|Book: Creating a Secure Church: BOOK TWO|
Part 1 : Objectives & Obstacles
Part 2 : Secure in Relationships
Part 3 : Secure in Ministry
Part 4 : When Things go Wrong
Part 5 : Concluding Thoughts
Chapter 14: Secure in Correction - Practice
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should
restore him gently”
(Gal 6:1 )
In the previous chapter we began considering some of the issues that arise in church when we start talking about correction. In this chapter we're going to continue to do that but now we'll do it by thinking of areas where correction needs to be brought, practical applications, ways of bringing correction, and security for those bringing correction. In each case, please remember, we are thinking about bringing correction in a way that creates a secure church.
Most of this chapter will be taken up with considerations about
but will be finish with briefly acknowledging that sometimes it doesn't work, and also the fear of loss of identity that some people have when facing such issues.
Recap: Clarifying the Goals
Whatever we do, we want the best for the person or people before us. Ultimately we want them flowing in the very best way in their relationship with Jesus. As we considered in the previous chapter, with some failings, if we are a leader we have a duty to confront. Other things that perhaps need correcting simply need godly counsel. In every case, however, we need to remember that the Christian before us is precious to God (Acts 20:28 - purchased with his own blood). We want a good outcome and we want to come with love and respect. Perhaps an approach might be to think, “If I were in their shoes, how would I hope I am about to be treated?”
The Variety of Situations
Let's just pick up on what we said above. Correction can cover a wide spectrum of things that require a variety of responses, and to help us get a sense of overview at the beginning let's be aware of those. In the previous chapter we considered moral and non-moral issues, serious wilful sin and heedless sin. So let's set up some simple scenarios where ‘correction' needs to be brought. In each case assume you are the leader involved and it's in a church context:
What have we got in these scenarios? A wide variety of situations involving issues that range from serious wilful sins to unwise behaviour done for the best of (wrong) motives.
Right Person for the Right Job
We've just indicated that correction may apply to a wide range of situations. Later on we'll distinguish between the need to confront and the need to counsel. For now we'll simply say that sin needs confronting and unwise behaviour needs godly counsel (i.e. wisdom to remedy messed up practical matters). Historically the pastor, minister, vicar, elder, call him what you will, has been required to deal with every situation, yet the reality may be that he's not the best person to deal with every situation.
Consider the following:
Gwen is a single mother of three who has become a Christian. Her lifestyle up until becoming a Christian has included, sleeping with any man who is available, constantly rowing with her family, spending her money without thought, allowing her young children to stay up late watching late night horror and sex movies - and stealing. Now she's become a Christian.
Without doubt she's got some problems and the leaders of her church could perhaps suggest she might like to enter a discipling course the church has. There are several stages to this:
Is it fair to expect the pastor-leader to take on these three stage of discipling? No, for the following reasons:
This is long term and he probably hasn't the time.
He would be in a situation of a man helping a woman, probably in the home
context, and this puts them both into a place of vulnerability where a
wrong relationship could develop.
Some of these practical matters can be far better dealt with by other
individuals within the church.
Many churches today are developing a pastoral team approach. For initial basic teaching about the Christian faith and what has happened to her, Gwen could be put in contact with a mature Christian woman (a mentor) who would take her through a simple and basic course that covers the matters in Stage 1 above.
During that course, it will become evident to the mentor that there are areas of Gwen's life where she needs help to adjust. That mentor may consider that some of Gwen's problems need the help of those who are more experienced. If the mentor doesn't have children of her own, she may wish to pass that area of help over to someone who has had a family. There may be people in the church who are particularly skilled at unravelling finances who might help Gwen in that area. There may also be someone who is trained in interpersonal skills who could help Gwen relate better with her family.
What we're saying here is that security can be brought by a variety of helpers who each only carry a part of the burden, the part that they are best dealing with. It may take a while to develop such a personnel resource but it is worth the effort in training such people to meet the needs that are bound to arise in the long term.
Checking My Attitude
Now before we move on, if we are working to be a secure church, there are certain attitudinal questions we need to ask ourselves by way of preparation:
Checking my Approach
We are looking for a good outcome - repentance, not denial or self justification - so the way we approach this person is important. We need to learn an important lesson: the way we speak to someone and then the way we listen to them will evoke a similar response-type to that which they have received. Let's consider various aspects of this:
First of all our WORDS are very important, not only the actual words that we speak but the way we speak them. Tone of voice is as important as the words. Hardness of speech indicates hardness of intent. Proverbs 15:1 says: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. It is also true of a gentle approach.
Not only that, a harsh approach will simply stir up defensive anger. Proverbs 25:15 says: Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. This person we are confronting rules their life and we want to persuade them to change their rule, so take it slowly, don't be in a rush. Not only that, a gentle word can be very powerful and break the hardest resistance.
The way we listen will be picked up by this person and they will respond in similar manner. We need to listen because they will want to express their side of things and they will want to know that they have been heard. We don't have to agree with what they say, but we need to let them say it and we need to let them know that we have heard and have taken in what they say. In this process it is important to convey that we are listening with an open and attentive heart.
If we convey criticism in our listening then we will only evoke defensiveness in their response. If we don't listen to them they won't listen to us. We want them to listen and take in what we're saying because we need to deliver corrective words which we want them to receive. Proverbs 25:12 says: Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear . For our correction to come over as something precious and worth attention, we have first to gain their listening ear. In most correction situations the other person will initially only be wanting to justify their behaviour. When they realise we're not out to get them, they will be less defensive and more ready to accept the truth about their behaviour.
3. Body Language
Relaxed body language says, “I am not attacking you”, so a relaxed easy stance helps. Tapping with a finger or some other nervous movement says, “This is difficult, here is something difficult and dangerous” and that will only accentuate what that person already feels. Attentive body language says, “I care about you.” so looking away, appearing distracted and similar movements taking your focus away from them can also hinder.
4. Being There for Them
Somehow in all our communication we must communicate that we are not there to ‘get' this person but we are there to help and bless them. If they can believe we are genuinely there for them, they will be far more willing to be honest about what happened - including owning up to the fact that they were wrong.
Very often a person's failure is linked to the fact that they have not had a relationship with leaders and therefore did not receive the support and encouragement which they might have otherwise had. To turn up in a person's life only after they have failed is poor leadership. It may be that part of the corrective process is acknowledging that we have failed to support them and failed to be there for them previously. Part of the helping them through may be to commit yourself to remedy that and ensure that you will be there to stand alongside them in the days ahead when they seek to bring long term change to their life.
Public or Private Sin
Something that does perhaps need considering beforehand is whether this is a public issue or not. Is this an issue that comes into the public domain? For instance helping bring peace to a domestic situation should go no further than the family, but if someone has been abusing a congregation by their behaviour then making public reference to it may be appropriate. Where the sin affects the life of the congregation then there probably needs to be a public referral, e.g. where a leader has been caught out in a major sin then, for the sake of the congregation, to ensure trust in the rest of the leadership, it would be wise for that leader to be stood down and, assuming there has been full repentance, be put on some kind of probation period. If the individual is confessing to a crime then he or she should be encouraged to confess to the police to take the punishment that the State demands. In matters of sexual abuse, in the U.K. at least, there is a legal demand upon leaders to report instances of such abuse to the Police and Social Services where a child is at risk.
14.3 Confront or Counsel
Correction as we saw earlier in this chapter may come in many different forms. Where we are talking about sin we need to be directly confronting it but where we are talking about a lesser issue, we may be needing simply to bring godly counsel.
Let's consider some of the list of difficulties we listed earlier and see how this applies:
i) Confrontation needed in the following cases
ii) Less Confrontation, more\counsel
It's probable that either Jack hasn't realised that bad language is not part of the speech of Christians, or that he has and is struggling to break the habit.
In each of these last four cases there needs to be correction brought to their life situations, but in their cases they need behavioural help rather than moral change. It's quite possible that there is a spiritual dimension to each one of these latter three and some would say that they are sinning in not trusting the Lord sufficiently, but that is only part of the problem. The reality is that people who get into these problems are quite often people who do pray, read their Bible and say they love the Lord! Simply quoting verses is not going to help them! They need help out of the situation.
With what I have been referring to as ‘confrontation' there is a specific moral sin which needs to be confronted and dealt with, e.g. adultery, child abuse etc. There may also be a number of other issues to be looked at in the lives of the people concerned to determine why they were vulnerable to this temptation and how we can help them to overcome in the future.
With what I have been referring to as ‘counsel' situations there is more a need to bring wisdom to people to help them resolve conflicts or change circumstances rather than help them deal with specific sins.
If we consider the three last cases cited above we will perhaps be able to see this more clearly: a marital problem, gambling addiction, and financial difficulties. None of the people here are consciously rejecting God and all of them would much rather be out of the situation.
Compare this to someone committing adultery who, if they know they are a Christian, are consciously rejecting God and God's law and are probably relishing the relationship and do not want to give it up. In the confrontation situation the crux of the matter is, will the person acknowledge the sin and forsake it? In the counsel situation the crux is, will the person or people involved acknowledge the problem and will they receive help to resolve it?
Bringing Godly Counsel
Now let's consider those three cases again. In each case there are different dynamics but in each case there will be certain similarities that help towards creating a secure church.
The Grey's are in marital conflict and need help to come back into a place of peace with each other. The correction there would be acknowledging the conflict, diagnosing the cause of the conflict and bringing wisdom to resolve the conflict. That may involve acknowledgement of a series of sins along the way - selfishness, harsh and uncaring attitudes, bitterness, unrighteous anger and so on. It may also involve helping the two parties face their own inadequacies that have caused conflict, so they may receive godly ministry to gain a right perspective. This could be the work of a counsellor. Whatever we do with them, we show them that we are there for both of them in as impartial way as possible. We are not there to condemn but simply to show them a way out of their difficulties
In the case of Alec's gambling addiction, correction again requires acknowledgement of a problem, which in the case of addiction is often the most difficult part. Having acknowledged it, the form of wisdom to deal with the addiction may be a combination of counselling & prayer ministry and attending a gamblers self-help group to help him break free in the long term. The work of helping an addict, of whatever form, is perhaps one of the most difficult, requiring a great deal of long term help in ensuring the addict is kept away from opportunities to indulge again.
Our own experience has indicated that in the case of drug addiction it is vital that the addict be encouraged to go for professional help outside the home area where he or she will not be known to suppliers. This means we may need to be involved as church in provision of transport, finances and support from a distance.
For Brenda and Chris with their financial difficulties, there has already been an acknowledgement of a problem. What there now needs is a diagnosis of their problem and some recommended remedial action. In the case of financial problems we refer all our people with financial difficulties to one man who is wise in financial matters. When it comes to this sort of problem we say, “We realise you have a problem but if we try to patch it up it will only get worse. If you would like us to, we'll look with you at all areas of your finances, completely confidentially, and then we'll suggest what we can do together to help you, but unless you are willing to let us have all the details of your finances and you're willing to take our advice, it probably won't work. Now with that in mind, do you want us to help you in this way?”
Now this approach doesn't impose us or our views upon them but instead it simply says, “Here is the service we can provide if you want it” and then leaves it up to the person or people to respond. If they do respond positively we go through their entire financial attitudes and behaviour with a tooth comb and help them see where they might have gone astray. Having done that we then suggest what action we feel they would be wise to take. If at that point they refuse to take that action we can do no more.
In each case we do not pressurise people into taking action and we do not make them feel bad if they won't take action. We are there to help them, if they want it , to put their life on a better footing. By the way we approach them we hope that they will feel secure enough to open up to us and receive our godly counsel. If we allow the church to know that this is how we work, we will create a sense of security whereby people will know that we are there to help but not to impose, and will feel they can come to us for godly counsel without the fear of being made to feel condemned.
14.4 Reconciliation, Restitution & Restoration
In bringing correction, there needs to be an awareness of what we are hoping to achieve as an outcome to what is, at the moment, an unsatisfactory situation. Let's consider, therefore, the three words of our heading.
Where there are broken relationships our objective must surely be to bring a coming together again, so far as it is possible, of those people. As I said at the beginning of the book, this is not the place for extensive counselling theory. Sufficient to say that if there is to be a healing of relationships it will almost certainly include the giving and receiving of forgiveness. Before we move on, it is worth saying here that where we are working on these things, we sometimes need to realise that this is going to be a long-term project! Impatience has no room in the equation when we are dealing with people. We spoke of this earlier in the book and we need to remind ourselves of it again. Be prepared to go to God for patience, grace to keep going, wisdom to know how to do it when change seems slow.
There needs to be a removing of whatever it was that separated the two people. In the Bible we have been reconciled to God by the removing of our sin by the death of Jesus on the Cross (e.g. Rom 5:10 ). There was something between us and God which kept us apart and had to be removed.
Similarly it often is with people. It is insufficient simply to each say sorry when there is a problem that is being ignored, something that will continue to keep them apart. The thing that is keeping them apart is the thing that needs addressing. For there to be true and lasting reconciliation there needs to be change.
For example the Greys in our earlier example are a couple who have a conflict. Let's suppose that one of the elements of the breakdown in their relationship is his constant arriving home late from work without warning. Now for this particular element to be resolved, it is no use him constantly saying sorry to his wife. What she needs is to see change, either in the form of him ringing home to warn that he will be delayed getting in for the evening meal, or him taking steps to ensure he is not late home. However this particular problem is worked out, it needs to be done on a long term basis so that it is no longer a source of conflict between them. There are a variety of other ways that it could be dealt with.
Long Term Working!
This point about working in the long term sometimes needs emphasising. Where there is a marriage conflict say, that has just come to light, we need to remember that it is probably been building for a long while. To expect instant dramatic change is usually unrealistic, it needs working at!
In situations where married partners have separated, as Christians our goal in the long term is still to see them reconciled. For them there may, at the present, seem absolutely no hope of that happening. This is where we need to hold a long term perspective.
We had a situation many years ago, where a young man came into our congregation, who had been separated from his wife for a number of months. Eventually he came to us and told us he was getting divorced and he wanted us to marry him to another young lady to whom he had become attached in our congregation. Feeling quite unhappy about this we asked him to wait for nine months before taking any action, to give himself time to think it through more fully. He refused and he and the young lady left the church, found another one in the area and a number of months later, after the divorce had taken place, were married there. Literally a couple of weeks after the wedding his previous wife, not knowing he had remarried tried to make contact with him to tell him she had just come to the Lord and wanted to rebuild their relationship and remarry. Of course it was too late!
A long term perspective allows for the Lord to work in ways which, at the moment, we couldn't possibly foresee. Time, they say, is a great healer. It also gives the Lord space to move in the way He wants. The tendency for the couple may be to sweep the past under the carpet and move on to newer and hopefully better pastures. Statistics however, clearly show that second relationships are no more secure than first ones, the reason being that unless the causes at the heart of the first breakdown are properly resolved in each individual, then they will simply occur again in the future. If they are able to be resolved then there is no reason why the two should not be reunited. Yes, they will need both the grace of God and our help to go on, but the former is definitely there and it is up to use to make sure the latter is also there.
Restitution simply means giving back to the original owner what is due to them, and the Old Testament Law was quite strong on this subject. When it comes to the matter of correction, it may be that it will involve restitution. In the simplest of examples, it may be that person A has borrowed something from person B and has either never returned it or has returned it broken, and this has formed the basis of a long standing upset between the two.
While we can talk to B about forgiving, the fact of the matter is that they have been deprived of their property which is equivalent to stealing. The Law of Restitution means that we need to encourage A to return the item or replace it where it was returned broken. Such an illustration is a simple matter, but it may be that we will encounter far greater problems if our people really start opening up on their problems.
It may be that we will need to stand alongside someone in financial difficulties if we are encouraging them to restore large sums which they no longer have. We are now talking about long-term strategies that may involve loans, either from the church or from a bank. In such cases the person in question will need much encouragement and help to fulfil this obligation, which may have substantial impact on other areas of their life.
Restore simply means to bring back into a prior condition so when we are bringing correction our objective must be to bring a person back to a place prior to their failure. Now there is a sense in respect of human lives whereby this can never be done. Once there is a failure, even though the effects of that can be largely cleared up and remedied, the reality is that we will never be quite the same again. Indeed this is a good thing.
In its simplest terms, prior to the failure we were vulnerable to this form of temptation. Hopefully now we will have learnt much through this failure which will help us not fail in the same way again. Apparently it was General Robert E. Lee who wrote: “We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.” I know that didn't apply to moral failures but it can be applied just the same.
When there has been a moral failure and correction has been brought, we should be careful in our expectations!. This person is still experiencing some of the trauma of conviction followed by forgiveness. It is probable that they will be unable to be the same person they were before, simply because of what they've been through and what they are now feeling about themselves.
In some situations we should neither expect nor desire there to be restoration. We'll cover this in detail in the following chapter on resolving conflict, some of which could be applied here but which I am including in that chapter to try to give a complete picture of conflict resolution.
14.5 Facing Failure – when it doesn't work
We said this in an earlier chapter but it does bear repeating here. There will be times when it will not work. The Bible gives us illustrations of people who refused correction. Pharaoh with Moses is probably the best illustration. Pharaoh's heart was hard and Moses' words from God only made it harder. We do not know what the outcome will be. We will do all in our power to bring a good outcome but we do need to be realistic and recognise that there will be bad outcomes! Some people will refuse to acknowledge the problem and will walk away angry and possibly even leave the church.
When we are dealing with people who seem to be resisting the truth, we need to remember two things. First, if they are a Christian, they still have the Holy Spirit within them and He may yet be able to convict them. That's His work not ours. Second, they may walk away but we don't know what the future holds for them. It may be that God will deal with them some way down the path.
It is important therefore, that when they go, we seek to make our parting as amicable as possible, bearing in mind the circumstances. In that way it may be that they might come back to us at some future date, near or distant, and look to us for help to change. It may require a lot of grace on our part, especially if they have been saying wrong things about us around the church, but it will mean that we may still be able to be God's agent of change for them in the future.
In our parting we need to be honest, to maintain our integrity, and so we need to declare to them that we are quite unhappy about the course of action they are taking or the attitude they are holding, but that we hope God will bless them, and we are there for them in the future should they ever have second thoughts. However we do it, it does need to be in a spirit of gentleness and humility.
14.6 Facing Fears about identity
One final thing we would do well to consider, is the fear that some people feel of what they might be left with after resolving a personal conflict situation. There was a lady who unsuccessfully struggled against anger. This was something that had been part of her life for a long while. In fact it had actually become part of her identity. When she was confronted with it she realised she feared what she would be left with after the fear was removed from her life.
The issue here is the fear that the enemy lays on some people as to who they really are if attitudes or behavioural patterns are removed from their lives, as suggested by the leader / counsellor. What is needed in this sort of situation, apart from generally counselling the person about the past causes for their anger (or whatever else it is), and praying with them, is encouragement to see that actually the ‘thing' hinders them becoming the real person that Jesus has made them to be.
If they can see this as an adventure, being released to be the new person of Jesus' making, where new good parts of their being can be free to develop, instead of a fearful loss of part of them, they might find it easier to accept the truth about themselves in the present and then act to bring the required response to receive their new future.
14.7 And So?
So what have we covered in this chapter?
So, now some questions to apply this: