“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17)
As my wife and I walked into the sanctuary, we were met with the same fellowship we always get. But on this occasion, there was a sense of angst as everybody waited for the elders to speak. You see, this wasn’t Sunday service. It was a members-only meeting.
And just about everybody in the room—including my wife and me—knew what this meeting was about.
With brevity and soberness, our pastor stepped behind the stand and led the members in prayer. He had notes on the podium, which meant he’d be reading off a statement. As he read the statement, you could hear a pin drop—even though most knew what was coming.
Was one of the pastors leaving? Did one of the pastors disqualify himself from ministry? Is the church having difficulty with finances? No.
A member of the church—one that had been my closest friend—was being removed from membership due to willful unrepentance. Biblically, this is known as excommunication, and as you might can tell, it’s a sensitive subject. It’s even more sensitive when it comes to your church, to your closest friends.
Though I knew the announcement was coming, my emotions—along with my wife’s—were flying all over the place. This man, along with his wife, were a groomsmen and bridesmaid in our wedding. They were our closest friends, those who we could go to talk about anything.
Even still, I totally agreed with the decision to remove him from membership. And I still do. It wasn’t simply because of what I’ve heard (because I trust my pastors), but more importantly, what I had experienced firsthand.
With that said, I am not writing this blog to get into details. To be honest with you, I am writing this blog to get this information, this experience, this heartache out of my head. Though it’s been roughly two years since it took place, there has been a massive burden on my heart. A burden on my heart so large, so heavy, so painful that I have dreamed about the situation numerous times.
Friend, maybe you have experienced this, too. It’s difficult. It’s a sensitive topic—definitely when it visits your church. You don’t want to offend, hurt feelings, or accuse—but you must stay faithful to Scripture. So what should you do when this happens to a fellow church member? In my opinion, there’s only one thing you can do: pray.
Pray for the person’s repentance, for that is what we all want. We want him to come home, or at least reconcile even if that means attending a different church in good standing.
Pray for the person to be humbled, for one cannot have godly sorrow without humility. There is no such thing as prideful repentance. Hearts grow harder, and so God needs to break it.
There are so many other things to pray for, but those are two main ones.
This blog is more for me than anybody else. Pray for me, friend. Two years later and it’s still such a burden on my heart that, sometimes, I just don’t know how to handle it. But I also hope it encourages you, because we must remember that nobody is too far gone.