Buddy Jones, Coeur d’Alene, ID — If a church ignores widespread open sin within its congregation, the eventual ramifications would be a polluting of worldliness within that congregation. Open and widespread sin must be purged out of the congregation so spiritual health and growth can be produced within the congregation.
A pastor, as overseer, must address the situation. I typically try to handle revealed sin in an individual member’s life through prayer and honest dialogue with that person. In my view, Matthew 18:15-16 does provide the principle and needed steps to be taken to resolve sin within a member’s life.
Often, given enough time and enough preaching against the sins running rampant within a church, those in sin will either change their heart and repent, change churches, or stop attending church all together. My feelings are, though I hate to see people leave, the health of the church I pastor is more important than the number of people on the pews.
Brett Prince, Eastland, TX — Every case is viewed independently of others. There are not varying degrees of sin. However, there are varying degrees to which the sin can affect the rest of the congregation, or some portion of it.
If the sin is influencing other members to accept a change in the lifestyle of the church, then it must be dealt with very swiftly, and as publicly as it has already become. If it is not well known, then it can be dealt with privately.
What is important in the restoration process is whether they have fallen back into line. Are they faithful to church? Are they faithful in giving? Have they confessed and repented of their sin? Are they treating the body with esteem? Have they taken steps to ensure that the sin will not occur again? Have they responded to the directives from the pastor?
Larry D Rodriguez, Jr., Ventura, CA — In regard to addressing church members that have sinned, there are different approaches depending upon if it is a new convert or someone who is established or in a leadership role. Knowing of open sin in the church and ignoring it, is setting up for a disaster. If the man of God does not address it, or take the proper avenues to handle it, God will take care of it!
Situations as in Matthew 18:15-16 occur so many times in the church, and yet they are not dealt with head-on. By not applying the context of this scripture, opinions, gossip and half-truths can easily be spread around the body and can affect the church. Seek an explanation of his conduct, and if he has done wrong, administer a friendly and brotherly reproof, that he may have an opportunity of explaining his conduct. In nine cases out of ten, where one supposes that he has been injured, a little friendly conversation would set the matter right and prevent difficulty.
Wayne Collins, Richmond, TX — To ignore sin, in simple terms, is to allow death and destruction to remain. If left unaddressed, it will always lead to a greater problem down the road, usually affecting more people than the original sin.
God has indeed placed pastors to be the shepherds over the flock and to lead the people in matters
that pertain unto the kingdom of God. Pastors must at all times be aware of the circumstances affecting those in his pasture of labor. Having that awareness and spiritual insight, he should do what Bro. Kelsey Griffin would always tell us in class at Texas Bible College: “Handle every situation with an iron hand covered with a velvet glove, firm to the grip but soft to the touch.”
The ultimate goal of every pastor should be to try to lead anyone who has fallen to a place where he or she can be restored in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Mike Conn, Topeka, KS — Unreported sin should never be tolerated in established members. However, when it happens I have found that when I pray for a wayward church member, it gives God an opportunity to reveal what I need to do to help that person. In prayer, I claim the promise of God’s love in the form of chastisement on that person (Hebrews 12:6). I have seen God chastise people and they knew it was God and not me. It really helped them. After all, He is the Chief Shepherd and we are the under shepherds. If we try to discipline saints without God’s instructions, it usually ends up destroying them. Woe be to the pastor who sides with a wayward saint who belongs to another church. He will bear the responsibility of interfering with another man’s flock. He will wind up being hurt by that wayward saint that he sympathized with.
Valton Elms, West Fork, AR — This is a rather touchy subject because each person is different and how they need to be handled and addressed depends on their personality.
Staying consistent is vitally important. Dealing with the issue and the individual(s) immediately will save much heartache and possibly more problems if left unaddressed for later or not at all. Addressing the individual(s) personally, not openly in public, helps to gain the respect with all involved because they know their laundry is not aired for all to know.
If the person(s) wants to leave the church, depending upon the issue, I will try to talk them into staying and help them understand that this can help them witness to others about overcoming sin and moving forward with their walk with God. Should they feel they need a fresh slate and are not strong enough to stay, I will give them my blessing and pray they will serve God wherever they faithfully attend church. Restoration is the key.
Mark Johnson, Elkhart, IN — My hope would be that I could sit down with individuals and work toward them understanding the sin nature behind their actions and resolving the underlying misunderstanding of God that often drives us to sin.
Repentance is a cornerstone, but it comes from recognition of guilt. If people cannot recognize or accept their guilt, they don’t repent. Humans have an incredible ability to self-justify. It takes humility to admit you are wrong, and people need guidance. I tend not to focus on the wrong but on correcting spiritual foundations. Jesus is the truth, and we need to know Him, not principles about Him.
The consequences of sin in a person’s life are often so heavy that added condemnation can be extremely burdensome. A loving, forgiving and restorative environment should be our goal in the church. We are a hospital treating the sick and afflicted of this world, and our goal is restoring to spiritual, physical and emotional health.
Daniel Koren, Neosho, MO — Did the offender confess? If he or she was exposed, an apology may be more from embarrassment than true repentance. Many leaders feel the only grounds for restoring someone is whether he or she confessed before being found out.
When I have to approach individuals, I like to lead into the discussion by giving them opportunities to divulge the issue and suggest a remedy. Regardless of the situation, care must be taken for the dignity of the individual and his or her ultimate salvation. If they are in visible roles in the church, I would ask them to step down for a time until they corrected their ways.
As a pastor, Matthew 18:15-16 could bleed into church discipline issues, but the context is interpersonal. Conflicts between believers can escalate because one or both refuse to approach the issue with humility. A soft answer and speaking the truth in love will prevent many broken relationships.