Of the $569 billion that will be donated to Christian causes this year world-wide, about 6% or $35 billion will be laundered, embezzled, or otherwise lost to “unscrupulous ministers living too high on the hog,” according to a report by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
That report was cited in last Sunday’s Wall Street Journal, which featured a story on church finances (Trust in the Lord…But Check Out the Church) and how, sadly, churches are not immune from embezzlement, tax evasion, and fraud.
It breaks my heart, and must break the heart of God even more, that some pastors and church leaders would steal from their church, and the Lord, and use those resources for their own gain.
And I’m sick of hearing of shysters who invoke God’s name and blessing to get people to “invest” in their Ponzi schemes…and of Christians who fall for these “too good to be true” scams without using discernment.
We all need to be faithful stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us. It’s his money, and we’ll give an account of what we’ve done with it.
How to Protect Yourself from Church Embezzlement & Ponzi Schemes
What can pastors, Christians, and churches do protect themselves from embezzlement and fraud?Here are a some ideas from the Journal article and my own thoughts:
1. Pastors should always keep church funds separate from their own funds – Never use church credit card or funds for your own personal expenses. And never borrow church funds for your own needs with the promise to pay it back later. Be sure to keep good records (including receipts) of all your legitimate church expenses.
2. Don’t Give in to Greed – In your desire to get a good return on your money, don’t give into greed or the idea that someone has a secret investment trick or opportunity that no one else knows about. If someone tells you about an investment that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
3. Be Accountable – Pastors, churches and nonprofits should make regular financial reports available. Some churches do it once a year at the annual church business meeting, others provide it more frequently. Some churches and ministries post their budget on their website.
4. Work as a Team – One person should not have complete control over the organization’s money. Be sure there’s a finance committee or other team of people who are responsible for making sure the monies are being handled properly.
5. Be Alert – If a church or ministry leader is not willing to answer your questions or is evasive, it could mean trouble. “Defensive or evasive behavior and an unwillingness to answer questions on the part of the minister or whoever is in charge of the church’s finances may indicate funds aren’t being used as the donor intended,” according to Victoria Collins, a certified financial planner in Corona Del Mar, California. If this happens, you have a responsibility to take your concerns to the finance committee, deacons or elders.
Have you ever been in a situation where you thought church or ministry funds weren’t being handled properly? What did you do about it?
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