One thing I have observed in ministry is that when it comes to behavior, the distinction between Christians and non-Christians is increasingly becoming blurred. What I mean is that when scripture speaks of Christians putting off their old way of life and putting on the “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24), there’s a lot more Christians who still seem to be living as their old self.
I could share several stories to illustrate my point but I’ll assume you understand what I’m talking about. With that said, it creates a problems in many ways. One problem is the missional aspect. In a post-Christian American culture where people are increasingly becoming skeptical about the claims Christians make regarding the gospel, bad behavior undermines credibility. So if a church is going to bear witness to the gospel in it’s community, it is necessary to confront this bad behavior.
Now I certainly believe that it is the responsibility of all Christians to confront sinful behavior they encounter. However, I want to focus on the leaders of the church (preachers/pastors, elders, and other ministry leaders) because the leadership is most likely to be aware of such behavioral issues in ways that other church members are not.
So how do church leaders confront? Certainly Jesus offers some wisdom with his instruction in Matthew 18:15-20 but it seems Paul has some wisdom to offer that I don’t here talked about too often. Here is Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 5:1-2:
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
The word rebuke (or reprimand) is an interesting instruction. It is not a weak action. It involves some fairly strait-forward and candid speech and Paul says it is necessary with some qualifications: to not rebuke an older man harshly and younger men, women, and mothers as family.
This seems very important to remember. I believe that Christian leaders will find themselves in more and more situations demanding a caring (pastoral) confrontation, if the church is to be light in a world of darkness. It is unlikely that repentance will follow every time a leadership confronts sinful behavior. However, if the leaders of a church will care enough to confront with the pastoral wisdom that is shaped by scripture then there is much hope for bringing a spiritually-healthy (sound) resolution to the problem.
God wins when sin is neither ignored nor tolerated but confronted in a pastorally caring manner.