Richard Exley Ministries

How Does a Pastor Become an Embezzler?
Posted on October 08, 2009

Corruption is as old as the human race and none of us is immune. If we do not guard our hearts at all times and practice absolute integrity in all things, even the smallest matters, we risk falling prey. One of the most heartbreaking examples of a good man who fell into corruption involves a former staff member of a Bible Church in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He went to jail for embezzling almost $42,000 from the church over a six-year period. When I first learned of his crime I remember thinking, How could a minister do such a thing?

I was tempted to conclude that he was an aberration, an impostor, an evil man masquerading as a minister. Such a conclusion made his sinful dishonest easier to explain and it made it less likely that I might be capable of the same thing or something similar. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit the facts.

More likely he was a sincere man. No better and no worse than the rest of us. Somewhere along the way he took a wrong turn. Probably it seemed insignificant at the time. Perhaps he padded his expense account or hedged on his income tax return. Or maybe he was short of cash and “borrowed” from church funds until payday. He intended to pay it back, but somehow he never got around to doing it. After a while it was easier just to pretend it had never happened.

Had Satan tempted him to steal $42,000 in one lump sum it is not likely that he would have succumbed. Undoubtedly he considered himself an honest man, and there would have been no way he could reconcile a theft of that magnitude with his image of himself. Therefore Satan tempted him with “insignificant” amounts – twenty dollars here, fifty dollars there. And most likely he convinced himself that it was just a loan; he would pay it back.

It is safe, I am sure, to say that he did not plan to embezzle from his church. After all, if a man plans to misappropriate funds there are plenty of places more lucrative than a country church. Undoubtedly he backed into it one small compromise at a time. Somewhere along the line he opened his heart to the enemy, and before he knew it he was in over his dead. At the time of his resignation he told the congregation, “The depth of the deception is so ingrained, I do not know the scope of the amount of my stealing. I am dependent upon the elders and their audit to know the scope of my sin.”

In reality this is not about that minister but about us. The man or woman who wishes to live with integrity will learn from the mistakes of others. They will take those painful lessons and apply them to their own lives.  That being the case let me ask you some hard questions. “Is there any area of your life where you have allowed ‘insignificant’ decisions to compromise your spiritual and/or moral integrity?” “Is there any relationship or behavior, no matter how ‘insignificant’ where you are compromising your spiritual and/or moral integrity?” “What are you going to do the rectify those areas where you have compromised?”

You may be tempted to excuse yourself. Don’t. Not even if you’ve been able to appease your conscience. When it comes to discerning right from wrong, we cannot trust our conscience as the final authority. It is too subjective, too easily influenced by our thoughts and feelings. Our only defense against the lies of the deceiver is the truth of God’s Word. Nothing else will sustain us in the hour of temptation.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people…For of this you can be sure:  No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them” (Eph. 5:3, 5-7).

This is Richard Exley straight from the heart.

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Category: Perils of Power

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