General questions and discusion

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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.

21 Responses to “General questions and discusion”

  1. Lee Says:

    I see words like “did not understant,” “was not made clear,” “apparently not aware,” “it appears that,” and similar statements. Granted, this was before the stricter guidelines were in place, but it sure seems like there were a lot of red flags here, starting with the request for the BGCT to fund a new church start “within” a church and using the same pastor.

    All those “not made clears” and “apparentlys” should have been cleared up and some kind of accountability at both ends established before a check was issued.

    It is sad that 30 convention employees must pay for this “apparent” lack of awareness and clarity with their jobs.

  2. Manuel Gautreaux Says:

    I am pleased that this report was included in the General questions and Discussion section. I also will continue to monitor the situation and what actions will be taken once “the firm that performs” the audit turns in their report. (i.e., “if any issues of illegality are discovered, we will pursue appropriate action.”)

    Now I take exception to beginning of the report that relates to the agreement between BGCT and FBC-Weslaco.

    It states, (1)” BGCT entered into an agreement with Weslaco First that we thought was clear and understood by the church”….. (2) “it appears the church did not clearly understand the intended purpose of the funds or of the new service itself”.

    As I read the statements, it implies that we as a church knew about the agreement. I think this is mis-leading. We did not. Question: How can a church have a clear understanding of an agreement it does not know about? Answer: You can’t.

    Another exception..”According to the church’s stated vision, The Family Fellowship appeared to be a worthy endeavor”.

    A more accurate statement would have been “According to the church’s stated vision, as outlined in the covenant agreement submitted by Pastor Becker, The Family Fellowship appeared to be a worthy endeavor”

    As a church member of FBC-Weslaco, I needed to express my thoughts about this report . I wanted others to understand many in our church were unaware of these circumstances.

  3. Ferrell Says:

    Lee,
    Agreed, it’s hard to understand how this happened. It didn’t seem to make good sense. Of course, we know some things now that we didn’t know then. I don’t see how we can ever get away completely from the need for trust. When someone signs something, you expect it to be true unless that person has given you reason to question his or her integrity in the past.

    Manuel,
    Thank you for commenting. The covenant signed by Jonathan Becker indicated the church had approved this effort; so, at the time, we had no reason to doubt that was true. Last week, we were given information that indicated this was false. Apparently a few people in the church knew about this, but I don’t know how many (maybe three including Pastor Becker); and it appears the church as a body never approved it. Your comments affirm that, and they are appreciated.

    Ferrell

  4. David Says:

    I think some apologies probably are owed by some bloggers. We’ll wait to see if they offer them.

  5. Lee Says:

    Charles Wade said:
    “It appears the BGCT staff functioned within the policy guidelines in effect at the time, except in one instance…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). ”

    “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. ”

    1. How can the BGCT staff “deviate” from guidelines that were in place, and if this was the case before the new guidelines were in place, what will prevent this same thing from happening with the new guidelines in place?

    2. “To our knowledge there was no accountability” would be enough for me to say, “no accountability, no check.” As a church staff member, I personally would never allow myself to be in position where I was the one who authorized, without accountability, anything related to the finances of the church. That’s a cardinal rule, you don’t handle money. If this was something that was known, and the statement “to our knowledge” seems to be an admission of that, the BGCT should never have issued checks. You don’t give money to a church on the pastor’s say so. You go through the finance committee, stewardship committee, whatever you call it. That’s as red a flag as you can get.

    3. How is it that Pastor Becker can go to the ED directly, and get things done. Betcha no one from my church would be able to do that.

  6. David Says:

    1. More accountability in new guidelines.

    2. It HAS happened, under old guidelines.

    3. You don’t know the ED, do you? He IS a friendly gentleman.

  7. spiritualsamurai Says:

    David

    Guidelines are only as good as the oversight, the character, and the consequences

    Jon Becker was doing this under the nose of Charles Wade during ValleyGate

    Each person is entitled to their opinion of the ED. I am glad you have a favorable one. Many people do, many people do not.

  8. wesley shotwell Says:

    Lee,

    There is a difference between guidelines and policy. Guidelines are set up by staff to give direction to procedures. Since they are set by staff, staff can change or adjust guidelines.

    Policies are set by the board. If staff goes outside of policy without approval from the board then they have directly violated a board mandate and are insubordinate.

    One of the changes made in last years convention was that church starting rules would be changed to board mandated policy. Prior to the ’06 convention these rules were guidelines. Since the new rules are policy, staff does not now have the ability to change policy without board approval.

  9. David Says:

    Repeat:

    1. MORE accountability in NEW guidelines.

    2. It has happened, under OLD guidelines.

    3. The ED is a FRIENDLY gentleman (fairly objective statement, not really one of opinion).

  10. VB Says:

    I have a question…when will this audit take place and if there are legal issues, when and how will those be addressed? It’s frustrating to see such hard evidence that Becker did something wrong and then not know if he is going to have to face any consequences for this behavior.

  11. Ferrell Says:

    I’ll get back to you as soon as I know something, VB.

  12. Moises Hernandez Says:

    I have actually live three blocks south of FBW. I have been to the Faily Life Center. As far as I know, the building hosts a Spanish Speaking Service. The Family Life Center is 15 yards from the Main Sanctuary and the Offices of FBW.
    I enjoy Mr. Becker and his fiery sermons, but I must confess that it all meant nothing when I found out about his attempts to decieve the confederation of Baptist Churches. This reminds me of Acts 5 where the church was stealing from itself. Shameful, indeed. If the Family Life Center had been operative 3 miles away fromthe Main Sanctuary, I would have been more apt to believe Mr. Becker. However, it seems clear that Mr. Becker was engaged in an unethical act. If only Mr. Becker would have heeded the Lord, “Thy sin will find you out.” The FBI (God) it seems always gets his man, as well. As far as I am concerned, Mr. Becker has lost all moral authority to preach or teach from the pulpit. It is necessary that Mr. Becker no longer be given a pulpit. While he is a very articulate and fiery preacher, Mr. Becker, Kierkegaard would say, has left himself without authority. The Lord God bless Mr. Becker and his family. I am certain that this situation is not an easy burden to carry.

  13. Moises Hernandez Says:

    I apologize for the poor editing. Moises

  14. Themes for the BGCT Amarillo Convention « Deep in the Heart… Says:

    [...] http://texasbaptists.wordpress.com/2007/09/25/general-questions-and-discusion/ [...]

  15. VB Says:

    Ferrell:

    Any news from the audit people? Just listening for the wheels on justice to start turning here.

  16. Ferrell Says:

    I was just given the following message from our controller, Jill Larsen.

    “Internal Audit has begun work on this project. We expect to have their report within 45 days.”

  17. VB Says:

    So this takes place in the transition period between Presidents and the old and new ED. Does that affect things? Will the findings be posted on the BGCT website?

  18. jmm Says:

    I understand all that is going on and I understand that questions must be answered, what I don’t understand is how quick some people are to cast stones. It is sad to see so many pastors and so many friends now wishing for the worst to happen to pastor Jon. I wish that the body of Christ would spend more time on their knees praying not just for pastor Jon but for all pastors, that God would keep them from temptation. God is in control of this situation and I know that he will give wisdom to those who are in office. I also ask that God teaches us to be more like Him, “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more”. Lets act like brothers and sisters in God’s family. Pastor Jon, is still a great pastor, a great teacher, a great friend and is still a man of God. I am thankful for a God of second chances. Let’s not forget, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I know for a fact that eyes are rolling and this might be a waste of time because I’m preaching to the choir but it seems that a lot of us have forgotten what God has done for us in our lives and the grace that we’ve been shown for our mistakes. Pastor Jon, I am praying for you and I hope to see you soon. May our God bless you and your family, you have a number of people praying for you and lifting you up.

  19. David Says:

    “. . . what I don’t understand is how quick some people are to cast stones . . .”

    Technologically-advanced, spiritually-immature bloggers is how.

    Matthew 18:15-20. More ought to give it a try, just as our Lord Jesus commanded.

  20. jean Says:

    what is BGCT?

  21. http://tinyurl.com/whitjacob17093 Says:

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    was in fact a superb article and I personally was in fact quite
    content to find the blog. Thanks for your time-Tommie

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