Restorative Discipline

Prior to coming to Covenant College in 2004, my wife and I worked in a Christian school for twenty-three years. For the last twelve or thirteen years of my time there, I served as the upper school principal, and in that role I had many opportunities to see God’s grace at work, particularly in and through the discipline process.

One of the students in our school for grades 7–12 was a young man named Chris. I don’t know whether Chris has ever met his father, who is serving a lengthy prison sentence for armed robbery; his mother struggled to make ends meet while working valiantly to keep the family intact. In God’s providence, Chris came to our Christian school and did well for many years, but during his junior year, we discovered that Chris and a group of four or five other boys had been stealing money, equipment, and other things from our school over a number of weeks. We were faced with a serious discipline issue. We decided early on that we wanted to administer the needed discipline, which included suspensions, counseling, restitution, and other steps, in the context of the grace of Jesus, with restoration and reconciliation as the end goal.

I suppose the easy thing to do would have been to expel all of the offending students for their theft and lying; believe me, we felt that pressure from some constituents to do just that. However, we decided to pursue a different route, one that was messy, time-consuming, and caused some people to question the wisdom of the school administration. Our plans did not work well with one student (who later was expelled after further problems with drugs, alcohol, and ultimately an arrest), but God began to work in Chris’s heart and life. It didn’t happen immediately. In fact, Chris was quite angry and unresponsive to me for the rest of his junior year and most of his senior year as well, but he made it to graduation. He went away to college and had a wonderful four years in which he excelled academically, grew as a Christian, and fulfilled a number of important functions, including leadership of the Baptist Student Union. In fact, he was the only senior who had a graduation speaking role four years later in a school that graduated hundreds of students.

My wife and I have stayed in touch with Chris, and today he is ministering in a difficult urban ministry in Memphis—extending the grace of Jesus to others—while finishing up seminary training in order to be a pastor. Recently, Chris and I exchanged e-mails, and here is part of what he wrote to me: [This is only part of the article. Want to read more? Subscribe to the website by choosing "Register" from the menu above. It's free!]