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Extract from ‘Forgive and restore’ by Don Baker

Forgiveness does not always need to include discipline. Forgiveness aims to brings freedom, not demand conditions - and used well it has the power to effect change in the sinner. However, if the goal is restoration, then the wronged party - or an employer or institution - may need reassurances of a changed heart and attitude in the wrongdoer, and should want to work through the repentance with him or her.

However, it is extremely unusual for institutions to do this well, if at all, and churches are among the least capable of providing loving discipline.  This extract is from 'Forgive and Restore' (Marshall-Pickering 1984), and gives an honest account of an exception: an evangelical church's creative and successful struggles with the issue of restoration. Baker is the senior pastor at Hinson Baptist Church, Portland, Oregon. The book relates how the church dealt with the sexual misconduct of another staff member, Greg, by taking responsibility for his discipline and restoration to ministry after a year or so. Greg was asked to resign, and to make a confession to the congregation, but to remain at Hinson.


Chapter nine

Discipline without destruction

© Don Baker, 1984


How does a church discipline a brother without destroying him? How does a family of believers express disgust for sin without displaying disdain to the believer? How can a man be set aside and yet still maintain some semblance of hope? What tools can be employed that might possibly hasten restoration? What mistakes did I make that slowed the process? Those were the questions that came to my mind again and again during those trying months of discipline.

The most difficult and yet the most crucial decision that we had made was to request Greg and Joanna (his wife) to remain at Hinson Church. We didn’t realise at the time what a big part this was to play in the restoration process.

The threat of discipline usually results in departure. Most disciplined church members leave their church or are asked to leave. When this happens, however, the problem is rarely corrected. It is simply transplanted.

The large number of churches available to the average Christian today make discipline and restoration difficult. When spiritual leaders fall into sin, the first concern is to remove them quickly and as far away as possible. This accomplishes nothing. The sinner is uncorrected, and the church is denied the opportunity to learn vital lessons about sin, forgiveness and restoration. Discipline demands accountability, and effective accountability is impossible among strangers.

The church is notoriously weak in disciplining its sinning pastors well. Pastors are human, have weaknesses, and fall into sin just like other church members.

One of the many mistakes that I made during Greg’s restoration period was that I failed to maintain constant contact with him. In fact Greg admitted later that he felt that I and the other members of the staff team had let him down. One staff person took him to lunch . . . once. I met with him occasionally and phoned periodically, but we never established a routine.

On one occasion Greg asked to be put in a ‘growing faith’ group – one of Hinson’s small fellowship and accountability groups. The only one available at that time, however, met on a night when he was working temporarily. He asked for another option but was never contacted.

Greg wanted more time with me. "I really felt that I was worth salvaging, but I wasn’t sure that you or the others felt the same way," he said.

"In fact I craved contact with the staff. These were my associates – my closest friends. These were the ones to whom I should have been accountable, but they were not available to me. I wanted to reach out to them, but was too ashamed and didn’t feel that I could handle any more rejection. The members of the staff were all gracious and they were kind . . . but they remained distant. I needed them desperately."

A group of five men invited Greg to join them each week for breakfast. This quickly became the supportive fellowship that met many of Greg’s needs. They accepted him completely. They treated him as a human being and as an equal. There was no condemnation, no criticism. No conditions were imposed upon their continuing relationship. They had breakfast together, shared needs with each other, and prayed. They studied a number of books together. Each week they would read a prescribed chapter and discuss it together.

We seldom prayed for him publicly – which is something we should have done. I’m sure all of us prayed privately, but corporate discipline requires corporate prayer. Whether it was forgetfulness or clumsiness or simply our reluctance to keep this scar in front of the people, I don’t know – but we should have prayed more as a church family.

One friend suggested that Greg and Joanna develop a ‘Promise Book’. She told them to write down every meaningful promise they encountered as they read Scripture. Then in their low times they wouldn’t be forced to search their Bibles for help, but would already have quick access to meaningful verses. What helpful counsel this proved to be. Greg would come home after a terribly bruising day, too defeated to continue. He would pick up the promise book, and gain immediate strength.

Greg did need some hope. Ministry was his life, his love, his ‘great obsession’, and the possibility that he might never be allowed to return was devastating to him. We should have been more responsive to his need for hope – but then (we kept telling ourselves) we were inexperienced and had never been down this road before.

Greg’s and Joanna’s continuing presence at Hinson posed other problems to both them and us. There was constant pressure to restore Greg to his position of pastoral leadership. I was continually being called into account with questions I was not at liberty to answer.

"Why is this process taking so long?"

"Why don’t you really forgive him?"

"How can it be restoration if we fail to restore him to his place of ministry?"

There were times when I truly despaired because of the intense pressure that was brought to bear during those months. I actually found myself hoping – and even praying on one occasion – that Greg and Joanna would leave and go somewhere else. Many people felt embarrassed in the couple’s presence. Many said, "I feel awkward around Greg. I don’t know how to act or what to say."

Some expressed sheer disgust, betrayal, and didn’t even want to look at him. Most people were agreed that Greg should stay at Hinson . . . but really they didn’t want him to. There were those who lived in state of shocked disbelief. They found it difficult to understand how one could display such maturity, speak with such sensitivity, pray with such power, and serve with such fervour, and yet be such a ‘scoundrel’.

Most people were very guarded in their statements. There were few feelings expressed. The overwhelming sensation was one of bewilderment - deep sorrow and loss. These feelings were combined with a constraining love to recover as much for God as possible. None of us felt truly comfortable with Greg and Joanna, or knew what to talk about in their presence. Only a very few of us ever addressed the great heartache that persisted to cause deep and unbearable pain to this dear couple.

Greg and Joanna suffered the most. Greg developed severe colitis, and every time they prepared to come to church, Greg would get sick. As they approached the building, their apprehension grew. They felt overwhelmed by their shame and dread.

Some would greet them warmly, some would greet them coldly. Others would simply avoid them. In his terribly sensitive state, Greg felt rejection from almost everyone, but later concluded that it was not rejection nearly so much as it was clumsiness from people who didn’t know what to say.

They sat together in the back of the left-hand side of the auditorium every Sunday. Greg’s head was usually bowed. I was seldom able to make eye contact with him. Could he listen? Or was he so consumed by his embarrassment that he was unable to concentrate on anything but himself?

He told me later that this was true at first. Before long he developed a hunger for the Bible that caused him to hang on every word. He listened to cassette tapes and sermon tapes. But the deep emotional responses to exposure and humiliation prevailed, and kept all of us uncomfortable for months. It seemed a heavy price to pay for the restoration of one brother.

But it was worth it.

I will never forget the Sunday, six months in, when Greg sat in a new seat, nearer the front, head erect, eyes glowing, a look of expectancy on his face. At some point in the sermon I said something that touched him deeply. I saw his head bob up and down and heard him utter a hearty ‘Amen’.

Greg’s back, I thought. From that moment it seemed we all began to relax and enjoy each other again. q


Greg was re-ordained after a year. He had to wait another year for another church to call him to ministry – an even lonelier and harder time for him. But the call came, and Baker concludes:

I think Greg is probably much better equipped to serve Christ today than most of us who have never been through the terribly painful process of discipline and restoration.

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