One of the questions that can come up when looking at church discipline is what to do when people have special needs. I am not referring just to those individuals who have a physical or mental handicap that could affect their understanding or behavior, but I am also referring to people who have emotional issues, high stress, a recent loss, significant conflict, past trauma, etc. Life has so many issues that can arise that could affect how church discipline is walked out or how a person responds to the discipline. How the situation is handled could be the difference between whether the person sees it as discipline or feels they have been abused.

There are two key issues to keep in mind with this topic: 1) The purpose of church discipline is addressing sin and incorrect thinking/behavior 2) We need to know people’s stories in order to best address issues in their lives.

If we have taken the time to know people’s stories and know what is going on in their lives we should know if it is a good time to address the sin in their life, if there are issues in their life that could complicate the addressing of sin, and how best to approach an issue. For example if their child has been in the hospital all weekend and you try to address an issue they may not emotionally be able to handle the impact of what you are addressing. Also, if they have been hurt by churches/pastors/authority figures/men in the past you might want to approach the addressing of the issue in a different manner.

However, the purpose of the church discipline is to address sin. We should not just walk away from addressing sin because someone has a special issue that may complicate things. The situation might allow you to delay things for a short time to allow the other circumstances to calm down, but for issues like at risk behavior, an affair, illegal activity, etc. the delay of confronting issues could cause the sinner and others problems if things are not addressed as soon as possible. In that case you just need to try to address the situation as honestly and lovingly as possible.

The most loving thing we can do is to try to address sin with as much love, grace, and honesty as possible, but not to walk away and leave things unaddressed. Loving others means speaking into their lives and helping them to become the people that God wants them to be. Sometimes it is messy, but the end results are great!