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Bottom-Up Discipline

What do you do when your pastor--or your entire denomination--strays?

The term church discipline most often brings to mind a dramatic Matthew 18 moment, when a church member's unrepentant sin is brought before the full congregation. But when a pastor falls, there is no simple, three-step Bible passage at hand, and we're not great at figuring it out ourselves. The many possibilities for handling such failings are reflected in the structures of our hundreds of denominations.

Fallout from the Ted Haggard scandal continues. New Life Church's outside board of overseers acted decisively after the revelations, but many wondered, Could Haggard have been helped earlier? The overseers wondered, too. Now at least one overseer (each a full-time pastor) must be present at New Life each Sunday. In addition, the board may require Haggard's replacement to regularly attend a counseling retreat. On top of that, the general public was asked for "factual, first-hand information regarding the spiritual health of this church, its ministers, or ministries."

When that process resulted in the December resignation of another senior leader, several commentators labeled it a "witch hunt." But contrary to these complaints, such discipline isn't merely aimed at saving a church's reputation. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy, good repute can spur leaders to avoid temptation. A bishop or overseer, Paul wrote, "must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil."

Down the road from New Life, Pastor Benjamin Reynolds was holding monthly accountability sessions with his deacons at Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church. But the usual response to inquiries about spiritual health was, "I'm blessed," he told the Los Angeles Times. He added, "I wanted to say, 'Please! I feel like crap!'"

Reynolds ...

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