By Carl Stagner
Six years ago, the congregation heard the news they never expected to hear. Their pastor had confessed to a moral failure and would resign immediately. Without the sovereign hand of God at work in both the pastor and congregation, this could have easily been the end of the story. Instead, biblical reconciliation, humble hearts, and an unquenchable love for one another prompted what happened next. God’s plan would involve a marriage that held together and now thrives, the complete restoration of a minister of the gospel, and a renewal of fellowship between a pastor and the congregation he’d once served. The story of Pastor Paul Sheppard’s impact in the Church of God and beyond has only just begun.
For a time, it seemed that hell had won. Though it robbed Paul and Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, California, of varying degrees of innocence, time, and unity, the gates of hell could not ultimately prevail against the church Jesus established. In the Church of God, we’ve come to recognize that Jesus Christ is all about reclaiming what hell has stolen. This was never more plainly on display than on Sunday, November 22, at Abundant Life. The church Paul currently pastors and the church he once pastored came together to worship together. “It surpassed anything I ever thought or could have imagined,” Archelle Funnié explains. “The worship was like heaven on earth.”
Archelle, an elder at the church who has been a part of the thriving Mountain View congregation for twenty years, cannot overstate the significance of what has taken place. “This is huge,” he explains. “It all began when one of our elders, Sanjay Poonen, went out on his own and reached out to Paul to ask him to lunch. Sanjay wasn’t an elder at the time of Paul’s resignation. All he wanted to talk about is how we can come together in Christ.” Through a series of meetings that followed, the board of elders at Abundant Life were able to clear the air. As a result, Abundant Life extended Pastor Paul an invitation to come and speak for the first time since his resignation six years ago.
Citing Ephesians 3:20, Paul Sheppard has called it a miracle. “Given the emotional distance that developed between myself and the elders of ALCF in December 2009 and the months that followed, I never imagined the possibility of renewed fellowship,” Paul explains. “Even after my ministerial credentials were restored in August 2010, it seemed a sad certainty that I would never again have a meaningful relationship with the church I loved and pastored for twenty years. So when one of the elders requested a one-on-one meeting with me in the fall of 2014, I had no idea that this appointment would eventually lead to several candid discussions and the tearing down of years-old walls that had been built between myself and the elders.”
It wasn’t easy. Reconciliation never is. But no one could say it wasn’t worth the effort. “Both sides expressed deep regrets about how things were handled,” Paul continues. “As they answered my questions and as I answered theirs, we were able to gain a better understanding of all that had taken place, allowing us to settle unresolved issues in our hearts and minds.”
Archelle is overjoyed to have been a part of history-in-the making. The Renewal of Fellowship service was received by both Abundant Life Christian Fellowship and Destiny Christian Fellowship (Fremont, California) with open hearts and minds. As long as churches facing similar circumstances are willing to be firmly grounded in Scripture and have a deep desire for reconciliation and seeing people healed, Archelle believes this can happen at other churches, too.
“One of my favorite scriptures is, ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!’ (Psalm 133:1 KJV),” he explains. “We believe that God is pleased with the fellowship that we now share with our brother, Pastor Paul.”
Following the Renewal of Fellowship service, Pastor Paul posted on social media the following reflections, perfectly summing up the day’s events: “Well over two thousand people attended yesterday’s Renewal of Fellowship service at ALCF! God was glorified, saints edified, Satan horrified, souls saved!”
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