During this time, I have the pleasure of getting a microphone to member who wish to speak. I will do this a bit by memory and include a written report from Charles Wade.
A question was asked regarding the New Baptist Covenant Celebration that will be held in Atlanta next January. Dr. Wade responded that the BGCT’s involvement in this is based on our membership in the North American Baptist Fellowship, which is the key supporter of this meeting.
He also was asked about the situation regarding church starting funds provided to Weslaco First Baptist Church. Dr. Wade gave the following report to the full board that he had given to the Missions and Ministry Committee on Monday:
Report on BGCT Funding of Missions at Weslaco First Baptist Church
BGCT Executive Board – September 24, 2007
By Charles Wade
Questions have been raised about the use of BGCT church starting funds by First Baptist Church of Weslaco while Jonathan Becker was their pastor. As a result, the BGCT staff has been involved the past two weeks in determining the details of our funding of various efforts at Weslaco First.
In June 2005, the BGCT entered into an agreement with Weslaco First that we thought was clear and understood by the church. It called for the church to begin a new work called The Family Fellowship that would start as a new worship service at the church and develop into a fully autonomous congregation, the second English-speaking BGCT church in Weslaco. The covenant indicated Weslaco First had approved the new work during a church conference, but that apparently never occurred. As a result, it appears the church did not clearly understand the intended purpose of the funds or of the new service itself.
Based on discussions last week at Weslaco First, it appears most of the funds ($26,550) sent to First Baptist for The Family Fellowship were paid by the church to Jonathan Becker, who was pastor of both the sponsoring church and the intended new church. This was later listed by Pastor Becker as a “salary subsidy” from the BGCT, but it was never so designated by the BGCT and monthly reports from The Family Fellowship did not indicate a pastor salary was being paid. As a result, the BGCT staff was not aware of this at the time. Also, so-called salary subsidy amounts listed by Pastor Becker ($46,000 over a three-year period) exceed both the amount of money actually given to support The Family Fellowship and the duration of those gifts. It is appropriate for BGCT church starting funds to be used to help pay the salary of a new church pastor, but the BGCT does not do so directly. The BGCT provides funds to churches, and then those monies are distributed according to the budget for the new congregation.
It appears the BGCT staff functioned within the policy guidelines in effect at the time, except in one instance. There was a signed covenant, required meetings were held, monthly reports were received from the church, and those reports indicate the BGCT’s portion of the budget did not exceed 50 percent. The BGCT staff did, however, authorize payment of more funds for the new work than was approved by the BGCT Missions Funding Committee ($26,550 as opposed to the approved $21,000).
The covenant was ended in June 2006 after Pastor Becker failed to meet with the BGCT church starter, and a final monthly payment was made in July 2006. One more gift for The Family Fellowship ($3,000 on Sept. 13, 2006) was made after Pastor Becker came to Dallas to visit with me. The pastor sought more financial help for The Family Fellowship and two other new works started by Weslaco First since he was anticipating a call to another church and felt Weslaco First needed that help to complete the phase-out of BGCT support and give the three churches the help they needed to survive during the transition. I took Pastor Becker to Abe Zabaneh, who directed the BGCT’s church starting efforts at the time, and asked Mr. Zabaneh to listen to Pastor Becker’s concerns and see what could be done. The final check ($3,000 for The Family Fellowship and $1,000 each for the other two church starts) was subsequently written. I was not aware until a few days ago that $2,800 of that money was paid by Weslaco First to Pastor Becker. Apparently, the church was paying Pastor Becker out of these mission funds to be the pastor of the new mission start meeting in the same building.
Overall Conclusions of the Executive Director:
Efforts of Weslaco First and Pastor Becker to expand God’s Kingdom by starting new churches have my applause. According to the church’s stated vision, The Family Fellowship appeared to be a worthy endeavor.
I do, however, have serious concerns with what was done. My primary concern is that the church apparently was not aware of the vision articulated by the pastor in his proposal to the BGCT church starting staff and to the BGCT Missions Funding Committee. Furthermore, to our knowledge there was no accountability to a missions committee or finance committee as to how the mission funds contributed by the BGCT would be disbursed.
We have contacted the firm that performs our internal audits and asked them to look into this matter in order for us to further evaluate our processes and procedures. We expect this to begin within the week, and a report will be given during the next Executive Board meeting stating any findings and recommendations that result from this study. Also, if any issues of illegality are discovered, we will pursue appropriate action.
This situation with Weslaco First occurred before our new church guidelines were put into place. Those new guidelines already are helping us to establish better processes for starting churches. Of course, we are always trying to improve; and as a result of the particulars discovered in the Weslaco situation, I have instructed our Finance and Accounting office to include with every check that goes to a sponsoring church a statement in which we clearly state each time the purpose and expected use of the funds.
We will do everything possible to solidify the integrity of the system while at the same time seeking to encourage ever increasing efforts in starting new churches.