How Capshaw Church Forgave a Fallen Pastor

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How Capshaw Church Forgave a Fallen Pastor

In the last two blog posts, I have been recall­ing one of the most mem­o­rable moments of this fledg­ling min­istry — a church that came together to rec­on­cile with one of their for­mer pas­tors who had com­mit­ted adul­tery. (part 1, part 2) Bran­don Watkins, a for­mer pas­tor had com­mit­ted adul­tery and had reached out to me through my min­istry and asked that I go with him to his for­mer church for a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ser­vice. What we found there, we could not have conceived.

Cap­shaw Church in Huntsville, Alabama, pas­tored by Zach Terry, did some­thing that is rare these days, but shouldn’t be.zach

They reached out to their for­mer wor­ship leader, Bran­don Watkins, and gave him the chance to say he was sorry and they for­gave. It was an amaz­ing moment. I reached out to Bro. Zach Terry and inter­viewed him about this rare expe­ri­ence and our email exchange follows.

I also want you to know that if you are a church and your for­mer pas­tor has repented and been on the path of restora­tion, fol­low Cap­shaw Church’s lead and reach out. Allow the cir­cle of grace, for­give­ness and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion to be complete.

FP: Why did you decide to rec­on­cile with Bran­don now?

ZT: I believed that there had to be suf­fi­cient time to say with con­fi­dence that Bran­don was, “bear­ing fruit in keep­ing with repen­tance.” While we can never be cer­tain of another person’s heart deci­sions, his deci­sions looked more and more like those of a repen­tant man. This had been the case pro­gres­sively for sev­eral months.

FP: What were some things that were dif­fi­cult for you and the church in the past few years?

ZT: Some peo­ple left the vis­i­ble church entirely — jaded that a Pas­tor could have com­mit­ted such sin. Some cap­i­tal­ized on Brandon’s sin and used it to lever­age con­trol on cur­rent staff mem­bers under the guise of account­abil­ity — this was rare, but it did hap­pen. Beyond that, there was the typ­i­cal hurt and dis­ap­point­ment that comes when the real­ity of sin is revealed.

FP: Did Brandon’s return for the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion reopen old wounds? Over­all, was it help­ful for the church?

ZT: It was one of the most heal­ing things we’ve ever done. It think by the time it was com­plete every­one expe­ri­enced heal­ing and grace; there were no older broth­ers out­side the camp.

FP: What was the process you fol­lowed in putting this together or was this new to you?

ZT: It was totally new to me. We learned as we went. Basi­cally, it looked some­thing like this:

  • I stayed in con­tact with Bran­don, talk­ing on a monthly basis for over two years.
  • For about six months, Bran­don and I talked about the pos­si­bil­ity of him return­ing for such a service.
  • Bran­don con­sulted with all of his coun­selors and friends to see if they believed he was healthy enough to take this step.
  • I met with the lead­er­ship body of my church to get their approval on the service.
  • I met with those who had worked most closely with Bran­don to dis­cuss the service.
  • I met with those who raised con­cerns pri­vately to work through their issues.
  • We planned and pro­moted the event.

FP: Does rec­on­cil­i­a­tion mean restora­tion to you?

ZT: I do not believe Bran­don would ever be able to return to the office of Wor­ship Pas­tor at Cap­shaw. The sins he has com­mit­ted will haunt him here and the reproach would prob­a­bly never die. I believe it may be pos­si­ble for Bran­don to lead wor­ship again in a dif­fer­ent city, if his spir­i­tual health con­tin­ues to progress. That would be up to the local con­gre­ga­tion to dis­cern in my opinion.


To be frank, grace is awk­ward. Grace is messy at times; I’m sure we didn’t get it all right and per­fectly dot every “i” and cross every “t.” But as dan­ger­ous, messy and awk­ward as grace some­times is — GRACE IS GOOD.“


FP: As a pas­tor, what were some impor­tant things you stressed to the con­gre­ga­tion? What did you want your con­gre­ga­tion to learn?

ZT: I stressed the stark real­ity of grace — on a prac­ti­cal level. I stressed the fact that there are no guar­an­tees given to a con­gre­ga­tion when it shows grace. There is no way for me to prove infal­li­bly that Bran­don is repen­tant, there­fore there is always a mea­sure of risk involved in grace.

img_3501To be frank, grace is awk­ward — Brandon’s return made some peo­ple uncom­fort­able. Grace is messy at times; I’m sure we didn’t get it all right and per­fectly dot every “i” and cross every “t.” But as dan­ger­ous, messy and awk­ward as grace some­times is — GRACE IS GOOD.

FP: How would a church know if they are ready to do this sort of thing with a for­mer pas­tor?

ZT: I think you get to a point that you real­ize it would be a sin NOT to rec­on­cile. If the for­mer Pas­tor is repen­tant and time has seemed to prove that fact — then you will find your­self feel­ing guilty every time you ask God for grace while simul­ta­ne­ously refus­ing to extend it. It is then that you know it’s time to offi­cially reconcile.

FP: What sur­prised you about the reconciliation?

ZT: I was sur­prised that not every­one was in favor of the deci­sion to rec­on­cile pub­licly. A few had some strong emo­tions to work through. Specif­i­cally, it was dif­fi­cult for some to see Bran­don pub­licly sing again. Some wanted Bran­don to pub­licly and ver­bally repent but thought that he should not be allowed to sing. We had to work through the con­cept that singing is sim­ply thoughts set to melody. I pro­posed that if we were to allow Bran­don to speak the words, but not sing them, we would be ele­vat­ing the tal­ent of singing to an unbib­li­cal place.

It was very impor­tant to me that Bran­don be invited to sing at the con­clu­sion of the ser­vice. I felt that there was no bet­ter way for us to com­mu­ni­cate the grav­ity of grace than to allow him this oppor­tu­nity. I had not planned to say this, but it occurred to me as I brought Bran­don up for the final song that, “Angels can sing the glory of God, but only a repen­tant man can sing the grace of God.


I felt like this was a once in a life­time oppor­tu­nity to show the world that grace and its effect is just as real as sin. I had often quoted oth­ers who said, “your repen­tance needs to be as broad as your sin.” The only way for that to hap­pen for Bran­don was to allow him a very pub­lic forum to apol­o­gize and seek forgiveness.”


FP: What did you learn about your church?

ZT: I learned that the over­whelm­ing major­ity of peo­ple in my church are HUGE fans of grace. I learned how much love they had for a fallen brother. I learned the power of lead­ing with grace.

FP: What was at the heart of all of this? What I mean is, this doesn’t hap­pen. Why Cap­shaw? Why even try when you knew peo­ple might have old wounds opened? Was there a moment you thought it might be a bad idea?

ZT: In 2012 we saw that sin and its effects are real. I felt like this was a once in a life­time oppor­tu­nity to show the world that grace and its effect is just as real as sin. I had often quoted oth­ers who said, “your repen­tance needs to be as broad as your sin.The only way for that to hap­pen for Bran­don was to allow him a very pub­lic forum to apol­o­gize and seek forgiveness.

FP: You and Bran­don have been friends for a long time. Did that make it eas­ier or more difficult?

ZT: I’ve always been harder on Bran­don because of our friend­ship. I think our friend­ship caused me to per­haps go slower. I feel like I know him bet­ter than most and I could tell when he wasn’t being legit and when he was.

FP: What parts of your spe­cific expe­ri­ence in rec­on­cil­ing with Bran­don would you pass on to churches who want to do this?

ZT: Cel­e­brate like Jesus! Jesus is the shep­herd who cel­e­brated over the one recov­ered sheep more than over the ninety nine who never strayed. Jesus is the prodigal’s father who throws a party at the return of his lost son. Bap­tize a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ser­vice in the spirit of cel­e­bra­tion. If there was ever an occa­sion for a Bap­tist buf­fet — this is it.

Zach Terry is the Senior Pas­tor of Cap­shaw Church. He preaches there on a weekly basis as well as speak­ing at con­fer­ences and events. He is the author of, “Our Spir­i­tual Bat­tle­field. ” Zach and his wife Julie have three chil­dren – Carly, Cole and Cait­lyn. They all live in Athens, Alabama where Zach is fin­ish­ing up his Mas­ter of Divin­ity with The South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary this summer.

_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​

Ray Car­roll is the author of “Fallen Pas­tor: Find­ing Restora­tion in a Bro­ken World,” which answers many of the ques­tions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pas­tor who needs to talk or you are some­one who has been affected by a fallen pas­tor and would like to con­tact me pri­vately, please click here. You are the main rea­son this min­istry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, asso­ci­a­tion, con­fer­ence, or news out­let and would like more infor­ma­tion about this min­istry, please click here.

In the last two blog posts, I have been recalling one of the most memorable moments of this fledgling ministry – a church that came together to reconcile with one of their former pastors who had committed adultery. (part 1, part 2) Brandon Watkins, a former pastor had committed adultery and had reached out to me through my ministry and asked that I go with him to his former church for a reconciliation service. What we found there, we could not have conceived.

Capshaw Church in Huntsville, Alabama, pastored by Zach Terry, did something that is rare these days, but shouldn’t be.zach

They reached out to their former worship leader, Brandon Watkins, and gave him the chance to say he was sorry and they forgave. It was an amazing moment. I reached out to Bro. Zach Terry and interviewed him about this rare experience and our email exchange follows.

I also want you to know that if you are a church and your former pastor has repented and been on the path of restoration, follow Capshaw Church’s lead and reach out. Allow the circle of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation to be complete.

FP:  Why did you decide to reconcile with Brandon now?

ZT: I believed that there had to be sufficient time to say with confidence that Brandon was, “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance.” While we can never be certain of another person’s heart decisions, his decisions looked more and more like those of a repentant man. This had been the case progressively for several months.

FP: What were some things that were difficult for you and the church in the past few years?

ZT: Some people left the visible church entirely – jaded that a Pastor could have committed such sin.  Some capitalized on Brandon’s sin and used it to leverage control on current staff members under the guise of accountability – this was rare, but it did happen. Beyond that, there was the typical hurt and disappointment that comes when the reality of sin is revealed.

FP: Did Brandon’s return for the reconciliation reopen old wounds? Overall, was it helpful for the church?

ZT: It was one of the most healing things we’ve ever done. It think by the time it was complete everyone experienced healing and grace; there were no older brothers outside the camp.

FP: What was the process you followed in putting this together or was this new to you?

ZT: It was totally new to me. We learned as we went. Basically, it looked something like this:

  • I stayed in contact with Brandon, talking on a monthly basis for over two years.
  • For about six months, Brandon and I talked about the possibility of him returning for such a service.
  • Brandon consulted with all of his counselors and friends to see if they believed he was healthy enough to take this step.
  • I met with the leadership body of my church to get their approval on the service.
  • I met with those who had worked most closely with Brandon to discuss the service.
  • I met with those who raised concerns privately to work through their issues.
  • We planned and promoted the event.

FP: Does reconciliation mean restoration to you?

ZT: I do not believe Brandon would ever be able to return to the office of Worship Pastor at Capshaw. The sins he has committed will haunt him here and the reproach would probably never die. I believe it may be possible for Brandon to lead worship again in a different city, if his spiritual health continues to progress. That would be up to the local congregation to discern in my opinion.


To be frank, grace is awkward. Grace is messy at times; I’m sure we didn’t get it all right and perfectly dot every “i” and cross every “t.” But as dangerous, messy and awkward as grace sometimes is – GRACE IS GOOD.”


FP: As a pastor, what were some important things you stressed to the congregation? What did you want your congregation to learn?

ZT: I stressed the stark reality of grace – on a practical level. I stressed the fact that there are no guarantees given to a congregation when it shows grace. There is no way for me to prove infallibly that Brandon is repentant, therefore there is always a measure of risk involved in grace.

img_3501To be frank, grace is awkward – Brandon’s return made some people uncomfortable. Grace is messy at times; I’m sure we didn’t get it all right and perfectly dot every “i” and cross every “t.” But as dangerous, messy and awkward as grace sometimes is – GRACE IS GOOD.

FP: How would a church know if they are ready to do this sort of thing with a former pastor?

ZT: I think you get to a point that you realize it would be a sin NOT to reconcile. If the former Pastor is repentant and time has seemed to prove that fact – then you will find yourself feeling guilty every time you ask God for grace while simultaneously refusing to extend it. It is then that you know it’s time to officially reconcile.

FP: What surprised you about the reconciliation?

ZT: I was surprised that not everyone was in favor of the decision to reconcile publicly. A few had some strong emotions to work through. Specifically, it was difficult for some to see Brandon publicly sing again. Some wanted Brandon to publicly and verbally repent but thought that he should not be allowed to sing. We had to work through the concept that singing is simply thoughts set to melody. I proposed that if we were to allow Brandon to speak the words, but not sing them, we would be elevating the talent of singing to an unbiblical place.

It was very important to me that Brandon be invited to sing at the conclusion of the service. I felt that there was no better way for us to communicate the gravity of grace than to allow him this opportunity. I had not planned to say this, but it occurred to me as I brought Brandon up for the final song that, “Angels can sing the glory of God, but only a repentant man can sing the grace of God.


 I felt like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to show the world that grace and its effect is just as real as sin. I had often quoted others who said, “your repentance needs to be as broad as your sin.” The only way for that to happen for Brandon was to allow him a very public forum to apologize and seek forgiveness.”


FP: What did you learn about your church?

ZT: I learned that the overwhelming majority of people in my church are HUGE fans of grace. I learned how much love they had for a fallen brother. I learned the power of leading with grace.

FP: What was at the heart of all of this? What I mean is, this doesn’t happen. Why Capshaw? Why even try when you knew people might have old wounds opened? Was there a moment you thought it might be a bad idea?

ZT: In 2012 we saw that sin and its effects are real. I felt like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to show the world that grace and its effect is just as real as sin. I had often quoted others who said, “your repentance needs to be as broad as your sin.The only way for that to happen for Brandon was to allow him a very public forum to apologize and seek forgiveness.

FP: You and Brandon have been friends for a long time. Did that make it easier or more difficult?

ZT: I’ve always been harder on Brandon because of our friendship. I think our friendship caused me to perhaps go slower. I feel like I know him better than most and I could tell when he wasn’t being legit and when he was.

FP: What parts of your specific experience in reconciling with Brandon would you pass on to churches who want to do this?

ZT: Celebrate like Jesus! Jesus is the shepherd who celebrated over the one recovered sheep more than over the ninety nine who never strayed. Jesus is the prodigal’s father who throws a party at the return of his lost son. Baptize a reconciliation service in the spirit of celebration. If there was ever an occasion for a Baptist buffet – this is it.

Zach Terry is the Senior Pastor of Capshaw Church. He preaches there on a weekly basis as well as speaking at conferences and events. He is the author of, “Our Spiritual Battlefield. ” Zach and his wife Julie have three children – Carly, Cole and Caitlyn. They all live in Athens, Alabama where Zach is finishing up his Master of Divinity with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary this summer.

__________________________

Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

10 comments

  • What a beautiful example of following the Biblical model of accountability and forgiveness! Why are we surprised that it worked? God’s ways are always best! Thank you for sharing this.

  • Ray
    Thanks for being a megaphone for the work of God’s grace.

    • Roy, that is the kindest thing anyone has said to me in a long time. But I have to give the glory to God, as you know. He has brought us all up from the dregs of our sin. Even those of us in this world who haven’t realized we are in it. There we days in my pastorate that I was so engulfed in my self-righteousness that I would had scoffed at a site like this. I would have thought that a blog like this was ridiculous.

      Now, on the other side I see the need for grace and forgiveness for anyone in the body of Christ who commits a sin and desires to be forgiven. It’s right there in Galatians 6:1. We are to be a body of Christ who reconciles those who repent and are being restored. We are to complete the circle of reconciliation. We are the active work of Christ on earth – and we are to love those in our body of faith who have wandered, gone astray, and have returned. And when they return, we are to celebrate – loudly. And with wonderful joy.

      Roy, you’ve been doing that for years. And I love you for it. Keep it up, my friend. I feel that our ministries are starting to converge and they are beginning to bear even greater fruit. God is beginning to bless those wandering sheep – those sheep who Christ rejoiced over. May the church rejoice over them as Christ did.

  • This story warmed my heart beyond words and was a wonderful eye opener to how we all should imitate Christ and extend grace to everyone. What I found in myself, after reading this is that my heart is open to extend grace and gently restore any brother or sister who has fallen to sin. What has been my challenge as a Director of Music is that individuals seem to not have a desire to repent from their sinful lifestyles. For example, one of the key musicians on the team I lead, was separated from his wife, but had taken up with and ultimately moved in with one of the vocalists on the team. My desire was that our Senior Pastor and I work with both of the members to help them come to a place of repentance. However, the senior pastor did not want to take that route and allowed the members to continue to serve and the other members on the team liked them and felt the team needed them. My husband (lead our men’s ministry) and I were truly burdened. I resigned from my position over the music ministry after some time in which the pastors and leaders allowed the musician to take leadership over the team, and yes, this is while he was residing as a married man, with another member of the church. Other members and leaders in our church left the church as well. What I realized after reading this story of Capshaw’s extension of grace, love and reconciliation, was that the reason it may seem foreign to so many people of God in churches today is because some churches are already unhealthy and not utilizing God’s biblical principles to function and navigate life, therefore, it would be difficult for them to understand how to properly care for individuals and see them come to a place of true relationship in Christ. Thank you for sharing this.

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