Mayberry Church Discipline

Posted on November 8th, 2011
Image © jimmywayne | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

One of my all time favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show is titled, “Opie the Birdman”. 7-year old Opie brings home a slingshot, and in spite of Andy’s warnings to be careful with it, he manages to accidentally kill a mother bird, leaving three orphan baby birds with no one to take care of them. After a little shrewd parenting by Andy, Opie raises the birds, then eventually lets them go when they’re old enough to take care of themselves. Apparently I’m not the only one who liked the episode—Andy Griffith and Ron Howard both say it was their favorite too.

But what does an episode like this have to do with the church? Well, if you look at discipleship and pastoring as analogous to parenthood, then plenty. If you get a chance sometime, watch the episode, because I believe there are four lessons you can pick up about leadership and discipleship.

  1. You can inform your flock about the danger of sin, but you should give them freedom to make their own decisions. I learned this the hard way when I was in youth ministry. You can’t be with the people you minister to 24/7, and you can’t make their decisions for them. Even if you could, you wouldn’t be a pastor or mentor, you’d be a puppeteer. That’s not Christianity. Andy could have taken the slingshot from Opie immediately, but without some freedom to take responsibility and make mistakes, Opie might never have learned a couple of valuable lessons.
  2. When you need to confront someone about sin, don’t try to do the work of the Holy Spirit and the person’s own conscience. Andy could tell that Opie had killed the bird because it was obvious that it was already bothering Opie. When Opie asked if he was going to get spanked, Andy told him no, then opened the window and told Opie to listen to the sound of the baby birds crying for their mother. Some people might think it harsh to put a 7 year old through such an experience, but rather than use physical punishment or a lecture, Andy allowed Opie’s own conscience to teach him the lesson. Kids forget spankings and talks pretty quickly, but they don’t forget it when their consciences deal with them.
  3. Teach people that being forgiven doesn’t necessarily mean the natural consequences of our sin go away. When Opie apologized, Andy told him that saying sorry wouldn’t change the fact that the baby birds were now orphans. Opie even referenced this the next day when he decided to raise the birds himself. When we hurt others and make messes, God freely forgives us, but sometimes we have to fix the problems we’ve created.
  4. Support people when they take responsibility for their sin. This means putting your money where your mouth is. Andy didn’t remain angry at Opie—he offered encouragement to his son as took on the task of bringing up three baby birds. And when the neighbor’s cat became an issue, Andy even helped Opie get a cage. At the end of the show, it was Andy who encouraged Opie to take the most important step in raising birds—knowing when it was time to let them fly away and be on their own. Pastors and mentors aren’t there just to dish out advice—sometimes we have to be there to help with the details.

In an age where there’s a church on every other corner, pastors have to take a creative approach when it comes to discipline and accountability for church members. A heavy-handed approach is neither effective nor scriptural. A “live and let live” approach, on the other hand, might seem easy, but I don’t believe it’s good for Christians to have no accountability whatsoever. Effective discipleship requires it. Once again, there’s a middle ground that’s probably best. It’s amazing how an old classic sitcom can help you make sense of spiritual stuff.

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