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Following Procedure

by Tim O'Hearn

Back in the late 1990s the Navy, and many industries, implemented a system known as Total Quality Leadership (TQL) or Total Quality Management (TQM). As a result, Ford Motor Company started using the tag line, Quality is Job One. There were several aspects to TQL, including measurement of effectiveness, standardization, and cross-function cooperation. One of the tools that became the bane of many a secretary was the writing of Policies and Procedures (P&Ps). The purpose of a P&P was to define why a process or action was important to the company and give the steps to accomplish the procedure in a uniform manner. The theory was that if everyone followed the same steps, waste would be eliminated. Of course, that assumed that everyone would follow the procedure as written, without taking shortcuts.

Jesus once established a P&P for interpersonal relationships. Many Christians claim to follow it. Unfortunately a matter of translation into English has probably altered what Jesus intended.

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. (Matt 18:15-17)

The procedure is simple. Its early steps are pretty straightforward. If you have a problem with someone, the best way to deal with it is to talk to that person. It may be that you don’t understand why they did or said something. It may be that they didn’t intend to offend. If that person hears you, you have gained a brother or sister. The principle behind step one is that the fewer people involved in a dispute, the better.

It may be, however, that they intended to wrong you and they are unwilling to change or correct the problem. Under ideal conditions this can be fixed by cutting off all association with that person. If that is not possible, step two comes into effect. Take the issue to two or three witnesses. Talk out your differences before some disinterested parties, so that the issue doesn’t degenerate to “he said/she said.”

The witnesses are valuable in step three, and this is where many people make a mistake in following the procedure. Jesus was a Jew. When he spoke, he spoke in a way the Jewish people would understand. When he articulated this procedure the church had not been established. When he said to take the matter to the “assembly” (a more accurate translation), it is likely that he was telling the listeners (and they would understand him to be saying) to take it to the beit din, the Jewish court. This would still fall short of airing their dirty laundry to the whole world. The court would then make a decision in the matter, and most people would be none the wiser.

In the church, the elders are the equivalent of the beit din. Unfortunately, many people bypass the elders and broadcast the issue to the whole congregation. People then take sides and churches have been unnecessarily split. The principle of the fewest people being involved is violated.

How much heartbreak might be saved if we followed the apparent intent of what Jesus said? What if we interpreted the “assembly” to be the church leadership rather than the whole body? After all, the elders are the ones who have the authority to take action.