Ethics: Church Discipline Contract Issued

What would you do Wednesday!

Today’s situation deals with the uncomfortable issue of church discipline. To make the situation more uncomfortable a church discipline contract will also be involved. The scenario is inspired by real circumstances surrounding a former Mars Hill Church member named Andrew who was issued a church discipline contract to sign.1

Imagine that you (or a friend if you wish) has just confessed and repented of being sexually involved with a fellow church member who happens to be the child of one of the church elders. The confession took place in the covenant group that you are a part of where it was then taken to one of the pastors/elders.

The pastor then issued a church discipline contract which he expected you to sign and follow. The discipline contract laid out the following steps that would be taken on the road to restoration.

  • You will attend a covenant group and meet with its leader on a regular basis.
  • You will not be involved in serving in the church.
  • You will not pursue or date anyone inside or outside of this church.
  • You will write out in detail your sexual and emotional attachment history and share it with covenant group leader.
  • You will write out in detail the chronology of events and sexual/emotional sin and share it with the covenant group leader and a pastor.
  • You will write out a list of all people you have sinned against during this timeframe, either by sexual/emotional sin, lying or deceiving, share it with the covenant group leader and develop a plan to confess sin and ask for forgiveness.

How would you respond (or advise your friend to respond)?

  • Follow the contract no questions asked.
  • Possibly follow the contract after some clarification.
  • Inquire as to whether or not the elders child was also issued a contract.
  • Dispute the contract explaining that you have repented.
  • Leave the church.


  1. Andrew, former Mars Hill Church member. Mark Driscoll’s Church Discipline Contract: Looking For True Repentance at Mars Hill Church? Sign on the Dotted Line

tagged as , in Church Issues,Culture

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris Coppenbarger January 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I read through the two posts on Matthew Paul Turner’s blog and am kind of floored that this was considered Matthew 18 discipline. I appreciate Mark Driscoll, his theology, and his preaching of the Gospel, but this kind of stuns me, if all this is true.

Matthew 18 is about unrepentant sinners in combination with 1 Corinthians 5.

I think a contract might be viable should you confront a person and they repent, and if it’s a specific sin that might have an effect on the type of ministry the person exercises in the church.

However, in Andrew’s case, this does not appear to be a case of someone approaching him and asking him to repent. He got pushed away by too many meetings and pushed so far, he had to leave. Andrew voluntarily repented because the Holy Spirit was working in him. This did not call for Matthew 18 nor 1 Cor. 5 discipline, at all.

Removing him from certain ministries and/or moving community groups and maybe discipleship counseling might be all that’s needed.

I’ve seen Matt. 18 and 1 Cor. 5 discipline happen and it’s not pretty. I’ve also seen people come back and repent as a result of such discipline. I’ve seen people repent before such discipline has to take place.

Contract in Andrew’s case? Probably not. In other cases? It depends on the situation.

2 Bruce H January 25, 2012 at 4:16 pm

First, someone has said a convenant is based upon trust and a contract as based upon mistrust. I tend to beleive that. It would be out of character if the leaders of a church had to use a written contract that has no legal value to make someone do something. Putting things in writing like that tells me that the foundational mindset of these elders may be the cause of the problem in the first place.

Second, if it is a discipline issue that has come before the elders already the man who sinned has refused to repent twice already according to Matthew 18:15-18. If we cannot properly follow the Bible in its guide for restoration and forgiveness we would seldom follow it anywhere else properly.

One of the things I have seen in the SBC churches that I have been a member of is the lack of ability of members to understand the proper way to deal with those who sinned against us and the reason why we keep it between us. If forgiveness is a contract we have missed the kingdom all together. It seems the first step for most every person is always to go to the preacher and tell on someone first. That isn’t biblical and we should be preaching that almost as much as we preach the gospel. If we cannot forgive we are not forgiven by God. Period!

Great post and a subject we must go over and over again until we get it.

3 Steve T January 25, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I must say my first reaction as to the giving of advice is ‘Run, and run quickly!’ I think this goes way beyond biblical church discipline as I see it in Scripture. I do understand the need for serious godly and effective Church discipline, accountability for ones actions,the desire to see the genuine fruits of repentance, obviously it has to be real and and not a mere slap on the wrist, but this looks like a ‘Driscollian UFC Macho cage fight version’.

It reads like ‘you sinned, you sinned badly, so now we want, nay! we have the right to know every dirty little secret in your life. can you imagine the power that gives these guys. You would have to live in a church where the sword of Damocles hangs over you. One step out of the party line and we could ruin you! Wow Mark why don’t you make a list of every dirty little secret and give it into the hands of the church!

I think the only time I could even imagine pen being put to paper regarding church discipline in such a way, would be perhaps in the case of Physical abuse or where a history of child abuse exists. and even then I think you would need careful legal advice as to how to phrase such a document, as the issues involved cross the boundary of church and enter into civil law.

I write as someone living in the UK, I can only say that if such action by a church ever became public knowledge over here, the media would have a field day!

You would be painted fairly or unfairly as a cult of the most pernicious kind.

4 Michael Buratovich January 25, 2012 at 8:07 pm

I would not sign it. I would ask then to show me from Scripture where this kind of brow-beating is required for church discipline. Furthermore the pattern in Scripture is a small circle of people that increases in size as the person demonstrates greater and greater resistance to correction. This does not seem to be the cases here. After reading the story of Andrew, I feel badly for him, but he did screw up. Despite all that he confessed, which took immense courage, and he submitted to meeting after meeting, which is the sign of a guy who “gets it.” There is no need to widen the circle and there is also no need to increase the severity of the discipline. To issue a contract after all those meetings and brow-beatings is rebarbative,

Also, I think to teach that the woman holds no responsibility is ridiculous. Does she have the Holy Spirit? If not then according to Romans 8:9 she is not a Christian and he should not be dating her. Can she read the Scriptures that say, “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure for God will judge the immoral and all sexually immoral” Hebrews 13:4. Can she understand this Scripture? Can she then take steps to make sure that she adheres to this command through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes the man should show spiritual leadership, but women should also know: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” 1 Peter 1:14.

My mother was a doctor of guilt manipulation and I can smell guilt manipulation a mile away. This is guilt manipulation pure and simple. It is manufactured by the human esurience to assert that we are better than others (which is a lie) and therefore have the right to control them.

5 MarieP January 25, 2012 at 9:21 pm

“Love…it keeps no record of wrongs” 1 Cor. 13:5

6 Rick Patrick January 25, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Leave before they pass out the Kool-aid.

7 MarieP January 25, 2012 at 10:00 pm

In case you wonder, I agree with the other comments- that verse was intended to be against the so-called church-discipline contracts. Scary indeed! I hope Driscoll will respond and give reason for this!

8 Joe January 26, 2012 at 9:48 am

While it definitely sounds draconian from the outside, I’m left wondering what has been left out. Andrew sins, and confesses. I haven’t heard the part where repentence kicked in. I haven’t heard where he actually apologized, in words, and requested forgiveness. He felt compelled to confess, which seems to be evidence of remorse, but again there is no evidence in the story that he reached out and said “what can I do to make this right?”

The measures taken seem to be out of line. But has anyone who has commented on this story ever been in rehabilitation for an addiction, like alcohol? A lot of the content I’ve seen comes right out of rehabilitation programs: name *all* your failings, get help from God and people, make it right with the ones you have hurt. It’s a judgment call whether Andrew was in a place of needing treatment for an addiction vs. needing someone to come alongside to say, “you’ve messed up, here let me help you.” And that’s a judgment call that everyone outside the situation can’t really make without getting more details.

Another detail we haven’t heard is whether the lady or ladies in question will also get the church discipline treatment. Mark Driskoll is traditionally tough on the men, but he has also said a few choice words to the women on occasion. But I expect that this would be kept as more of a personal matter, and not much detail will come out.

9 Michael Buratovich January 26, 2012 at 1:59 pm


Good points. My problem is that Andrew confessed and was meeting with people in leadership when the church lowered the boom. As I read it, Scripture instructs us to accelerate the process as and when the defiance grows. From reading Andrew’s story, I get the impression that he He seems to have said he was sorry to particular people and was in the process of doing what he needed to do. I can’t help but get the impression that the church made an example of Andrew to appease the angry elder.

10 Christiane January 28, 2012 at 2:00 am

sick intrusion . . . voyeuristic and meddling

the emphasis of the minister should be to listen and help the young man to ask God for forgiveness . . .
any ‘counseling’ should be private, with strict respect for the privacy and the solemn ‘healing’ of this young man’s troubled soul

11 Brett R January 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm

If the man in question is looking to be a future elder/minister, if he is looking to gain trust toward being above reproach, and if this is a conspicuous contract for all to see, I really do not have a problem with it. The apostle Paul did not have sex with members of the church, but he did kill them at one time. There was no error that I could see in them being stand-offish for a time. I see the leadership of this church showing wisdom in not having someone who has a history of sexual contact with professing believers within the church be given “full access” to the sheep.

If this is a secret contract to beat this particular sheep into submission, then he should run.

I may be comparing apples and oranges, but within ministry it is very easy to prey on a weaker person’s emotions and the goal should be to protect the weaker person. The eldership should protect other sheep from someone with this admitted history, and at the same time, the sheep should be protected from over-extend authority by an eldership.

12 Ryan February 14, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Frustrating. Troubling. Disconcerting. Sad. Frightening. I will freely admit that I underwent my own church discipline in 2000 at Overlake Christian Church and this story horrifyingly reminds me my own account, with much pain and trembling, even 12 years later. My heart BREAKS for Andrew. My flesh CRAWLS at reading this article. We are to be Jesus with skin on. We are to faithfully administer God’s GRACE in its various forms. Legalistic tarring and feathering of God’s chosen people, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, does NOT result in better community or better growth. It results in an impoverished church, a beleaguered sense of trust in God and the body of Christ, and cultivates a climate of fear-based worship where God’s children are walking on eggshells. I can only imagine what Andrew must feel right now. Andrew, I love you in Jesus’ Name. You are repentant, you have repented, and you are forgiven. I do not know you, I have never met you, but you are LOVED IN JESUS’ NAME. I am deeply proud of you for bringing your sin into the light, and for bringing Mars Hill’s leadership’s sin into the light as well. Knowing church discipline all too well, I can freely also admit that one sin that cost me my position of leadership, my community at the church, my connection to the body of Christ there, etc., also eventually lead to an even greater sin which cost me my freedom and sent me to prison. I do not blame my actions on the church or the leadership, but I will indefatigably say that there is an inexorable tie between the church discipline / excommunication I received from Overlake Christian Church, and my eventual crime. Do I wish I could take back my crime? Yes. But I also wish with all my heart that I could take back the church discipline I received, and replace it with something restorative like a warm hug. Alas, warm hugs are not mentioned in Scripture for those undergoing church discipline. And such a legalistic, grace-lacking approaches only send us further down the drain, with no hope of compassionate restoration. Wash your hands of us if you will, you beloved megachurches, and in the process so subsequently condemn yourselves as unloving, uncompassionate, and unbiblical. Jesus loves me the same that he does me, and that is my Amen, because truthfully I’d rather ALWAYS be the guy beating his chest, saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner” than be you.

13 LJM May 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm

I would take my family and advise everyone else to leave if the “leadership” didn’t step down. That “contract” is spirtitual abuse. I have been in Christ for 37 years, married 37 years, raised two children and would not subject them to this kind of manipulative controlling. Unfortunately, I probably would have bought into this style of leadership 20 years ago. I was much younger, eager in my faith to please the Lord and spiritually care for my family. I was attending seminary part time while working a professional career job. I was an adult Sunday school teacher and honestly asking the Lord if He wanted me to resign my career and go into mission work. I was 100% trusting of church leadership and eager to be obedient to the Scriptures when honoring God’s servants. Fortunately, we experienced a Holy Spirit inspired “grace awakening” in our home and my wife and I began to question some of the dogma in our home church. The result was the leadership began “praying for us”. I was told to “get my wife under control”. I continued to attempt to reason with the leadership, with honest humility and was summarily rejected. I am not some whiny, sour grapes, out in left field christian. I have been an Elder in a church, I’ve seen “that guy” more than once. I know who the legitimate, honest and Spirit led questioner is. I was that guy in this situation. I kept my concerns between me and the leadership, no “gossiping”. The questions I was asking about our Pharisee type “works” relationships with the Lord and each other were not appreciated. I asked questions about style of dress, music, worship. I unintentionally really rocked the boat and it angered some. I was not “poking at them” to get a rise or prove my point, I truly wanted ask the questions “why are we doing what we are doing?” It finally came down to the point where I decided that I needed to move us out of that church. I met with the Senior Pastor and told him why and said I believed he loved Jesus, but we were no longer walking the same path now in serving the Lord. They have never changed. I would think that they would actually like a “church discipline contract” Those Shepherds who desire to lead with the crook of the staff around the sheep’s neck like that kind of control. I believe God abhors it.


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