How to Handle Rebellion in Church

Unfortunately, the question of how to handle rebellion in church is one that often gets asked. Without knowing the details of your particular situation, I can’t speak directly to it, because every instance is somewhat unique. But, there are a few rules that apply in every case. The most important is that you can’t ignore the problem. It is never, ever easy to handle a situation like that, but no rebellious act has ever been resolved by silence.

The best process is the one Jesus outlined

First off, I’d suggest you go to the eldership of your church or another pastor in town and just make sure they agree that this is a case of rebellion, rather than a case of immaturity or an accident or just a different vision for the church.

Then, go to the person, one on one, and address the issue in a manner appropriate to the cause. If it’s simple error, teach them but don’t take it further. They were just ignorant. If it is a matter of maturity, then mentor them and be very patient, because maturity takes a while to arrive. If they have a different vision than the church has, then address that as well. I personally don’t think there is any reason why leaders should allow divergent visions for the church among the members, but you certainly shouldn’t treat a difference of vision the way you would treat heresy. If it’s a fundamental conflict in visions, then I don’t think there is anything wrong with helping the person find a church that shares their vision. It’s not being mean. It’s just recognizing that we are a body and different parts of the body have different functions. Liver cells have no business sitting around the heart and need to find their way on to the liver. If it is a case of rebellion, then you would, of course, need to come on a bit stronger than you might otherwise.

If the person doesn’t respond to the one-on-one talk you have with them, bring someone else along. An elder or pastor is generally the best choice (provided the pastor is from your church. Don’t spread this farther than you have to).

If the person doesn’t respond to that, then take the entire leadership team with you.

If they don’t respond to that, then it’s time to ask that they leave. Do this in a manner designed to bring about repentance rather than one that tempts them to get angry and harden their heart.

I hope you never have to ask someone to leave, but if you must:

1. Do it personally

Speak face to face, so they can see your heart and understand that this isn’t an easy choice. That helps them take the talk in the spirit it’s intended.

2. Do it in a gently

If there really is rebellion going on, it’s highly likely that at some point people are going to say untrue things about you and hurtful things about those you love. But, it doesn’t matter what is said or how much you or your loved ones are hurt, you must treat each person in a loving and caring manner, even if it is necessary to ask them to find another church.

3. Anticipate the results

If you know this talk could end with them leaving the church or leaving any leadership role they have, be prepared for that. If it is necessary for them to move on, then end their responsibilities in that very moment. If you don’t, then working in that capacity will just irritate and humiliate them as they are reminded of what happened. Shame isn’t conducive to repentance, and that will damage them further.

4. Be consistent in why you ask them to leave

It’s not right to ask that one person leave the church or leave leadership, then a year later when someone else does the same thing you don’t ask that person to leave. That communicates that you don’t treat people equally and it opens the door for people to gossip about “what really happened.” Decide on the exact standards by which you’ll choose your response and stick to them. If an offense could stem from an accident or immaturity rather than rebellion, then make sure you see that in advance and just give everyone grace in that situation.

5. It’s not necessary to tell them everything they did wrong

Share enough that the person understands why you are asking them to leave and enough that they understand the need to repent of any rebellion, but make sure your mouth closes before it gets to the point of crushing a person. There are many faults that are best handled by just growing in the Spirit. The person may never know they had that fault, and they don’t need to know. Maturity is all it takes to fix it. So, if you aren’t judicious in what you share, you could crush needlessly.

6. Whenever possible, help them find their next step

It could be that you actively help them find another church, in the case of differing visions. Or, if it’s a true case of rebellion against Biblical doctrines, their next step is to repent. Don’t shovel them off on another church. Offer a chance to repent and find forgiveness and, ideally, remain accountable to your church so they don’t have a chance to slip through the cracks.

7. Anticipate the problems

Who is going to be hurt by this decision? What will be their response and the fallout from that? Address any problems you foresee before they come to pass.