church discipleship

The Heart Behind Church Discipline

Much of what I have written here in the past focuses on the formative work of discipline in the church – discipleship.  Within Scripture, however, we also find another form of corrective discipline, commonly called “church discipline”.  This series forms the basics for a primer I wrote for The Austin Stone to understand church discipline.


The Heart Behind Church Discipline

When we hear the phrase ‘church discipline,’ many of us hear nails scraping down a chalkboard. For others, we’re bombarded with images of overbearing authority. However, the biblical prescription of discipline is not a process of punishment or abuse, but of love.

Our community practices formative and corrective discipline not because we like to say “gotcha!” or shame our members into submission, but because we genuinely love one another and want God’s absolute best for us all. To remain in sin or allow others to do so is not only to do something wrong, it is to miss out on the joy and reward of a life of obedience to Christ.

In most circumstances of sin, God graciously grants His children the gift of repentance when first confronted. The Holy Spirit works in the heart of the believer, and he or she is often thankful that someone cares enough to point out their offense and restore them to obeying God’s Word. In Christ we’re made new and our desires are transformed such that we want to be a people who humbly receive the faithful words of a friend (Prov. 27:5-6).

In some cases, however, a brother or sister persists in disobedience to God’s explicit commands. In response the church must lovingly, graciously submit to the authority of God and escalate the level of discipline, and if necessary, remove the person from fellowship.

The heart of discipline is love and the hope of discipline is repentance and full restoration to fellowship. Disassociation is painful for all involved, and yet undeniably necessary if we are to remain true to the bible. The only consolation through the whole process is the hope we have through faith in God’s Word: that ultimately suffering the loss of their Christian family and all the benefits that come with it would lead them to see the error of their ways and repent.

We know personally how difficult this sounds, and even more, how difficult it really is to practice. And yet as believers in Jesus, we must always fight to believe that God’s Word is true and sufficient for all we need for life in godliness. The greatest joy and fullness of life is found in obeying God’s word! Church discipline is part of enjoying God.

Additionally, the discipline process also serves as a warning for rest of the body (1 Tim. 5:20). Even the Apostles, the fathers and heroes of our faith, understood it as a reminder that in our flesh, we are all prone to desire sin more than God. In love, the church is to discipline that its people might grow in holiness, peace, unity, and the fear of the Lord.

I know many of you have been hurt by church discipline, but where have you experienced the grace of God through it?

church discipleship

The Theology of Church Discipline

Much of what I have written here in the past focuses on the formative work of discipline in the church – discipleship.  Within Scripture, however, we also find another form of corrective discipline, commonly called “church discipline”.  This series forms the basics for a primer I wrote for The Austin Stone to understand church discipline.


The Theology of Church Discipline

Throughout the pages of the New Testament, God is seeking to instruct us about His character, our sin and rebellion, the magnificence of Jesus and His atoning work, and how we are to walk in accordance with the will of God. The primary context for us to receive and obey His Word is in the church, among and alongside the people of God.

The biblical model for a church presents a redeemed people who have heard the good news of the gospel, responded in repentance in faith, gather together to worship, appoint qualified elders and deacons, and faithfully engage in the proclamation and demonstration of the good news of the gospel.

The church also has some specific instructions as to how it should operate. From Jesus’ direct teaching to His disciples, we find a particular set of commands for the church on how to approach a brother who is persisting in open sin:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 18:15-20)

In this teaching Jesus lays out a clear pattern as to how we are to love a wayward brother or sister:

  1. We first lovingly confront an individual alone with evidence of the sin.
  2. If the offending brother or sister is clearly in sin and will not repent, we are instructed to take two or three together to establish the charge of the offense.
  3. If the wayward brother or sister still will not repent, we are to tell it to the church.
  4. Finally, if all the previous steps have been faithfully pursued, we are to remove that person from fellowship with the body.

This basic process is also underscored and enumerated in several other passages, including 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Galatians 6:1-5, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, and 1 Timothy 5:19-21. At the Austin Stone, we believe in the authority and goodness of all of God’s Scriptures. That means even with an issue as difficult and painstaking as church discipline, we have sought to put Jesus’ commands into practice with all love and wisdom.

All of us have fallen into sin and struggle every day against the world, our flesh and Satan. The expectation of the Scripture, therefore, is not that believers walk in perfection but rather live lives marked by repentance. When we harden ourselves against repentance, church discipline is often God’s gracious means to bring us to an awareness of our sin and our need to turn from it (Rom. 2:4). In sum, then, the clear message from Scripture with regards to committed church members who fall into the snare of sin is that God will use His community to discipline and restore them with God and His people, if at all. Church discipline is a gift!

austin stone church discipleship

A Primer on Church Discipline

Much of what I have written here in the past focuses on the formative work of discipline in the church – discipleship.  Within Scripture, however, we also find another form of corrective discipline, commonly called “church discipline”.  This series forms the basics for a primer I wrote for The Austin Stone to understand church discipline.

  • Introduction
  • The Theology of Church Discipline
  • The Heart Behind Church Discipline
  • The Practice of Church Discipline
  • The Outcome of Church Discipline
  • Church Discipline FAQs

An Introduction to Church Discipline

As the Austin Stone pursues being a New Testament church existing for the supremacy of the name and purpose of Jesus Christ, we seek to make the Scriptures our authority for all of our life together.

While God’s will expressed in Scripture is less clear on some issues than others, God speaks clearly throughout the New Testament about the nature of church leadership, church membership, and church discipline. The arguments advanced below, therefore, are our attempt to articulate the theology and practice of church discipline we at The Austin Stone feel is faithful to the Bible’s instruction. We will look at three particular areas:

  1. The theology of church discipline
  2. The heart behind church discipline
  3. The practice of discipline at The Austin Stone

In James 5:19-20, we read:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

The heart of the elders at Austin Stone to in practicing church discipline is a deep love for the body and the deep responsibility and burden we have been called to bear on its behalf as we shepherd the church. We pursue discipline because it is an act of love that reflects the Father’s love for us (Heb. 12:6).

Love and discipline go hand in hand, and you cannot love well without the affection of Christ and a commitment to correct with His truth.

What has been your experience with church discipline?  How do you think it plays out in the context of a corporate church and a missional community?

discipleship leadership

The Triperspectival Content of Biblical Leadership

Recently, I had a seminary assignment to write out a personal philosophy of leadership.  The process of clarifying and writing my thoughts was very helpful for me, and I thought I would share it as a series here on the blog.


The Tri-Perspectival Content of Biblical Leadership

Once a leader has listened to where an individual is, the next step is communicating where Jesus wants the person to go in a gracious yet challenging way.  Leadership is helping to provide doctrinal and biblical content, processing through the appetites and affections of the heart, and then tangibly giving steps of obedience forward to an individual or organization.  The primary role of a leader is that of a teacher, of a shepherd, and of a coach – leaders instruct in doctrine, help form character, and give practical wisdom to foster action.

Equipping the Whole Person

Primarily, the task of the biblical leader who has an understanding of the individual is to equip the whole person—their head, heart and hands.  The biblical leaders adopts the role of teacher in communicating the truths of God’s word, of shepherd in helping a person understand the affections and emotions of the heart, and coach in providing practical steps toward obedience to Jesus.  Biblical leadership does not simply content itself with singular attention toward one particular role, but seeks to be faithful to lead through all the faculties of a human.

Ephesians 4, verses 14 through 20 offer a compelling vision of Paul’s desire for the Ephesian church being rooted in the Trinitarian God.  The words he uses to exhort the church involve “being strengthened in Spirit in the inner man”, Christ “dwell[ing] in your hearts through faith”, “strength to comprehend…and know the love of Christ” and that would ultimately produce God’s greater glory.  Paul has a great understanding that humanity is composed of several faculties, and biblical leadership involves leading in all facets.  These faculties are often summarized tri-perspectivally as “head, heart and hands”.

Instructing the Head

“Head” knowledge is rooted primarily in the intellect. This is the type of knowledge that is associated with recalling facts, doctrine, and teaching. Head learners typically have a love for Scripture or knowledge and are able to affirm truths based on propositions or argumentation.  Doctrine rooted in the Word of God is the primary content of biblical leadership, as it is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

Shepherding the Heart

“Heart” knowledge is rooted primarily in the desire, will, or emotions. This is the type of knowledge that is often associated with shepherding, character, or relational care. Heart learners are often guided by feelings and are typically wonderful at shepherding the souls of those who are under their care. Things like worship environments make them feel closer to God and whenever they read the Scriptures, they typically are attracted to verses that speak of positive things, with more difficult truths being bypassed.  To simply teach something as true ignores that most decisions of a human are driven by desire, not simply by reason.  The biblical leader helps a person to understand what drives their affections, both positively and negatively, and thereby cultivates strong character rooted in sound doctrine.

Coaching the Hands

“Hands” knowledge is rooted primarily in action, or tasks. This is the type of knowledge that would most closely be related to coaching, skills, or assessment. It is the application of the knowledge from the head and the heart toward actually seeing change. Where Head and Heart learners simply feel or think about doing things, Hands learners actually execute them.  The role of a biblical leader is to not only teach the mind and shepherd the heart, but to equip and hold accountable to active obedience.


Biblical leadership recognizes that different situations demand different modes of leadership, and ultimately that obedience, affection and intellect are intricately interwoven.  Every leader has a bent towards one particular faculty, but the biblical leader values and understands all three faculties, employing them as Christ did throughout His earthly ministry.

Ultimately, discipleship and leadership is not simply meeting once a week over breakfast to have Bible study or calling the shots for an organization. Rather, discipleship and leadership is continually pointing the disciple to Christ in variety of contexts, situations, and locales with the hope of seeing them be turned more into the likeness of Christ over time. If your discipleship and leadership is not happening in a variety of contexts and various kinds of conversations, you’re not biblically leading.

discipleship leadership

Meeting People Where They Are

Recently, I had a seminary assignment to write out a personal philosophy of leadership.  The process of clarifying and writing my thoughts was very helpful for me, and I thought I would share it as a series here on the blog.


Meeting People Where They Are

The apostle Paul writing to the Ephesian church speaks to this holistic aspect of discipleship. He writes:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

The goal of each and every believer is to serve and lead in such a way that the body of Christ builds itself up in love. If that’s the goal, then the proper working of each part is needed and thus each individual must grow up into him who is the head. Simply put, the more each of us looks like Jesus then the more the body of Christ will grow.

Understanding with clarity where Jesus desires the follower to go provides a clear vision for the forward-looking direction of the leader.  The other half of the task of leadership is to understand where an individual or an organization is.  Casting a compelling vision for a Christ-exalting life is part of leadership, but understanding how best to communicate God’s word into individual and corporate circumstances with persistence, persuasion and precision is what distinguishes a visionary from a biblical leader.

An Example from the Life of Jesus

No better example can be found than in the life of Jesus.  In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman who is drawing water.  In this instance, Jesus recognizes the woman’s marital situation (“you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband”).  He sees where she is, her sin, and knows exactly what to say in order to move her to where she needs to be.  He utilizes her circumstances of desiring water to help her understand the motivations of her heart, and pointing to her ultimate need for a savior.  Ending the conversation with the revelation that he is the messiah, Jesus clearly meets the woman where she is and points her towards where He wants her to go.

Seeking Understanding of the Person

In our current church culture, there is a tendency towards proclamation and systems building as the primary means of leadership.  Both of those tools are incredibly helpful and necessary for organizational leadership, but often those systems can only accomplish a portion of the task of discipleship and leadership.  There are two primary deficiencies with this kind of leadership.  First, in order for preaching to remain sufficiently broad to attract an audience, the content is generalized to a wide audience, which requires the individual to have the motivation to respond to the message and work out implications on their own.  Second, with respect to systems, they are often constructed inside of the current culture as a response to a problem, and therefore most often are syncretistic with culture rather than challenging the existing idolatries.

Most churches rely on small groups to combat the idolatry of individualism and challenge their communities to radical generosity to counteract materialism.  At the heart of most church systems, however, consumerism is left systemically unchallenged, providing a service where the individual church attender is merely coming to an event to receive some benefit from it.  Systemic leadership must be willing to meet people where they are, but move them towards biblical fidelity and challenge the predominant idolatry of a culture.

In the same way, leading people on a personal level must involve hearing their individual story, understanding their worldview, and engaging persuasively through building bridges to a gospel-centered, word-centered way of life.  In our current American culture, biblical leadership requires an understanding of individualism (our propensity to view ourselves as autonomous units), materialism (our proclivity to find meaning and value in the accumulation of things) and consumerism (our hearts desire is driven by what we can receive from something or someone).  These idolatries are the common world-view of most American individuals, and therefore are also pervasive inside of organizations composed of these kinds of people.