What to Look for in a Church: Restorative Processes for Members

iStock-595142492What to Look for in a Church: Restorative Processes for Members


As we’ve mentioned many times throughout this series, there is no such thing as a perfect church, because churches are filled with imperfect people. While we shouldn’t expect perfect people, we should look for a church that is continually encouraging people towards the joy that comes holiness and repentance.

It’s been said that a church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. At hospitals, people are healed and restored. Churches should do the same through biblical teaching, healthy community, and church discipline.

When we hear the term “Church Discipline,” it immediately brings an uneasy feeling for most of us. Perhaps some may call it a church correction or church restoration process to be a little gentler on the ears.

That said, while getting involved in the personal lives of members may seem invasive or even unloving, church discipline is one of the kindest, most loving orders we can follow. It is through church discipline that lost sheep are restored in the joy of salvation and the family of God.

Does the Church Prioritize Restoration?

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.                            – Galatians 6:1-2

Unfortunately, we can all think of a former church member whose open sin was hurting themselves and hurting others – and then they seemed to get away with it.

Whenever this happens, it doesn’t make the church look good. It sends a message that Christians aren’t held accountable.

Instead, churches have an opportunity to show the world that they are striving to grow in Christlikeness, which requires calling out sin.

For this to work, a church must be willing to pursue and restore those in their congregation who have been gripped by personal sin. Sin cannot be swept under the rug.

Does the Church Practice Church Discipline According to Scripture?

Addressing sin is uncomfortable, but the church must submit to God’s wisdom in this matter for serving God, loving the individual(s) who will suffer their sin, and guarding the sanctity and witness of the larger body.

Fortunately, Jesus told his followers how to deal with such issues.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their 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.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:15-20

If churches are truly practicing restorative church discipline, it will follow this biblical process.

  • Step #1: Have a private conversation.
  • Step #2: If they do not listen, take one or two others along (Matt. 18:16).
  • Step #3: If they still have not listened, inform leaders or elders of the situation.
  • Step #4: Give adequate notice to the one caught in sin.
  • Step #5: Tell it to the church (Matt. 18:17).
  • Step #6: Remove the unrepentant person from membership (Matt. 18:17).

In the best case scenario, the individual will recognize his sin when confronted with it (Step 1), repent, and be restored in his relationship with Christ without having to go further through the process. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

What is the Purpose?

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.                              – Proverbs 3:11-12

The purpose is not to kick people when their down.

Think about parenting. A good parent disciplines his children. Not because he hates them but because he loves them.

Got Questions explains, “The process of church discipline is never pleasant just as a father never delights in having to discipline his children. Sometimes, though, church discipline is necessary. […] We have all likely witnessed the behavior of a youngster who is always allowed to do as he pleases with no consistent discipline. It is not a pretty sight. Nor is the overly permissive parent loving, for a lack of guidance dooms the child to a dismal future. Undisciplined, out-of-control behavior will keep the child from forming meaningful relationships and performing well in any kind of setting. Similarly, discipline in the church, while never enjoyable or easy, is necessary at times. In fact, it is loving. And it is commanded by God.”

The purpose is to bring people back into the fold by calling them out of the grip of sin to find freedom and redemption in the love of God and the fellowship of his people.

Why? For the glory of God, the joy of the individual’s salvation, and the sanctity of the church.

Again, church discipline is one of the most loving things a church can do. According to The Gospel Coalition, here are 4 ways church discipline demonstrates love:

  1. Church discipline shows love for the individual, that he or she might be warned and brought to repentance.
  2. Church discipline shows love for the church, that weaker sheep might be protected.
  3. Church discipline shows love for the watching world, that it might see Christ’s transforming power.
  4. Church discipline shows love for Christ, that churches might uphold his holy name and obey him.

Why is There a Connection Between Solid Leadership and Church Discipline?

In our last post, we discussed the importance of solid leadership in churches.

Solid leadership is essential when it comes to church discipline. Without a solid leadership structure, it makes it difficult to follow the biblical process for discipline.

A solid leadership structure involves a system of checks and balances, as well as procedures for dealing with complicated church discipline issues. If only one elder is responsible for each member of the church, he will likely not be able to give the personal pastoral care that is required for restoration.

In addition to holding one another accountable, they will continually encourage their church members to confess, repent, and forgive one another.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

– Hebrews 12:11