The recent series I posted on Abuse or Church Discipline comes from trying to work through my own current experience with church discipline. Three weeks ago my church elders sent me an email dismissing me from the congregation and ending all contact with the church body. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand and process this and I still am deeply confused about what has occurred.
Last summer I moved to a new town to join a newer church plant that was starting. It has been started by a nationally known ministry leader so I am cautious about what I say. First, I do not want to hurt his reputation or the reputation of the other elders or the planting church. However, there is a second hesitation, based on my pastor’s reputation who would believe me? Third, I still care very deeply for my pastor and hope that something can be repaired because I would like he and his family in my life.
I was abused in a church four and a half years ago. I have struggled to work through fears, insecurities, PTSD, trust for church leaders, and working through all sorts of issues around trusting my own judgment. After the abuse I have actually come to trust others more than myself, but at the same time am extremely cautious about being abused and manipulated because of that. So, I came here with cautions, but I was very honest with my pastor about what I had been through, my feelings and fears, my struggles with things at the new church, etc. Over time he started pushing on several issues. I now understand that he was trying to be a pastor and speak into my life, but at the time it came across as confrontational and as if he didn’t understand. I felt my boundaries were crossed and I started backing away because I was feeling unsafe and misunderstood. As I backed off he pressed further.
In April he became very direct and said that I needed to meet with he and an elder. I didn’t understand why, asked if sin was involved, and was told that I just needed to meet with them. It was the worst possible time for me as I was in the process of being laid off from work due to the economy, dealing with family issues, under huge stress due to a project at work, traveling due to work, etc. Emails escalated until he gave me an ultimatum that I had to give them a time I could meet or they would not communicate further, and I had already been told that if I was unwilling to meet that I was unsubmissive and would not be allowed to continue to be a part of the church. I felt cornered with no option but to meet with them. I did at their request, and through a two hour meeting they tried to address the communication struggles and why I had backed off from the pastor. I was told I had a huge fear issue in my life and was running away from God because I was not willing to communicate with them as my elders. They told me they felt I was unsubmissive and unteachable and I needed to change my attitude. I told them I wanted to but I was confused, didn’t understand how to change, and while I had come to this church to learn and grow I was overwhelmed and confused. By the end of the conversation I was in trauma and later that afternoon/evening it was so bad I probably should have been hospitalized as I was near suicide, completely distraught, and under spiritual attack. However the elders were unavailable to assist and I had been told I could not turn to others in the church for assistance.
It was about five weeks before I contacted the elders again and expressed that I wanted to close the loop on things and move forward. They had not contacted me during that time to see how I was doing or if I needed anything even though they knew I had been in crisis. We went back and forth a few times on email because they wanted to meet and I wanted to be sure I understood why since the last meeting had been so devastating for me. I was waiting to hear what time would work for them when I received this email.
We have come to a conclusion with regard to your relationship with ________. Your actions and words are in no way acceptable for a believer. You have twisted truth in order that you can have control. You are not teachable and you show absolutely no signs of submission to the Lord or an understanding of the gospel. And, now you have sought to drive a wedge of disunity within our body. If you don’t understand this and are confused by it, this just further demonstrates your twisting of truth. We suggest you consider the other church relationship examples in your life that have not ended well. The constant in all of these cases has been your involvement. We have spoken with everyone whom you have developed relationships with at ________ and we have explained the process leading up to this conclusion.
You are no longer welcome to associate with anyone involved in ________. You also need to know that no one at ________ will pursue communication with you or respond to any communication from you.
A response to this letter will not be opened.
After receiving message I went to the pastor’s house and asked to talk, he told me he would not speak with me and we were through. He said information had been expressed to my counselor, but after speaking with my counselor the information was little more than this email message.
It has been three weeks. Both my counselor and I have asked to meet with the elders but so far we have not received a response. No one from the church has reached out to me. I am unsure if I am even safe to go to another church as I have been labeled as a false believer and a threat to God’s church, and based on my pastor’s reputation no church really should accept me into their church.
I still don’t know how to process this whole situation. It appears I have been removed from the church because of the fears and struggles I have in trusting church leaders, a lack of understanding regarding elders roles and submission, and twisted understandings of God and scripture (which likely stems from poor teaching and previous abuse in my life).
I am not against church discipline, in fact the more I learn about it I think if it is done right it is probably the most loving thing we can do to people, but I wasn’t walked through a clear process, and the resulting decision to remove me from the church and cut me off both from the church body and possibly from other church relations leaves me feeling as if my pastor has communicated that I deserve to spend eternity in hell and there is no hope of repentance or change in my life.
Life is hard right now. I am still unemployed, have no church, have no local friends, and spend my days wondering if I can ever be in right relationship with God and restored to God’s church. God is showing me a lot of things and teaching me through this but trying to sort through it and not lose hope is a daily battle.
My heart is to hear God’s truth in the middle of this. Have I walked in sin? Absolutely, but I want to recognize what I have done and change. I desire a right relationship with God and others. Have the elders done something wrong? Maybe. There definitely were other options of how they could have walked this out, but they addressed sin and had a heart desiring to see me change and to protect the church body. I can’t be upset at them for that.
What comes next in this process of recovery? Trust God and believe in his word.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29)