Rick came to see me because he wanted to make a confession. He had, he said, hooked up with another gay man for an evening. Rick felt bad. He wanted to find freedom in Christ and to live without the patterns of his past.
Amy had a different reason for meeting with her pastor. "I'm angry a lot," she said. "Especially at the kids, and I take it out on them."
Mike looked down at the floor as he admitted to me that he had gone back to the porn sites. It wasn't the first time we had met about this, so I asked, "I thought you got rid of your internet service at home."
"I did," he said. "But then I found out I could pick up my neighbor's wi-fi."
How do you respond to people who are sinning, who know they're sinning, and who (given the addictive nature of their sin) most likely will sin again? Is there appropriate church discipline for repetitive sin?
Our church has taken these questions seriously, and we have been learning along the way. Maybe our experience can be helpful to others who want to guide their people to greater holiness and amendment of life.
Create a Culture of Confession
Pastors generally have hope and fear regarding church discipline: we hope we never have to implement it, and if we do, we fear a tumultuous public process, with letters read in front of the congregation and possible lawsuits. This leads to an implicit "don't ask, don't tell" mindset. There aren't many places in church life for people to honestly confess their present-tense sins, and somehow that's okay with us.
But confession to another Christian is not only commanded in the Bible (James 5:16), it's the door to healing and holiness. So our church offers a variety of opportunities for confession: general confession during each worship service, invitations ...