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.
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.
To 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.
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