Pastorally Speaking: Micah Fries on “Disciplined Tragedy”

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[Editor’s Note: This blogpost continues the “Pastorally Speaking” series. Micah Fries is Pastor at Frederick Boulevard and he writes about the important but neglected aspect of pastoral ministry: church discipline.]

Church discipline is among the most painful, and ignored, topics in the evangelical church today. Unfortunately this has led to creeping, massive sin problems that have increasingly found a comfortable home in the church – the church which by most other indices is bible believing and gospel preaching. Thankfully the issue appears to be making a bit of a comeback in some circles, specifically Southern Baptist ones, in recent years. Thanks, in no small part, to the resolution approved at the 2008 SBC annual meeting , ‘On Regenerate Church Membership and Church Membership Restoration’ this issue has gained prominence and validity in the eyes of many SBC churches. Southern Baptists who are committed to the practical application of God’s word owe an enormous debt of gratitude to men like Dr. Tom Ascol and Dr. Malcolm Yarnell for their tireless work in this effort. Work that has again reminded us of the importance of believing and practicing all scripture. Work that does not allow us to simply disregard passages like Matthew 18:7-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, and so many more. All of this has served to stir hearts in respect to this issue and nowhere is it more prominent than in the conversations of pastors, denominational leaders and seminary students. Buzzing in hallways and sanctuaries from one pastor to another, this issue continues to build steam and for that I am grateful. Students and pastors are increasingly excited about fulfilling their biblical mandate in this regard, and for that I am also thankful. However, having served as a pastor at two churches that are trying to practice this biblical exercise, I am concerned with the bravado that seems to accompany its application.

Allow me to say this clearly. I hate the practice of church discipline. I take no joy in its practice, and would love to see it go away for good. There is no more heartbreaking exercise in the fulfillment of my pastoral duties than that of confronting the existence of persistent, and unrepentant sin, particularly in people whom I have grown to love. It is emotionally draining for a number of reasons, none more tragic than the issue of the one who claims to be a believer and yet gives consistent allegiance to the power of sin by failing to confess and repent. It is the ultimate gospel contradiction; claiming to be part of the spotless bride of Jesus while prostituting oneself with Satan. Confronting it, however, is not something to take joy and/or pride in (Galatians 6:1-2), which is something that I see all too often in those who like to frequently discuss it. Confrontation over sin is rarely ever anything but painful and humiliating. It almost always leads to strained relationships and severed trust, and that is true whether the one engaged in sin repents or not.

Church discipline is never an issue which we can approach flippantly, or with excitement. It reflects the tragic and fallen nature of humanity, specifically those who have claimed the blood of Jesus. It is necessary because of the persistent and abiding nature of sin and it always leads to a black mark on the bridal gown of Christ’s church. While we plead and hope for repentance and restoration, in my experience that is not often the end result. And yet all of that, and my own discomfort with it, must not keep us from its practice.

Some might wonder if all of these factors would lead me to be less committed to the practice of biblical church discipline. I will be honest, in light of the tragedy and pain associated with it, I would love to give up on it. However, I cannot. I love Jesus and his church far too much to forfeit the vitally important, and biblical I might add, commitment to the purity of Christ’s bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). At the same time, I would not be truthful if I did not say that my heart is increasingly burdened as we practice it at Frederick Boulevard. So, no, we are not giving up on it at our church. We are as committed to it as we have ever been, probably more so. We are, however, committed to practicing it through the tears in our eyes and grief in our hearts. I hope the same will be true for you.

I am thankful when I hear the increased commitment to church discipline because it reflects a people who embrace the biblical mandate, who respect the covenantal relationship of the church and her members and who care more about the spiritual condition of the ones they are called to serve than they do their own comfort or even superficial, spiritually dry church growth. However, I equally despise the casual manner in which I often hear people discuss church discipline. The cavalier attitude among many is tragic and reflects either a lack of experience or a calloused heart, both of which give away a needed heart correction and growth in maturity.

In closing, let me plead with you to go ahead and embrace your commitment to church discipline. However, please leave the bravado and excitement behind. Let us endeavor together to be a people that pursues the purity of Christ’s bride, but let us do so with humble, heavy hearts as we hurt with hurting people, and lovingly correct the sinful ones. I cannot imagine that Jesus would expect any less.

Pastoral Leadership, Part 7: Communication

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I have the joy of teaching in our Doctor of Ministry Program at Southeastern Seminary. It is an outstanding program of study with majors in Expository Preaching, Leadership, Biblical Counseling, Faith and Culture, and Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. You can learn more about the program by going here or by phone at 919-761-2216.

Recently, I received a very fine paper from one of my students on “Leadership in the Local Church.” The author is a pastor of a very prominent church in the Southern Baptist Convention who is leading it through a time of transition following a long tenured pastor. The focus of his paper was on how to lead a local congregation through a time of transition without blowing up the place. As many of us know this is easier said than done.

With his permission I will share in several blog entries an edited version of his paper. There is real wisdom in what you will read. For obvious reasons the particular church and the pastor’s identity will not be disclosed.

Pastoral Leadership, Part 7: Communication

The seventh principle that must guide any new leader in the midst of transition is the principle of communication. There is much written and said in our day about communication. As we counsel men and women preparing for marriage it cannot be emphasized enough the importance of communicating with one another. As we think about our own relationship to God, the principle of communication is always before us. We teach new disciples that through God’s Word He communicates his plan and His will for our lives. We also teach them that through prayer we communicate our hearts to Him. Thus, we teach the most basic tool of discipleship in a personal quiet time with God each day, emphasizing the importance of communication in the relationship. Well, it is also accurate that a new leader, in transition, must truly understand the importance of communication with staff, with lay leaders, and with the church family as a whole. What must be communicated? There are at least three primary things that every leader must communicate: who he is as a person; what his vision for the organization is and how that vision will be achieved.

Every new leader must allow his organization to know who he really is as a person. We live in a world where privacy has been established as a premium. Yet, there is no substitute for individuals within any organization getting to know their leader on a personal level. This is especially true in the church. As I dealt with the Pastor Search Team, they indicated they were looking for four things in the next pastor. First, they wanted someone who preached God’s Word unapologetically, communicating God’s truth week after week. Secondly they wanted a strong family man, whose wife and children complemented his life. Thirdly, they wanted someone recognized as being a leader in a city where he served. Finally, they wanted a pastor who would love the people, and who would allow the people to love him. There is a desire among believers to know their pastor, and to be able to love him and his family. As leaders of these congregations, we must be willing to open our hearts and lives to people.

There must also be the communication of what the new leader casts as a vision for the organization. Every organization should have core values that clearly define who the organization is and what it considers its primary goals. William Plamondon, author of the article on “Energy and Leadership” writes: “Leaders need to help set the standards to which the organization aspires, to challenge its members with a lofty goal, and to make sure that everyone understands the goal and what he or she must do to attain it. It is the leader’s responsibility to communicate this goal in a clear and compelling way that inspires the organization to move to new heights and at faster speeds that it would ordinarily attain on its own” (The Drucker Foundation, The Leader of the Future, 277). John Maxwell, in one of his Injoy Life Club lessons, quotes the legendary University of Alabama football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, as stating that there are five things that winning team members need to know: 1) Tell me what you expect from me; 2) Give me an opportunity to perform; 3) Let me know how I am getting along; 4) Give me guidance where I need it; 5) Reward me according to my contribution. Without question the new leader must communicate effectively the vision God has placed on his heart.

The new leader must communicate some specific steps that will be taken to achieve the vision and goals. Each year I have found that our staff retreat has become a real highlight for me and for other staff members. It is a time of vision-casting from my heart as the pastor and it has become a time of reporting what the previous year yielded in terms of successes and lessons learned. One of the greatest responses of feedback that has been received is the gratefulness for specific numeric goals that have been placed before them and specific ideas of programs to be executed. Each staff member has their area in which they are encouraged to dream, plan, and execute programs that will reach out to the lost as well as grow and develop believers. They must not be micromanaged, but rather they must be empowered to lead out in their respective areas. However, there are some major church-wide emphases that must come from the heart and vision of the pastor. They key is for everyone to walk away sensing that they have been valued, heard, and understood. This will be accomplished only by clear communication from the leader.

In the closing words of The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker pens these words: “Only executive effectiveness can enable this society to harmonize its two needs: the needs of the organization to obtain from the individual the contribution it needs, and the need of the individual to have organization serve as his tool for the accomplishment of his purpose. Effectiveness must be learned” (174). The issue of leadership is a multifaceted issue. The new leader moving into a role of transition will find challenges and blessings that will be very unique to the situation where he has been called to serve. And yet, there are some essential principles that will serve any new leader well as they carry out the call Christ has placed upon their lives. These principles that we have discussed are certainly not exhaustive. They have become in my life however, guiding principles that continue to impact decisions made and steps taken as I carry out this call of leadership in my own personal life. I pray that I will continually look toward godliness, integrity, courage, passion, compassion, competence, and communication as principles to lean upon each day.