Most gardeners will tell you that there's no growth without rigorous pruning. Dead or unproductive branches, vines, and growth need to be cut away so that the healthy plants can bloom. This same process is true for the church as well. Jesus said, "I am the true grapevine, and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn't produce fruit, and prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more" John 15:1-2.
Note that Jesus refers to two kinds of pruning in the church. The first is the removal of those members who aren't productive (or even counter-productive). These are removed altogether from the church through discipline for their unrepentant attitudes or simply by their own lack of faith and commitment. It's as if the Lord allows them to embrace what they really love which is the world and a life that excludes Him altogether.
Some are cut away suddenly and others, like a dying branch, fall away slowly over time but the results are the same. There comes a moment when they are no longer attached to the church and consequently, no longer attached to Christ Himself.
The other kind of pruning is the cutting back of productive branches so they will grow stronger. In the Lord this is accomplished through trials, temptations, challenges to greater service, disappointments, and various other methods that God uses to test our faith and expand our spiritual potential. This pruning is meant to cut away what hinders us from reaching a higher level of maturity in Christ. Although painful for a time, the results actually give more life and joy to those who endure it patiently.
We've had both kinds of pruning in our congregation lately as some have left the assembly for various reasons while others are faced with great challenges to their faith.
Let's realize that this pruning is accomplished by the Lord, doesn't last forever, and done to help the church to grow.