here’s a hint: it can’t.  Every one of your church members is screwing up in some way right now.  You’d be better off just disfellowshipping everyone and seeing who comes back.

Discipline only works if members expect it.  The average church is a weak-kneed, limp-wristed, spineless, impotent shill when it comes to teaching right and wrong.  We don’t even like taking peoples’ names off our lists who haven’t attended in five years.  Most churches are so stuck on gooey, sappy love and acceptance and politics and social justice, that people are blindsided when the church actually says, “What you’re doing is wrong!”  If your church doesn’t have clear lines and consequences, you have no right to haphazardly punish members.

And for God’s sake, when you spank a child, you don’t tell your other children to spank that child too.  Nice going, idiots.

You Will Regret It

If your church does not have a system of discipline in place, you will eventually regret it.  One day, you will find your church attended by a doctor that, for example, sells aborted fetus organs on the Mexican black market, and you can do nothing about it.  I’m sure glad my church followed Matthew 15 when we needed to.

What do you say?  Does the church have the authority to discipline its members?  Or is keeping butts in the seats and money in the offering more important?

38 responses to Getting Spanked By Your Pastor

  1. Wow! I read Matthew’s blog post – and that whole situation, to me, just reeks of control!!

    As you know, I’ve been involved in a very unhealthy church group, with heavy-handed discipline. Maybe that makes me a little sensitive on this point, but I really don’t believe discipline should be a controlling thing.

    I believe that real church involvement is always relational. And healthy relationships must include both honesty, and healthy boundaries. Being connected in an honest, transparent, but not controlling way, with others who are seeking to live out God’s love in the world, well, I think it ought to be enough.

    Solid relationships have room for disagreements, “calling each other on our crap”, and also giving people both space and time to grow in understanding and love. And have you noticed, in relationships, if someone stops listening; if they continually breach healthy boundaries in some way… there are natural consequences. It gets uncomfortable. I think generally they end up with the choice (IF people are being honest with them and not enabling the breach) of changing or moving on.

    Am I being too idealistic? Probably. But if a church community is genuinely seeking love AND truth, and people really are relating honestly, there shouldn’t be room for deliberate and repeated hurtful behaviour.

    So would I submnit to “church discipline”? If it involved being told to follow another’s conscience, or fit a certain prescribed mould in order to be accepted – absolutely not.

    Would I listen if a member of my fellowship questioned the ethics or rightness of my choices? Absolutely, yes. In fact, I expect people in my faith community to be honest with me. Does that mean we will agree on everything? No. It does, however, mean that I and they respect one another’s boundaries, and care for one another’s well-being. As in any relationship, if someone is damaging the well-being of another, that’s the time for a very firm “no more”.

  2. Disciplining church members when necessary is Biblical and we are in a church that does this with 800+ attending on Sunday mornings. Sometimes you have to do the hard thing because it’s right.

  3. //How can a church consistently discipline 10,000 members? Here’s a hint: it can’t.//

    Well wouldn’t the church be wise to follow what Jethro said to Moses? Appoint people to discipline so the weight doesn’t all fall on the pastor.

    • Exactly. There’s no way you can expect one single senior leader to hold an entire community accountable. That’s why I believe in a multiplicity of leadership.

      In my church we have multiple home fellowship groups (12 to be exact. We have 400 members) with leaders that are empowered to shepherd over their groups. It’s different from a “life groups” model but there are similarities. The leaders are there to create relationships in a smaller, more intimate setting and they would be the first responders to issues in life.

      It works well for us.

  4. My husband was not a Christian when we got married and he didn’t start attending church until he started going with me. I won’t go into the details of why here, but he’s been leary of organized religion in general for some time.

    Therefore, I can tell you for certain that if we had set foot in a church that treated its members like the one in MPT’s posts, not only would my husband probably have left but it would’ve been a major undertaking to get him to trust anyone associated with Christianity again. And I can’t say that I’d really blame him.

    If that makes me a hippy-dippy, lukewarm Christian, so be it. I’ve been called worse.

    The church in question did a lot more than “call someone out on their crap”–they violated the guy’s privacy, humiliated him, and threatened to humiliate him even more if he left the church.

    I don’t know about others, but that story didn’t tick me off because I’m some kind of wimp that can’t handle the church telling me when I screw up–it ticks me off because what they did was ABUSIVE, pure and simple. And I’m more than a little bit tired of the excuses being made for what happened.

  5. I’ve read the articles and I’ve been under church discipline of sorts, and all I know is that I learned nothing from the experience except guilt and shame.

    I know there’s a place for it, but the “formula” we have right now isn’t it.

  6. Matt, in a previous post I think you said it very clearly and wisely; why submit and subject yourself to anything or anyone when there are 100 other churches in town we can attend? We don’t have to practice forgiveness, reconciliation and love anymore. Just pack your bags and leave and find a new group that doesn’t know about your baggage.

    I do believe that when it comes to our attention that a church leader has fallen that we ought to follow Matthew 18. Yes it’s hard and uncomfortable, but like you said, if we don’t we will eventually regret it.

  7. Thank you for calling the issue wrong for how it was handled but also offering the other side of the coin. Just because they executed poorly doesn’t mean that all forms of accountability should be thrown out.

    I believe it’s symptomatic of a larger issue. That being TRUST. You can’t fully be a part of a community without being able to trust those in leadership. So many of us have issues with authority that we can’t even take the slightest criticism, even if it’s done gently and in love.

    I totally believe in accountability. I don’t believe in contracts because when you’re in true fellowship with someone, you don’t need a contract to be able to call them on their junk.

    But that has to be discussed up front before the proverbial crap hits the fan. And not many people make the effort to say “I give you permission to speak into my life. I give you permission to call me out when I’m falling short.”

    And so we have a bunch of people in a community that are spiritual orphans, under the guise of fellowship.

  8. I am very familiar with church discipline. And after 35+ years here is what I figured out. They very thing that makes discipline possible is missing in many churches, RELATIONSHIP.

    We do the drive by discipline – like a cop, we only pull people over for doing bad. I mean when was the last time a cop pulled you over to congratulate for for safe driving?

    The church can be overblown with making names, titles and personalities which eventually become idols. Still no relationship.

    The Bible is specific about go to one another FIRST. But usually they go to some friend to vent their offense, and it is downhill from there with the devil driving the bus off the cliff.

    People fail, and act out when they think no one cares. People fall into sin when they can’t find significance in empty religion.

    David walked with Jonathan, and after Jonathan was gone, David fell.

    Churches, parents, bosses and society can’t disciple people they don’t care about deeply. People leave because they have nothing to lose.

  9. If I was at Mars Hill, I’d think that Andrew’s biggest mistake was confessing to his small group leader. The lesson here is keep your secret sins to yourself. How sad.

  10. I read all the articles & comments on MPT’s posts and I was saddened to hear about this. I didn’t walk away from it thinking church discipline is wrong though, and I don’t think that was what anyone was implying. Rather, I think he has hit a very big nerve in the Church: the extreme practices that fall under “church discipline” and the spiritual manipulation that follows it; leaving many in the flock wounded, disillusioned, and walking away from church altogether. Very much like an abusive home (as church is meant to be) it often gets over looked and rationalized away.
    We know Church discipline is biblical and healthy, but all too often is not carried out correctly. MPT followed up those posts with his own blog stating the many letters he’d received following of many wounded who were inspired to share their story as a result of reading that guy, Andrew’s.
    The reason it’s important to discuss is (obviously) not to discount discipline, but to give an open forum for those who have experienced situations like Andrew and to find healing and a renewed faith in what church community can and was meant to look like- in spite of our short comings as human-beings.
    Honestly, my sister came out of the Int’l Church of Christ (long recognized as having cult teachings and even considered a cult in many denominational circles) and what I read was not very far from my sister’s experiences.

    This church is very high profile and has a massive reach and so, to me, to make this about running away from discipline and not taking our “spankings” is to miss the point entirely.
    It seems to me that our focus should be on how we can love, encourage, and assist those in our own communities that may have walked through similar circumstances and, as leadership, be humble enough to search ourselves to see if we are attempting to control our flocks with fear and manipulation rather than leading with love and humility.

  11. My problem with the issue at hand is that the guy had a repentant heart. He recognized what he did was wrong, he took responsibility for his actions, and he repented. When I read Matthew 18, it seems to apply to someone who refuses to repent — to even listen.

    It sounds like what he needs is loving counseling and healing — which the church should be GREAT at — not further condemnation, which, frankly, we don’t have if we’re in Christ Jesus.

    I think you’re right, Matt. There has to be discipline. Look at 1 Corinthians 5, where we’re supposed to expel the immoral brother. We can’t ignore someone engaging in unrepentant sin, and we have to challenge each other. However, God loves a contrite heart. When there’s repentance, there’s forgiveness.

    I agree with above posters. It comes down to relationship. If one of my brothers, or my pastor who knows me, knows my life, and knows my heart, points out an area of my life where I am not honoring God, I listen. However, if some church subcommittee sitting in a corporate office determines they don’t like what I am doing, who cares? How do they know who I am? How do they know where I am in my life?

    If it comes from my closest friend, I listen. And if I don’t listen, then there really must be something wrong. If I refuse to listen, then the best thing that could happen for me would be a broken fellowship, because only then will I have a chance to get the point.

    You don’t cast a repentant heart out. That’s a gross misinterpretation of not just Matthew 18, but the Gospel and the entire Bible.

    I think this guy should write a letter to the church casting THEM out for pride and a lack of forgiveness. So there.

    • I think the guy had a right to a speedy trial. A month of hoop jumping before the “discipline” even starts.

      • I still think it’s a horrible misinterpretation of Matthew 18. The guy had a contrite heart! Why keep punishing him if he wants to do what’s right? He was listening to them. He was in agreement that something was wrong. He sat through a billion meetings.

        I think the appropriate response to repentance. “You’re forgiven and washed clean by the blood of the lamb! Now, let’s work together towards healing and restoration. How do we walk arm in arm to fix these broken relationships and help you grow?” That doesn’t mean their won’t be consequences. But there’s a difference between a natural, fair consequence and an airing of grievances.

        I like that better than “Here’s your contract. Put on your sack-cloth, and once you’ve self-flagellated yourself sufficiently, we’ll accept you.”

        • That’s exactly what’s eating at me. Andrew wasn’t “found out” and “confronted” in the way that Matthew 18 describes; he ‘fessed up himself, first to his ex-fiancee, then to his small group leader.

          Should there have been some form of discipline? Sure. It is biblical, and discipline in certain situations is called for. Ostracism after a freely-confessed sin is not discipline; to me, it smacks of the church trying to play God and determine if a person is repentant enough or if they need to donate some more money to give the pastor a new four-car garage. This has the appearance more of old Roman Catholic “indulgences” than a true desire to be sure that this young man is getting where he needs to go spiritually.

          If the church wishes to paint things so broadly, then we’re looking at ostracism and excommunication because you had dozens of people lying to the pastor over the plans for his surprise birthday party…about which no one is going to be repentant, because the dumb thing was supposed to be a surprise.

          This is what I have in Turner’s blog accounting of events: a young man who screwed up, knew he was wrong, confessed not only to the person he wronged but also to his small group leader (clearly looking for guidance), and he wanted to get his relationship with God back on track.

          The church offered him, as a way of helping with that quest: a month of seemingly endless meetings, what seems to have been an awful lot of pushing to get Andrew to confess to MORE things, exploding a sin against one woman’s trust and love into a conspiracy of deliberate and total deception to the entire church body, more meetings, a contract for “renewal” based on the church’s standards of operation and seeming to have little to do with actual biblical standards, harsh attitudes, a determination that his efforts over the previous month were nowhere near good enough, a determination without evidence as to the actual status of Andrew’s relationship with God, a vindictive response when he felt he’d undergone enough “discipline,” widespread publication of their list of his sins, and loss of friendship. All because he wouldn’t sign a paper stating he would let the church publicly punish him for a private confession of sin.

          Taking his sin to the church is a last resort for someone who has not confessed. Repentance is a process, as Mars Hill has astutely observed, but the goal of the church is to help restore fellowship, not treat the erring member as a pariah even before he’s “under church discipline.” Andrew confessed. If he needs counseling? Counsel him. If he needs advice? Advise him. If he needs direction? Guide him. Don’t blab his private confessionals to the church because he has refused to “submit” to one church’s discipline in favor of submitting to God himself.

          Remove him from public areas of service until you/he/God reveals he’s ready to resume them. I’ve seen it happen in the past.

          You cannot lovingly restore someone to fellowship with God by telling him you won’t speak to him or hang out with him or do anything that doesn’t revolve solely around getting him to come back and let church leadership humiliate him some more.

          Ugh.

  12. I went back and read all the documents…WOW!!! How come we want to show grace and mercy to the lost but to the found we show the opposite? And to think that this man is the big deal in Christian circles.

  13. Wow.

    Reminds me of the shunning that happens when someone is disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witness cult. They’re cut off from their family.

  14. I agree that relationship is a key in the matter of church discipline, but I would go a step farther. In most churches it is easy for someone who is disciplines to simply leave and find another show, er I mean church. If the church is what the church should be, a community of folks who are committed to Christ and to each other, and there is loving community, then discipline would mean something.

    What would be tougher, being disfellowshiped by a church where you really don’t have any relationships, or by a community where you love and are loved?

  15. i’ve seen church discipline handled very well. and very poorly. when it’s handled well, the person under the discipline comes through the process restored, encouraged and embraced. no condemnation or shame.

    when it’s done poorly, well, i think Andrew’s situation from Matthew posts exposes that pretty thoroughly.

    i would have left, too. but me being me, probably would have made a badge that said, “i’m no longer in ‘good standing’ with Mars Hill. yay me!”and worn it everywhere.

    i’m not a very good person.

  16. I like the way you have handled this subject. I also liked Tony’s comment about how contracts should not be needed if we are truly in a relationship.

    I read through both parts of MPT’s blog and started reading the Mars Hill approach. It is a sad situation at every level, and from every perspective. Trust has been broken by everyone involved.

    I have been through something of a discipline process from my Bible Study leader in college, though she didn’t call it that and it wasn’t until years afterward, in reading that passage in Matthew that I recognized what she was doing. She started well and I know now that she was well-meaning and that she had good reason for concerns. However, at the end of our conversation, when I wasn’t totally convinced, instead of asking me to pray about it, she questioned the validity of my testimony and told me other people in the organization wondered whether I was truly a Christian. It was the last of a long string of problems that had me questioning the validity of Christianity and its followers. At that time, I decided to turn away from God for a while until He called me back again and since then, have worked hard to fix my eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.(Hebrews 12:2)

    Since my re-committment, I have encountered people in the middle of sin who confessed it but were unrepentant because they didn’t change their ways. And, while they were still attending the church, they started causing trouble, questioning the leadership. I have seen situations where a husband has broken trust after years of claiming to have been healed from a particular sin, go through counseling and humbly submit to church discipline and have his marriage and relationships in the church restored. And I have seen a person go through the steps of confession, repentance and reconciliation, only to find that it was an act to convince others that they were sincere so that they could continue manipulating people.

    So how do you shepherd a flock and protect your sheep from the wolves without accidentally shooting the wounded? How can you tell when a person is unrepentant vs. just being sorry or sad or manipulative? And how do you know when you can trust a person who has broken your trust,especially when it has happened more than once? I think relying on the Holy Spirit has something to do with the answer to this question because He is such a blabber-mouth.

    And the best thing we can all do is to stop judging the situation and start praying for God to use His heavenly 2×4 on the heads and hearts of those who need it and to show grace and mercy to those who need it and to keep ourselves humbly following Him in our own lives.

  17. “Most churches are so stuck on gooey, sappy love and acceptance and politics and social justice, that people are blindsided when the church actually says, “What you’re doing is wrong!””

    Yep. And there’s a lot of Christians who live that way and create blogs to bash the people who actually do something like follow the Bible and use church discipline.

    Given MPT’s extreme dislike for people who have theological positions like Driscoll, I was skeptical when I heard about what he posted and looked for independent confirmation of the information. If it’s all true…and so far from what I’ve found it is…it’s horrific what Mars Hill did to this man. It’s certainly not Biblical on any level to do what they did to someone who confessed and repented of their sin.

    Still, that doesn’t mean church discipline isn’t Biblical and right. I just think there’s too much of a selfish attitude instilled in the last few generations (including mine) that people would rather take off than accept discipline on any level. It’s too easy to run to the internet and cry about how you were hurt by the church. I’m not excusing any kind of church abuse but we need to define abuse as real abuse and not someone daring to point out someone in unrepentant sin.

    • “Given MPT’s extreme dislike for people who have theological positions like Driscoll, I was skeptical when I heard about what he posted and looked for independent confirmation of the information. If it’s all true…and so far from what I’ve found it is…it’s horrific what Mars Hill did to this man.”

      I agree with this. I would love to hear from a blogger or journalist with a more journalistic approach on this subject. I actually want to hear both sides of the issue, as well as from some other people involved. It’s easy to get worked up by something you read on a blog, especially when the blogger makes no apologies about his biases, and tells the story with a very accusatory tone. For me, I was skeptical of the story when I first read it because the tone of the story was so, so obviously biased.

      One thing I have always loved about THIS blog (CoNP) is how balanced it is. Matt does a good job of presenting both sides, and showing a high level of grace and humility, even when taking hard stances on difficult subjects. (That’s me sucking up to this blogger.)

  18. Hi Matt,

    I think the wisest thing you said in this posting was, “Screw the church”.

    Now, how about a post explaining the meaning of Matthew 7:1.

    The problem is, who guards the guards?

    Paul says something about “Ye who are spiritual” correcting other people; but just who decides who is spiritual?

    James said, that pure religion and undefiled before God is to relieve widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep one’s self… Oh that.

    But it’s so much easier to keep somebody else in line–after all, he’s the one with that mote in his eye. I’m fine. I thank Thee, O God, that I am not as other men…

    OK, I’m ranting here, Matt. As I see it church folk spend a lot of time correcting other people when God tells me to watch myself. So I agree when you say, “Screw the church”.

    Unless, of course, you want to bring back the good ‘ol days of Torquemada, Tyburn, Smithfield, and Salem.

    If you want to “discipline” stray sheep, put me on the committee; I’ll bring my own matches. We’ve got to put a stop to these folks different from us… I got dubs on disciplining all the young pretty girls.

    Your friend in Christ,
    John “Torquemada” Cowart

  19. First Matt this paragraph is pure genius-

    We spend a lot of time picking a church that suits us just right. The church’s job is to entertain us for an hour on Sundays, give us some inspiration, make us feel like we’re making a difference, and give us a place to pretend we’re better than other people.

    Hooray for the nuggets to call it like that. In our shopping mall society where we can just step out of one door and into another there is no discipline because the consumer(church goer) has too many choices and the church does it SO poorly.

    What is the goal of the discipline? To strong arm the congregant into following orders? Or is it to reconcile the person to their “family” community? Is it to help the one failing SEE the error and change, ie repent? If so then the parishioner who tells on them self would theoretically need guidance and support more than discipline. I am probably wrong but at least I can see that this particular circumstance was wildly misguided.

  20. There’s a difference between discipline and striving to be in control. In this particular case, the gentleman willingly confessed his sins. It seems apparent that he listened to the leading of the Holy Spirit; he would not have felt tortured about it otherwise. Following his confession, I could understand the leaders of the church removing him from volunteer/leadership positions for awhile, as this gentleman would need time to deal with the consequences of his actions and to heal. I could also understand them asking that he participate in some sort of accountability group. That would be sensible. (On the other hand, what about the other members of the church who are surely engaging in sexual sin?)

    All these hoops and whatnot? Making him list his sexual history? No way. That’s awful. And, anyway, I have a hunch that no amount of repentance on his part will ever be good enough for the church leadership. Praise be to God that He’s the judge, not man!

  21. Dave Bronstein March 22, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Why would any rational person have anything to do with a church in the first place? What a waste of time and money. Right-wing fundamentalists are usually backward, cruel, misogynist, punitive. Some won’t hesitate to harm those they perceive as vulnerable (“harm” includes physical, psychological, sexual, financial). Personally, I’d round up every religious tyrant from Fred Phelps to pedophile priests to Independent Baptist child-floggers, and stick their pious butts in jail.

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