The least enjoyable duty

Speaking to an erring member about his conduct is never easy, but A. D. Inglish provides an illustration of how to apply Biblical principles in this situation.

A. D. Inglish is a Seventh-day Adventist pas tor in Anderson, Indiana.


Well that's the story, pastor." Bob sat back in the armchair of the pastor's study and let out a long breath with the air of one who has just laid down a heavy load. "I'm sorry to be the one to drop this on you. I thought and prayed about it for a long time, but finally I decided I just had to tell you. What Bill is doing is hurting the church; worse, it's hurting Bill himself. That's the thing that bothers me most Bill's relationship to Christ. I know he's had plenty of problems lately, some of them pretty serious. But spending his time in places like that is not the answer. He's not going to find the solution in a bottle."

The pastor nodded. The story was a familiar one. A church member was conducting himself in a way that was hurting himself and his family, and bringing reproach upon the church. An other member had become aware of the situation and sincerely wanted to help. Such scenes are repeated a hundred times a day in the offices of pastors around the world.

One of the least enjoyable duties of a pastor is speaking to an erring member about his conduct. Anger, resentment, denial, alienation on the part of the member and his family and friends—all of these can be, and sometimes are, the result.

Nothing can turn such a duty into a pleasure, but the pastor can avoid many pitfalls if he will carefully follow the scriptural pattern for dealing with such cases. In doing so, he may find that he must educate his church members to follow the pattern of Scripture as well. This is what Bob's pastor is about to do.

"I wish you well, pastor." Bob smiled sympathetically as he crossed to the door. "I'll be praying that you can get Bill straightened out."

"Just a moment, Bob," the pastor re plied, leafing through his appointment book. "Would next Thursday evening at six-thirty be convenient?"

"Convenient for what?" Bob's hand was already on the doorknob.

"To go and talk with Bill."

Bob's eyes widened. "Pastor, you must have misunderstood. I didn't mean—why, I wouldn't even want Bill to know that I was the one who gave you this information. I couldn't possibly talk to him myself. That's your job." Bob's face reddened. "That is—well, you fellows are trained to do that sort of thing. I'm only a layman."

"Sit down a moment, Bob. There is a great deal of misunderstanding on this subject, and I'd like to talk with you about it."

"To begin," said the pastor as Bob reluctantly lowered himself into the chair again, "we will need some authoritative source to guide us. And, of course, in any matter that concerns the church, the final authority is God's Word." He pushed his Bible across the desk toward Bob. "Would you please turn to Matthew 18 and read verses 15 through 17."

The pages of the Bible rustled briefly, and then Bob read aloud: " 'Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.' "

"You see, Bob, Christ Himself is speaking here, prescribing the course of action to be followed in these cases. He says nothing of telling a third party about a problem and having that person go and speak to the erring one. The individual who knows the facts of the case is to go himself. If the erring member will not listen, one or two others are to go along as witnesses. Finally, if it becomes necessary, the matter is to be brought before the church.

"Now," the pastor went on, "I know that this is an awkward situation for you. You and Bill have been friends for years, and you don't want anything to mar that friendship. So, if it will make it easier, I'll go with you, if you like. But it is absolutely vital that you go and see Bill yourself. You were the one who saw him come out of that place. The one who speaks to him must be one who knows what happened, not one who has heard it from someone else."

While the pastor had been speaking, Bob had been reading again the verses he had just read aloud. Now a smile of relief broke over his face.

"Just a minute, pastor," he said. "What you say sounds good, but I've found a flaw in your reasoning. Look again at the first words of verse 15: 'Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee."' Bob looked up with a smile. "Notice those last two words? The counsel in these verses would apply if Bill had trespassed against me personally—but he hasn't. It's the church that he is hurting by his conduct, not me. And you are the pastor of the church. I don't think these verses require that I must be the one to go and speak to Bill."

The pastor returned Bob's smile. "The apostle Paul said that there is a certain organization that is the body of Christ. What organization is that, Bob?"

"The Bible says that the body of Christ is the church."

"Exactly. Paul says that in chapter 12 of his first letter to the Corinthians. Would you turn to that chapter, please, and let's read a few verses from it."

There was a pause while Bob found 1 Corinthians 12.

"Now, please read verses 14 through 16." "

'For the body is not one member, but many,'" Bob read. "'If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Be cause I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?' "

"Now drop down a few verses," said the pastor, "and read verses 25 and 26." "

'That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.'"

"You see, Bob, the Scripture says clearly that no member can withdraw itself from the body. All the members are joined to one another, and if one member suffers, all the other members suffer, too. Now, please read just one more verse—verse 27."

Bob's voice was very soft as he read, "'Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.'"

There was silence after Bob had finished reading.

Finally, the pastor's voice broke the stillness. "Bob, how much Scripture did Paul tell Timothy is given by the inspiration of God?"

Bob smiled faintly. "That's an easy one, pastor. Paul says, 'All scripture is given by inspiration of God.' "

"Including the verses you have just read?"

"Of course."

"Then after reading what Paul says about the members of the church being the body of Christ, and that when one member suffers, all members suffer, you can't really believe that Bill is trespassing against only the church, and not you?"

Bob's eyes came up to meet the eyes of the pastor as he slowly shook his head. "All right, pastor," he replied, 'Til meet you here at six-thirty on Thursday."

Pastors often meet situations such as the one described here. The following guidelines may be helpful to him as he prepares to deal with the situation of an erring member:

1. Any information upon which the pastor is expected to act must be factual. "He always eats his lunch in the same corner of the warehouse, and a couple pf times I thought I smelled marijuana smoke in that area in the afternoon." "When she delivers the daily production reports to Mr. Wilson^s office, she's always in there ten or fifteen minutes. That's quite a while, if all she's doing is just dropping off a few papers." Such insinuations and innuendos are cruel, unfair, and un-Christian. The pastor should ignore them.

2. The person who brings the matter to the attention of the pastor must have personal, firsthand knowledge of the situation. Occasionally, a church member will come to the pastor with a message from another member. "Mrs. Smith says she has seen Brother Brown going into a woman's house several times recently during the day when the woman's husband is at work. Mrs. Smith didn't want to come to you herself, but she felt you should know, and she thinks you ought to speak to him about it."

No pastor should allow himself to be manipulated at long range in this way. The only proper reply is, "I couldn't possibly speak to any member on the basis of secondhand information. If Mrs. Smith, who actually saw Brother Brown, would like to see me personally, I would be glad to discuss the matter with her."

3. The person who has personal, first hand knowledge must be willing to go with the pastor to speak to the erring member. Most members believe, quite sincerely, that they have discharged their duty by bringing the matter to the attention of the pastor. Now, they feel, it is the pastor's responsibility. Such members must be educated to under stand that Scripture is clear that the per son who knows the facts of the ease must be the one to go and speak to the erring member. It may be proper for the pastor to accompany him, but he himself must go.

A word of caution may be in order here. If a member asks the pastor to go with him to see another member with whom he has had a disagreement, the pastor ought to be sure just what the member making the request plans to say and do, and just what part the pastor himself is expected to play. Otherwise, he may find that the requesting member is taking him along to lend support to his own side of the dispute, or at least to impress his opponent that "the pastor is on my side."

When the pastor himself has personal, firsthand knowledge of a problem, he will need to consider carefully the best procedure to follow. In many cases, he, would be wise to take with him a trust worthy, respected church officer as a witness to all that is said. In other cases, it may be that a private interview be tween the pastor and the erring member will bring about a satisfactory outcome, and prevent knowledge of {he matter from spreading further. Remember, too, that the "erring" member may have a legitimate explanation for what has appeared questionable on the surface. This consideration should dictate discretion.

4. The pastor must be careful not to allow himself or his church to become involved in legal disputes between members. At times a pastor may be able to prevent a lawsuit between members of his church. By counseling, by prayer, by appealing to the authority of Scripture (especially Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 6:7), he may be able to persuade members to settle their differences on a personal basis without resorting to court action. It is perfectly proper for the pas tor to attempt to do so if he sees any indication of success. However, if he persuades the antagonists to work out their differences without going to court, he should leave it at that. He should not allow himself or his church to become involved in actually negotiating a settlement. The pastor who does not heed this caution may find that he and/or his church may become objects of bitterness and resentment, not to mention legal action, should either or both of the principals later become dissatisfied with the settlement.

5. Finally, the pastor must never go to see an erring member without much prayer for a special outpouring of God's Holy Spirit upon both himself and upon the member whom he is to seeand he must have it clearly fixed in his own mind just what his mission is. The pastor must remember at all times that his ultimate purpose is not to rebuke, but to redeem; to bring reclamation, not retribution.

The pastor is himself a church member for whom Christ died; he is to speak in Christ's name to another church member for whom Christ also died. The same love that led the Saviour to' die for both must be the motive for every word that is spoken. The pastor who keeps this attitude firmly in mind can know that Christ Himself, in the Person of His Holy Spirit, is beside him as he speaks to the erring.

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A. D. Inglish is a Seventh-day Adventist pas tor in Anderson, Indiana.

September 1979

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