Discipline Isn’t Optional


If you read the Bible, you can’t escape its clear teaching on the importance of discipline (1 Cor. 9:24–27; 1 Tim. 4:7–9). Training our desires and will is important in the context of a community with other believers and that discipline is developed in two ways: personal and corporate. While some people are naturally self-disciplined, we can thank God that self-discipline alone is not the only criteria for spiritual growth. The vast majority of people I have pastored and taught over the years have started their spiritual growth with a form of corporate discipline. This group supports us and provides the structure we need for the discipline to be effective.

Sadly, Christians and Christian leaders in the West have given significant push-back against discipline. They do not outright deny the importance of discipline. Yet they resist creating too much structure for community-based spiritual growth and corporate discipline. Typically, sermons focus on self-discipline, providing individualized plans for people to do on their own. Also, some churches have high expectations for leadership development, but do not pass this expectation down to the average church member.

Why the resistance? 

Well, discipline takes extra work. In other cases, the resistance may be an attempt to avoid looking like a cult or another religious group that places high expectations on its adherents. Some cults, to be sure, utilize corporate discipline as a means of control, but I don’t think it is wise to base our strategy on a reaction to an overreaction. Just because a group crossed the line in training students or church members doesn’t mean that we should reject discipline altogether. Our challenge is to find appropriate levels of accountability that create healthy change in people.

On average, it takes at least three to four months to form a new habit. For that habit to take up residence in the heart and form the will may take even longer. Forming these habits requires a great deal of support, which even those outside the church acknowledge. Consider the process of escaping an addiction to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or other destructive behaviors. The recovery movement understands the need for process. But for some reason when developing positive habits that lead to Christ-like qualities, we tend to downplay the importance of establishing a long-term process for growth. The behaviors we want to change may be less destructive than addiction to alcohol or drugs, or they may just be harder to see, similar to the difference between trying to convince a person with stage-four cancer to see a doctor and trying to persuade someone who feels pretty good to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Our challenge in convincing people of the need for discipline it is always harder to reach those who don’t see their need for help.

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This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.

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