Every now and then, every pastor will feel the temptation to just let people do whatever they want. To teach what they know people want to hear. To setup the church in a way that people can, effectively, do and be affirmed in whatever they want.
These temptations usually roll round in the face of people not getting their way or not hearing something they wanted to hear (or hearing something they didn’t want to hear) and the church soon gets an earful. Perhaps someone said no to something they really wanted to do. Perhaps someone suggested they shouldn’t do something they currently are doing. Maybe it was something in a sermon. Perhaps it was something else altogether that you might not even know about. But what you know is they’re not happy.
The pull of a quiet life is strong under such circumstances. Nobody likes people being upset with them. Nobody likes people’s anger being directed at them. Nobody enjoys people flouncing out the door and insisting they are the problem. Wouldn’t life just be easier if we let people do whatever they want, think whatever they want, function however they want and just leave it with the Lord? As tempting as that is, the truth is it is not the right thing to do for number of reasons.
It is disobedient to Jesus
The bottom line is, we shouldn’t take this approach because it is not what Jesus demands of his church. When people are in sin, scripture calls us to address it with them. When people want to do things (or won’t do things) that go against the testimony of scripture, we need to address it. Jesus commands us to enact church discipline for the sake of his glory and honour. He is not honoured when we do not approach the church in the way he would have us function as a church. He is not honoured when we allow those who profess to love Jesus to live and act in ways that do not bring honour and glory to him.
It doesn’t serve the individual
In the end, as tempting as it is to just say ‘do whatever you want’, we are not serving another person’s good by doing that. If someone is deviating from God’s Word, if someone is moving away from the commands of Christ – whatever they may be – we serve their interests best by calling them back to faithfulness. As tempting as saying nothing may be, that is really just selfishness and cowardice on our part seeking a quiet life. If we really care about the good of others, we will want to call them back to faithfulness in Jesus even in the face of the relational strain that may cause us.
It doesn’t serve the wider church
So often, in matters of church discipline, we tend to think only in terms of the person in sin and the person seeking to address the sin. But there is a whole church of people watching on whose good we have to consider too. What are we communicating to them by not addressing the evident unfaithfulness? What are we communicating to them about the Lord Jesus by doing nothing about this problem? What are we communicating about the gospel by just kicking the can down the road? We have to consider what we are saying to the whole church, not just the person we are seeking to call back to Jesus.
It isn’t workable
Even if we want to be driven by pragmatism (and, for the avoidance of doubt, we shouldn’t be), this attempt to get a quiet life doesn’t even work. For every person we let do whatever they want, there is another person who think the exact opposite should be happening. If we take a ‘do whatever you want’ view, how do we hold diametrically opposed views together? You can’t both never mentioned sin (for the people who want that) and, at the same time, preach against sin (for those who think that is important). You can’t both allow certain sinful behaviours to pass and simultaneously placate those who think you shouldn’t let those sinful behaviours slide. You can’t front and centre the Word and the importance of teaching and, at the same time, front and centre something else that other people may think is important. In the end, the ‘do what thou wilt’ approach to church is entirely unworkable because, at the end of the day, you have to actually do something, which will inevitably upset some people somewhere.
Perhaps most counter-intuitively, if you pursue a ‘do what thou wilt’ approach, you may soon find those who you let do whatever they want soon get upset that you don’t seem to be doing very much at all. If they want you to preach less, so you do, they will soon begin asking what you are doing if not preaching? If they want you to disciple people, but object to being biblically discipled, they will soon wander what you are doing if you are simply letting everyone do whatever they like. These things are, ultimately, unworkable.
So, every now and then, that little temptation rears its head. Wouldn’t it be easier just to never have any difficult conversations with people? Wouldn’t it be easier to let people do whatever they want? Wouldn’t it be easier to let people remain in membership despite their sin, despite never fulfilling any of the responsibilities of membership, despite having no involvement in the church itself? Ultimately, the answer is no and we ought not to allow ourselves to give into it.