How To Discipline a Pastor


In 1 Timothy five:19-21, the apostle Paul explains how to deal with a pastor who is sinning.1 Some readers have an understanding of Paul to be setting a larger common for pastors than for other members of the congregation. I feel this is a mistaken reading of Paul’s words, for Paul wishes for absolutely everyone to be treated equally and without the need of “partiality” (v. 21). Paul writes:

19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the proof of two or 3 witnesses. 20 As for these who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest could stand in worry.

Paul’s procedure for dealing with elders accused of a sin lines up with what Jesus says ought to be completed for any brother that is accused of a sin. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus says that if a church member sins against you, you ought to go to them in private. If they do not repent, then you take along two or 3 witnesses to establish the charges created against the sinning brother. If they establish the charges and he nevertheless refuses to turn from his sin, then they are supposed to place the matter ahead of the church. If he refuses soon after it is brought to the church, then he is excommunicated.

That is the identical procedure in play for elders right here in 1 Timothy five, except this text picks up with the second step—establishing the charges in the presence of witnesses. Establishing witnesses is vital to this procedure, as George Knight comments,

Paul is, as a result, reminding Timothy to comply with the principle of Dt. 19:15 in church discipline. Jesus also applied this principle to church discipline in Mt. 18:16, exactly where witnesses are stated to be essential “so that … each reality [literally “word”] could be confirmed,” the witnesses getting invited to sit with two individuals who are in search of to settle a individual or private sin (cf. Mt. 18:15 [variant reading] Lk. 17:three, four) that the witnesses did not themselves see. They turn into witnesses by means of this process. In impact, Paul is urging Timothy to comply with this process discovered in Matthew 18 and the OT ahead of the church accepts or acknowledges as appropriate an accusation against an elder.two

If the sinning pastor is unresponsive to that confrontation, then the matter goes ahead of the church for a public rebuke and contact to repentance just like in Matthew 18.

This procedure is made to establish guilt and to avert false accusations. It is a significant sin to bear false witness against a fellow church member. And it is no significantly less scandalous to bring false accusations against an elder. Unfounded, scurrilous accusations are not to be entertained or spread inside the church.

Why do we do it this way? Members of a congregation are sinners (such as the pastor), and occasionally they sin against one particular a further. Jesus desires brothers and sisters in Christ to go to each and every other and to reconcile with one particular a further in private. He does not want them to go to war with one particular a further and divide the physique. That would be wicked. Members ought to really like one particular a further sufficient to deal discreetly so that they can reconcile and move on. This sort of one particular-on-one particular confrontation and reconciliation is supposed to be standard in the life of a church.

We do not need to have to be swift to take offense at individuals. We need to have to forebear with one particular a further and not take each chance to point out an offense. But when a actual rift happens mainly because of sin, we need to have to be capable to go to one particular a further with the expectation that we can perform it out in private.

It is only soon after private confrontation has failed, that witnesses are brought in. If the offense can not be established ahead of witnesses, then the matter goes no additional. But if it is established, it nevertheless demands to be kept quiet. No gossip or slandering. If the pastor persists in sin, it will come ahead of the church in due time. Following these guidelines aids to assure that the charges will be established and effectively-founded, not primarily based in half-truths and gossip.

No one particular ought to accept frivolous, unsubstantiated charges against a pastor (or any member for that matter). If the charges can not be established by witnesses, then it does not go public in any way and ought to be kept private.

That does not imply that if a pastor sins against you and no one particular else occurs to see it that you just have to reside with it. The witnesses are not witnesses to the offense but to the confrontation soon after the reality. They can aid establish no matter if the charges have merit or not (cf. Deut. 19:15-21).

Why do we do points in this way? Simply because we need to have to guard each and every other from baseless charges and petty gossip. And mainly because we need to have to make a way for genuine accusations to be heard and to go forward.

Paul concludes,

21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to maintain these guidelines without the need of prejudging, carrying out practically nothing from partiality.

Not “prejudging” suggests that we do not presume an individual is guilty basically mainly because they are accused. We ought to not predetermine guilt or innocence ahead of the details are in. Maintaining these guidelines without the need of “partiality” suggests that we do not go uncomplicated on some individuals mainly because we feel they are crucial. We do every thing relatively, regularly, and in order.


1 Denny Burk, “1–2 Timothy and Titus” in ESV Expository Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon, vol. 11, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., Jay Sklar (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 436-38.

two G. W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI/Carlisle, England: Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1992), 235.


UPDATE: I study on social media a query about how to respond when it is found that a pastor is involved in criminal conduct. My answer is that you ought to treat such a discovery in the identical way that you would treat any other member of the congregation involved in criminal conduct—at least insofar as civil authorities are concerned. You ought to report criminal offenses to civil authorities.

My view is summed up in the 2018 SBC resolution on abuse that I drafted along with Andrew Walker and Katie McCoy. The messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly authorized the final version of that resolution. In that resolution, we wrote this:

WHEREAS, God ordains civil government as His servant to us for very good (Romans 13:four) and intends for us “to render loyal obedience thereto in all points not contrary to the revealed will of God” (The Baptist Faith and Message, Post XVII)…

RESOLVED, That we strongly urge abuse victims to get in touch with civil authorities, separate from their abusers, and seek protection, care, and assistance from fellow Christians and civil authorities and be it further…

RESOLVED, That we implore all persons to act decisively on matters of abuse, to intervene on behalf of the abused, to assure their security, to report allegations of abuse to civil authorities according to the laws of their state, and to pursue church discipline against impenitent abusers…

The Bible teaches that God has appointed civil government as His servant to us for our very good (Rom. 13:four), and that is why our confessional common (the BF&ampM 2000) calls on believers “to render loyal obedience” to that government as it seeks to uphold justice. So for me and for so quite a few other Southern Baptists, the obligation to report crimes to civil authorities is the clear implication of our confession. That obligation applies even if a pastor is the perpetrator, and I think that our confession is completely appropriate in this.


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