An Open Letter to Someone with Whom Church Discipline Did Not Result in Restoration

This post is a supplement to the “church discipline process” document/training posted earlier. The goal of this series is to equip churches to conduct church discipline with restorative excellence. Reposted, with permission, from bradhambrick.com.

Friend,

I would imagine it is very difficult to receive a letter from your church or a Christian friend at this time. Thank you for your willingness to read what I have to say.

Reading this letter means you are at the end of a long journey that resulted in a conclusion that no one is happy with. The people on this journey were once friends, and even considered one another brothers and sisters in Christ. An unsatisfying conclusion to this kind of journey stings to put it lightly.

If I could give you one piece of advice at this juncture, it would be “reflect don’t react.” It would be easy to view what your church family did as closed-minded rejection on the basis of a sense of moral superiority. But for the stewardship of your own emotional and spiritual well-being, I would ask you to reflect on the following questions:

  1. Did your church family seem prideful or hateful in the church discipline process or did their tone and posture seem to genuinely want the best for you?
  2. Did the sins they asked you to forsake contribute to you flourishing or (if married) your family’s?
  3. Did your church family ask you do something more or different than what you covenanted to when you joined the church? Who changed; you or them?
  4. If you project the path of your life and those you love out 10 years, will life be better if (a) you continue to live as you are now, or (b) follow the recommendations made by your church family? This question is meant to invite you to reflect again on Jesus’ promise in John 10:10, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.”

You now have the freedom you wanted. The question is: how will you use it? The recommendation of this letter is that you use it intentionally rather than impulsively or haphazardly.

If you reflect on the question above and realize that your resistance to your church family was more rooted in stubbornness or pride than wisdom and virtue, my prayer is that God would give you two things in equal measure: courage and humility; courage to say the words, “I was wrong,” and humility to say them to your former church leaders.

Here is what that conversation might sound like:

I know you didn’t expect to hear from me, but there a few things I need to say. First, I know that the things you did in the church discipline process were because you loved me. I couldn’t see that then. I do now. Second, I realize the life Christ has for me is better than the life my sin would create. I didn’t want you to be right; at least, I didn’t want to be wrong. But I realize now, my pride will only lead to my isolation and life disruption. Third, I want to cooperate with the church’s efforts to restore. I can’t change by myself. I need Christ and I need the support of a church family. I know you’ve been praying for me to say these things for months, but my eyes are finally open and my heart is soft to say them now. Can we talk about what needs to happen next?

You would need to put these ideas into your words, but I pray they resonate with what you know to be best for your life and that you will ask God for the courage and humility to say them.

If you’re “not there yet,” my advice is “don’t let yourself forget.” Busy-ness and distraction keep us from so many important decisions. Print this letter and put it somewhere you will see it at least weekly. Allow the hard copy of this letter to draw your attention to unfinished business that needs an intentional decision.

As a way to conclude this letter, I would like to remind you of one final thing—God is still pursuing you (Hebrews 13:5). What your church family did—however skillfully or not—was meant to be prompt for you to see your need of this pursuit. The greatest joy you could bring God and your church family is to embrace that pursuit through repentance (Luke 15:7). I pray that soon you will see this pursuit as kindness and that it will draw you to repentance (Romans 2:8).

Brad Hambrick bio


Brad serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, NC. He also serves as Instructor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and has authored several books including Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends and God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles.

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Ed Vasicek's picture

A very good read.  I especially appreciated question 3:

Did your church family ask you do something more or different than what you covenanted to when you joined the church? Who changed; you or them?

Good letter.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

As a previous installment noted, discipline is messy. I appreciate the letter as a kind of template... and since this kind of practical church discipline advice is so uncommon, it's easy to say it's the best of its kind I've seen!

Though not necessarily agreeing with every bit of it, I've appreciated the whole series for working hard at the real world nuts and bolts of this important, though unpleasant and often complicated, work.

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