By Chris Turner
CLARKSVILLE — First Baptist Church, Clarksville, ended several weeks of turmoil when church leadership announced Sunday (Nov. 10) that it was officially ending its relationship with a pastoral candidate accused of “pastoral abuse.”
In each of the church’s two worship services, Mark Zirkle, chairman of deacons, read from a statement regarding the decision for the church to drop Wes Feltner as a candidate to fill the church’s vacant pastor position. During the search process, two women contacted the church’s pastoral search committee and accused Feltner of “pastoral abuse” regarding inappropriate relationships that happened 17 years ago when Feltner was their youth minister.
Feltner currently is the lead pastor of preaching and vision at Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville, Minn.
Some felt the decision to remove Feltner’s name from consideration moved slowly but evaluating the information the church was receiving took time to sort through, church leaders said. In the end, they recognized the process was a painful experience for many and the best decision was to end the relationship with Feltner.
In addition to the decision by First Baptist Church, Feltner, an adjunct professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was suspended last week from his teaching responsibilities by the seminary.
“We first want to say we regret the pain this process has caused to all those who had to relive the past events,” Zirkle read to the church from prepared comments, “Including these two young ladies and their families. We recognize the memory of days past is still very real and very raw. We truly feel sorry for any part we played in that journey. We pray that God will grant comfort and healing in the way that only He can do. We pray for the candidate and his family and ask God to continue working in their lives.”
The statement also noted that “for actions we have taken that did not bring glory to God, we humbly confess, and we ask His forgiveness. We are grateful for the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We embrace 1 John 1:9: ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ Our goal as God’s church is to bring glory to Him and we regret where we have failed to do that. We truly do seek to follow His will and His direction for us, so let us begin again in humility at the foot of the cross and humility toward one another.
Zirkle told the church that the pastoral search process had been a “long journey” to that point. The pastoral position became vacant when former pastor Larry Riley resigned Easter Sunday, 2018, and accepted a senior pastor role at a church in Indiana. The search committee was formed shortly after that, and a series of supply preachers and an interim have filled the pulpit since.
“We are grateful to these faithful members of our body who sought God’s leadership in every step,” Zirkle added. “They have done the greatest of due diligence in looking for God’s man and we appreciate their service to our church body. Effective immediately, we have dissolved our Pastor Search Committee and ended our relationship with all candidates.”
Zirkle said that the church would “seek a time of healing” and forgiveness from each other where it is needed. He said the search for a new pastor will resume after a short break as the church prays together. An interim pastor will be sought in the meantime.
Zirkel closed his comments by saying, “Our church has weathered a rough season, but [we] must endure because we love the Bride of Christ. We must embrace the wisdom of Scripture and bend our hearts in obedience to God’s Word. May Romans 15:5-6 be our congregation’s guiding light in the days ahead.” B&R