One aspect of life on our continent that I really cherish is our sense of community. Although we all live in separate homes, there is a sense of belonging to one another that I do not readily see elsewhere. Neighbours not only know one another but they are also interested in the way their children behave.

The whole church must be involved in watching over one another.

I recall when growing up that it was not uncommon for my parents to go and visit a home in the neighbourhood primarily to report to their fellow parents in that home about some serious misdemeanour that they may have observed in their neighbour’s child. In the same way, if an adult in the neighbourhood saw me misbehaving, I knew that my parents would soon know about it and I would be in big trouble. This sense of community helped us a lot when we were growing up. We knew that we needed to be on our best behaviour whether our parents were around or not. The entire community considered it their business to help our parents raise us up to be good citizens. I can well understand the saying that “it takes a village to raise a child.”

What is true in society generally is also true in the life of the church, especially when it comes to the whole question of discipline. The whole church must be involved in watching over one another as the process of sanctification takes place in our individual lives. Let us admit it. The subject of discipline is not a popular one. It is as difficult as going into the hospital for surgery. You know that there will be a lot of pain. Yet it is a necessary part of life in this fallen world.

Discipline isn’t Only Restorative

We must never be tolerant of sin. When church members see fellow Christians in the church doing what is patently wrong and then look elsewhere as if it were none of their business, then that church will soon be in a downward tailspin as far as true godliness and spirituality is concerned. Church discipline is the responsibility of the whole church.

As we engage more in formative discipline, we’ll find that we’ll need less restorative discipline.

One reason we tend to be negatively disposed toward church discipline is that we always begin with its negative aspect. We think of restorative discipline as the only form of discipline. But there is also formative discipline. In fact, as we engage more and more in formative discipline, we will find that we will need less and less restorative discipline. It is the equivalent of what happens in the natural world. If you are disciplined in doing your physical exercises and maintaining a good diet, you will find that your visits to the doctors will be less frequent. But if you neglect this positive form of discipline, your body easily gives way to all kinds of diseases and your medical bills pile up.

How to Exercise Formative Discipline

Formative discipline refers to the kind of discipline that directly produces positive spiritual qualities in the lives of God’s people. It refers to the teaching and training ministry of the church that nurtures the inner spiritual beings of believers. Part of this teaching and training comes through the regular instruction from God’s word, and part of it happens as believers participate in the common life of the church. As members have fellowship with one another, they help one another as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). As they serve together in various departments and ministries of the church, they learn to be godly in their humility and their zeal for Christ.

Formative discipline produces good order in the church. This is because most church members get to know how they are supposed to live and what they are supposed to do in terms of the use of their gifts in the life of the church.

Formative discipline produces good order in the church.

This can be illustrated by a well-ordered home. When visitors come, the children in the home know that they are supposed to come out and greet them and then leave the parents space to talk with the visitors. All the children in the home know that they are supposed to keep their bedrooms tidy and they are supposed to participate in household chores. Even when they go visiting, they know how to behave when they are far away from home and they know when it is time to return home. The fact that they are doing so on a regular basis without constantly being asked to do so means that they are disciplined children.

Get Your House in Order

A church should be like that. It should be well-ordered. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “All things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). And to the Colossians he wrote, “Though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5). Formative discipline produces a well-ordered church.

This article was adapted from God’s Design for the Church: A Guide for African Pastors and Ministry Leaders, by Conrad Mbewe, Copyright © 2020, pp. 177-179. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org. Copies can be purchased at the Book Depository. You can read a review of it here, as well as a series of articles adapted from the book dealing with the church and money.