Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Cautionary Tale for Churches

The Courier Journal has a lengthy story on the downfall of the pastor of a Louisvillea area megachurch. The pastor allegedly lost over $160,000 of church funds by engaging in day trading. Ongoing audits are identifying additional areas of financial mismanagement and waste.

While some will dismiss this as another story of a corrupt clergyman, that would be a mistake. Christians, who believe in the universal reality of original sin and, thus, should have theological instincts to know better, are notoriously poor at establishing checks and balances that would inhibit the possibilities of temptation and vice. This is frequently true in churches that have outgrown their more simplified methods for accounting for and disbursing funds. If Solzenhitsyn was right that the line that divides good and evil cuts through the heart of every man -- and the Apostle Paul would agree that he was -- then churches should take care to establish appropriate accountability for the manner in which their leaders handle contributions.

All of this is complicated by the fact that many of the largest American churches have been built by charismatic pastors accustomed to deference by those who follow them. Such pastors, and lay leaders associated with them, sometimes ask for a degree of trust that exceeds the dictates of scriptural wisdom. Because many of the fastest growing churches are independent of any denominational structures, accountability is sometimes lacking.

To those pastors' defense, it might be suggested that they have frequently built trust by managing to overcome the most inane forms of embedded resistance to progress and growth in church structures. Nonetheless, while pastoral authority deserves a certain measure of respect, it does not merit unqualifed deference.

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