March 9, 2024

Christ’s Love in Action

A young adult reflects on church discipline

Mark Standey
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Twenty-two years ago Pastor Mark Standey and his wife, Donna,* were instrumental in forming a group of new believers on two public university campuses. The following story is a personal account of how redemptive church discipline transformed the life of one of their young adult members.

Heather was an Adventist student. She loved church and Sabbath School, liked the songs they sang, looked forward to getting together with friends on Friday night, but she didn’t fully understand what it was like to have a daily friendship with God. It wasn’t until things began to fall apart in her life that she realized her need for a deeper relationship with Him.    

Heather met a young man on campus, and they began dating exclusively. Her boyfriend wasn’t an Adventist, and as their relationship began to intensify, Pastor Mark talked with her intentionally about some of the warning signs he had seen in their relationship. Heather confirmed his concerns by admitting she was pregnant.

A Plan is Formed

With a spirit of Christian love and discipleship, the pastor and church leadership came alongside Heather and her boyfriend. In a church business meeting they formalized a plan to assist the young couple—the men of the church would encourage her boyfriend spiritually and help him feel confident in his commitment to marry Heather. The women would embrace her in her pregnancy and become stand-in spiritual mothers for her during this experience. The church’s ultimate objective was “How can we redeem these young people and especially the baby in this situation?”

Heather was uncomfortable with the attention at first—she wasn’t the type to cause trouble—but appreciated that members didn’t shame or shun her. She had expected a different reaction: Oh! You’re a church member, pregnant and unmarried? Shame on you.  

In a recent conversation with Pastor Mark, Heather told him, “I was glad that the church came beside me. They didn’t condone what I did, but they also didn’t condemn me. They loved on me, and they loved on my son.” Heather’s boyfriend, John, had a slightly different experience. He appreciated the care the members showed him at first, but soon began to resent their help. Heather and John eventually married, but their union didn’t last long.

Looking back now, Heather believes it was the members coming alongside her that kept her in the church. Pastor Mark says that is the ultimate goal of church discipline and discipleship—to redeem, to come alongside and strengthen the person’s spiritual walk. “Many times,” he says, “when there is a discipline situation, the heart is hardened, and people don’t view the local church family in a positive light while going through the process. Heather’s reaction is extraordinary.”

Heather explains why she responded positively. “When you know you’re still loved even though you’re being disciplined; when people call to see how you’re doing, to ask if you need a ride to church on Sabbath or whatever it happens to be, you’re a lot less likely to stay home in bed (even though that’s more convenient and comfortable) than if you feel as though you’ve been disciplined and everyone in the church is gossiping about you, accusing you or whatever the case may be.” For her, church was where her friends were, and they continued to be her friends, even when she made a mistake.

Love in Action

Heather doesn’t know where she would be right now had it not been for caring people within the church being there for her in a difficult time. “They showed Christ’s love in action,” Heather says. They picked her up, gave her rides to the grocery store, gave her a job where she could keep her baby with her. Donna took a special interest in Heather, giving her advice, going to birthing classes with her, and being present for her baby’s birth.

Pastor Mark asked Heather what advice she would give local pastors and congregations considering what he terms “carefrontation” or difficult conversations with members about cohabitation, sex before marriage, or pregnancy and walking alongside people during these dark or challenging times. “Do it very prayerfully and make sure that you are being led by the Holy Spirit,” she says,” because not everyone is ready for a ‘carefrontation.’ And do it in love.”

That’s good advice for any church or local leader. Most often the focus is on Bible studies and baptism, but what happens in the daily life, especially when mistakes are made? We need the family of God to surround us, to help us see blind spots and areas of necessary growth in our characters. That is the true purpose of discipline or discipleship. Jesus said it is not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick (Matt. 9:12). Heather says, “A lot of us are good at going to church and wearing ‘perfect masks’ every Sabbath. What we forget is that it is a place where people are having struggles. We’re not as understanding and forgiving as we should be sometimes.” 

Heather firmly believes Hebrews 12:6: “For whom the Lord loves He chastens.” She says, “If you love someone, you don’t just let them keep doing the thing that is destroying them. You say something to them about it. And when you must discipline someone, it should come from a place of love, not of condemnation.”

Today Heather is active in her local church, teaching Sabbath School and leading out in a small group Bible study—a remarkable testimony to redemptive discipline and Christ’s love in action. She raised her son in the church, and he now attends an Adventist university. 

*All names have been changed to protect the individuals involved.