Recently, one of the elders at our church took a leave of absence from the Council of Elders to address some personal matters. The Council of Elders sent a letter to the members of the church explaining what we were doing and why we were doing it.
As you would expect, we received a wide range of responses. A few people expressed their appreciation for the explanation and affirmed the actions of the elders. One person criticized me and the elders in an anonymous letter. Two people asked why the letter was necessary.
Without getting into the specifics of this situation, let me give five reasons why communication of this sort is appropriate. While this instance was not part of church discipline, my reasons touch on the question, “Why practice church discipline?” (My reasons skip over the fact that the practice and process of church discipline was prescribed by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17).
- We are a community of faith. The actions of one—individual, couple, family—affect all of us for good or ill. No one lives and acts in isolation. The sin of Achan (Joshua 7:1) resulted in a national defeat (Joshua 7:2-12) and his family’s death (Joshua 7:24-26). In contrast, a godly man’s action can impact his great-grandchildren (Psalm 78:5-6).
- Leaders, especially pastors, elders, and deacons, are held to a higher standard (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). By taking action, we demonstrated that we take the qualifications for leadership seriously.
- The goal is always restoration (Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1-2). The instruction in Matthew 18:17 to treat the person as “a Gentile or a tax collector” does not mean shunning or ostracizing the individual. It speaks of treating them with grace and trying to win them back. We specifically ended our letter with a request to pray—for the person, the family, and the church body.
- Actions and communication of this nature promote the purity of the church. Leaders who persist in sin are to be rebuked publicly “so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Timothy 6:20). While our specific situation was not a sin issue, it does tell the church that we take sin and leadership seriously.
- By taking action and addressing the issues early, we dispel gossip and head off rumors.