Protect Your Staff
Trust comes easily as you serve with others in ministry. They are family — your brothers and sisters in Christ. But by placing too much trust, by neglecting common-sense accountability structures, you may create an atmosphere of temptation for them. One pastor whom I greatly admire learned this lesson the hard way. He is not the first pastor to do so and, unfortunately, he will not be the last. I asked him to write a guest blog about his story hoping that our readers will take action to protect their staffs. This is a great pastor from a dynamic church. If it could happen to him, it could happen to anybody. He is a wise man. Please take his warning to heart and make every effort to protect your own people from this temptation.
“Do an audit and you will find financial misconduct,” said my district superintendent. Our elders and I protested that our executive/worship pastor would never embezzle funds. We were wrong.
After the initial audit and Certified Fraud Examiner’s report, it was confirmed that over $30,000 had been embezzled over three years, and it was estimated that the number could double. I cried. How could my friend, co-worker, and the brother who led me in worship for 16 years forge invoices and steal money from God’s people?
Early in the process, we terminated his employment. The church was in shock and asking questions, but because of the legal implications, we couldn’t share why. The elders and staff knew, and emotions were running high. Everyone was a mess. It’s amazing how a pastoral ethical failure will throw a church into turbulence.
Now what should we do? Do we sue? Should we turn it over to the county prosecutor? Do we settle out of court? Should we complete a full audit of everything for the past seven years? The initial audit cost the church nearly $10,000. Do we spend another $10,000 to find out if he may have stolen even more? How do we tell the church? What should we tell the church? How many people will leave the church? Will this be on the front page of the local newspaper? I hurt. We all hurt.
The consensus from our district and elders was to hand everything over to the police and county prosecutor. The best estimates were, if convicted, our former pastor may serve 10 to 20 years. Our attorney asked if I was ready for a lengthy trial and public exposure in the media. He described how the church would be known for the embezzlement scandal for many years to come. We had already invested over 7,000 hours of leadership time — we were completely worn out.
I proposed settling out of court. Our church lawyer and denominational lawyers agreed this was an option, if we desired. I wrote a settlement agreement that required a written confession and restitution paid within seven days. Our attorney, the district, and the elders approved of the plan. Our former pastor consented, wrote his confession, and paid the amount requested. But we were far from finished.
We called a church meeting. Our superintendent, elder chair, and I read prepared statements. Then I answered questions for over an hour from a packed church of hurt and frustrated people.
This all took place over a year ago. We have hired new staff and moved on with ministry. Two elders left our board, as well as approximately 10% of the church. By God’s grace, we have grown significantly over the past few months and are doing well. Praise God!
While I cannot begin to write in a couple paragraphs what I learned through this painful ordeal, I want to share two things.
First, protect your staff from Satan: do an audit every year. We placed a trustworthy person over our finances and trusted him. Sadly, we failed to take Satan at his word. I wish we had expected that Satan would fulfill his roll of tempting our brother with greed. If I had believed Satan more, and loved my brother more, I would have ensured that procedures, accountability, and audits were done to protect us from the enemy. Oh, I know that “if people want to sin, they will sin,” but I failed my brother by not having better safeguards around him. Today, we have procedures, accountability, and audits — something we will do every year!
Second, there is hope. It’s impossible to adequately describe the pain of this past year. Relationships have been torn apart, trust destroyed, hours spent in the counselor’s office, depression and medication, and volunteer leaders failing out of school. Yet God is faithful. He has healed, restored, and even grown our congregation. How humbling.
Please protect your financial people by placing good controls and accountability around them and by doing a financial audit every year. View these measures as guarding those you love. Have confidence that Satan will tempt your financial staff. Protect your staff, yourself, and your congregation to avoid a painful embezzlement scandal.