Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dealing with Discipline

During some down time in July I decided to give some extra attention to an online ministry I started around six years ago. It's a discussion list that has grown to several hundred members. With large numbers come rejoicing, but also administrative duties with which I admit I had gone lax. My lack of involvement because even more apparent when tensions arose during controverial discussions that contravened several of the forum rules.

I had a choice to either use my authority, or to shut the thing down completely. After careful prayer and consideration, I opted to keep it going. The first thing I needed was acocuntability as a leader, so I recruited a co-moderator, someone mature in the faith and whom I trust. We had several lengthy discussions both online and on the phone about how to handle the growing disagreements and in-fighting. We came to several conclusions:

1) The existing rules had to be enforced with greater authority.

2) New rules had to be created to handle new situations.

3) A process had to be established by which to deal with rule violations.

With regards to #3, we developed our own way of invoking a Matthew 18 process - otherwise known as discipline:

1) A first warning would be issued to the person privately, via e-mail.

2) A second warning would be given in the group itself.

3) If a need for a third warning emerged, the person would be expelled from the listserv, with public explanation.

We felt this would give people fair warning, as well as clear explanations of why discipline was being invoked. We announced the new rules and disciplinary procedures in a series of e-mails sent to the group.

And then it began.

People began arguing about the validity of the new rules (pretty much the ones who were breaking them in the first place). They said our Matthew 18 process really wasn't correct. They said we were wrong. They said we had no right to be doing this.

They are no longer part of the group.

Some people in the group were not happy about the stricter procedures, but were grateful the situation was dealt with and tensions loosened. Some outright don't agree with the rules, but know why they are there and respect them. Most of the rules deal with avoiding controversial topics that quickly spin out of control into personal attacks and arguments.

I learned a really eye-opening lesson about discipline. Just like in a real-life congregation, if someone needs to be disciplined, usually by the time the person is asked to leave the issue is no longer about what raised the need for the disciplinary procedures in the first place. It becomes about a person's pride, a person's unwillingness to follow the rules, and refusal to accept the other person's leadership and authority.

1 comment:

Karin said...

Rules are good. :) I really like your site and will be back often to read your 'latest!' L'Shalom, Karin