Church Discipline: How to Grow Towards Full-Fellowship

Talking about going through church discipline is taboo in Mormon culture.  It seems we’ve grabbed the idea that anyone needing church discipline should experience shame from the process and therefore don't talk about it.  I know I had a lot of shame around it.  But that kind of shame is toxic to us both emotionally and spiritually.  After going through my church discipline, I’ve learned the process is more of a spiritual medical treatment when we’ve injured ourselves from making poor choices.  Here are 10 things I learned in growing towards my full-fellowship:

1.    Build a relationship with God.  If we truly want to grow towards full-fellowship, God must be the center of our lives and this journey.  As we focus our hearts and behaviors towards Him, we receive power to resist temptation and qualify ourselves to feel of His love and receive His guidance. 

2.    We can still have spiritual experiences and receive personal revelation from God when not in good standing.  Some of my most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had came when I wasn’t able to enter the temple or partake the sacrament.  These sacred experiences motivated me to continue the difficult path of repentance and guided me to things I needed to do.  Most importantly, these experiences came after I decided to repent and give my will to God.

3.    Be anxiously engaged in our spiritual development.   Find a time and place for a daily devotional with God.  I found after lunch was best for me because I could be present in my prayers and gospel study.  Attend church regularly though however hard and painful that may be.  I say painful because it was painful for me not being able to fully participate.  Visit the temple grounds in your Sunday dress and take time to sit with God.

4.    Utilize priesthood blessings often.  During this time of probation, I often doubted my ability to receive answers and guidance.  Receiving priesthood blessings strengthened my ability to recognize God’s hand in my life and to become confident in making correct choices.

5.    Meet with the bishop regularly.  These regular short visits with the bishop served two purposes:  1. For me to check in how I was doing 2. To share with the bishop what I was learning in my daily devotionals.  These visits helped both the bishop and I see the progress in my spiritual development and healing.  And if needs be, additional counseling and guidance was given.

6.    Find ways to serve in our ward and those around us.  During this time of probation, I wasn’t allowed to hold a church calling.  But God still expected me to serve in His kingdom.  I found ways to offer anonymous service, to reach out to others, and to develop my ability to recognize promptings to show kindness and compassion to others.

7.    Learn to forgive members and church leaders.  I had to learn to forgive members and church leaders who treated me unkindly or were judgmental because of my situation.  But God reminded me that if I wanted forgiveness for my sins, I must forgive them of theirs.  In the words of Elder Holland, “Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.” GCR, Apr 2013. 

8.    Let the EQ/RS know of our situation and ask for help.  If I were to do this over again, I would have stood up in my Elder Quorum and said, “Brethren, I’m not in good standing in the church so I won’t be able to help with blessings or other church assignments.  But I am going to need your help.  It’s going to be hard for me to stay active during this time.  Please, include me in your activities, put your arms around me and reach out to me, because this is going to be hard as I work through this.”  Trust and allow members to “… bear one another’s burdens, …willing to mourn with those that mourn, …and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” Mosiah 18:8-9.

9.    Share the repentance process with one or two trusted ward members.  I know I’m going to get backlash for this one: share a little more than, “I am not in good standing” with one or two members you can trust.  They don’t need the gritty details of what happened, but it helped me to process with someone else besides the bishop what I going through.   

10. Have patience with ourselves, God, and the process.  Working towards full-fellowship can seem painfully slow.  We need to be patient and kind to ourselves and not expect immediate dramatic improvements.  Setbacks happen, but never give up.  Trust in God’s loving forgiveness and His timetable.  And remember, forgiveness from God doesn’t have to wait for full-fellowship to be granted.