Monday Morning Insights

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    The lure of credit card points may have cost this pastor his job

    The lure of credit card points may have cost this pastor his job

    It has all happened at the International Christian Center in Staten Island, NY.  Evidently, Pastor Russell Hodgins had access to a church credit card.  According to the article, Pastor Hodgins used the church credit card to pay for both church and personal expenses.  The pastor says he always reimbursed the church for the personal expenses.

    To the pastor's defense, he says the accusations were brought against him by a disgruntled employee that he had fired.

    He says the church's internal investigation and audit found no wrongdoing on his part.

    It seems a big issue under dispute:  what happened to the bonus points earned from the purchases.  It appears that the pastor may have used them himself rather than giving the points to the church.

    The whole thing blew up and became a distraction, said the pastor.  In fact, he resigned over the issue.  His statement reads in part:

    “In closing, for any procedural mistakes or errors in administrative judgment I may have made, I am deeply sorry... However, I emphatically state to you, before Almighty God, my hands are clean and my heart is pure. As for me and my house, we will continue to serve the Lord.”

    The Assemblies of God denomination is backing up the pastor:  An official of the denomination said he expected Rev. Hodgins would be assigned to lead one of the Assemblies’ “strong” churches in the near future. He said Rev. Hodgins wouldn’t be given such a post if there were concerns about him.  (Hodgins took ICC from 150 people to over 2000 in 12 years).

    A couple lessons from this from what I can read from the newspaper article:

    1.  Don't ever, in any situation, use a church credit card for personal use.  It will only invite problems. 

    2.  Be on the up and up.  Credit card points earned by the church should be used by the church.  Don't lose your ministry over a free airline ticket or a restaurant gift certificate.

    3.  If you make a mistake like this, clear it up quickly and clearly.  Statements like saying you're deeply sorry for 'any procedural mistakes or errors in administrative judgment' sound like they come from the heart of a lawyer, not from the heart of a pastor.  Something more on the line of 'I goofed up, and in retrospect, it was a stupid thing to do' plays much better to me personally than apologizing for any 'error in administrative judgment'.

    4.  Hodgins had been a pastor at ICC since 1998... that's 12 years.  That's a lot of years of ministry down the drain for something like this.

    What are your thoughts? 

    Do you have proper guidelines in place that keep you in check financially, expecially with the church credit card?

    How would you have responded in this situation (knowing only what you know from this article) if you were the pastor?  What if you were on the board or an elder in this church?  Is this something to lose a pastor of 12 years over?

    You can read more here...

    Todd

    Comments

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    1. Peter Hamm on Mon, September 20, 2010

      I don’t even HAVE a church credit card, and am very careful about this stuff.

      That said, this was a stupid reason for him to be removed or to remove himself.

    2. Lawyer with a Gun on Mon, September 20, 2010

      I wrote about the vague apology (in a different situation) on my blog about a year and a half ago (http://www.lawyerwithagun.com/2009/02/vague-apology.html).  I think you may have pegged it when you said the apology sounded like it came from a lawyer.  You’re likely right.

      As I mentioned in my post, the apology we want to hear has potential legal consequences.  A specific and direct apology may place the speaker in an extremely precarious legal position.  A smart attorney will walk his client through the legal minefield, allowing the client to address the situation without jeopardizing his freedom.

      I know that may not be what we want to hear, but, as I wrote on my blog, there really are two apologies at play here: one for us, and one for God.

    3. Fred on Mon, September 20, 2010

      “The pastor says he always reimbursed the church for the personal expenses.”

      Admission of guilt?

      Why would he use the “church” card for any personal expenses in the first place? He doesn’t have a personal card?
      I have seen a case where the pastor used his personal credit card for personal expenses and the church still paid the bill every month.

    4. Fred on Mon, September 20, 2010

      “To the pastor’s defense, he says the accusations were brought against him by a disgruntled employee that he had fired.”

      if not someone like this, who would bring a charge against the pastor? One of the submitted, devoted sheep?

    5. anonymous on Tue, September 21, 2010

      i go to that church and you have no idea what you are talking about.  there are details which are obviously not known that shows the pastor wasn’t using the “churches” credit card.  if you personally knew this man you would back down real fast from accusing.  please be careful about commenting when you don’t know all the facts

    6. Peter Hamm on Tue, September 21, 2010

      Fred writes

      [“To the pastor’s defense, he says the accusations were brought against him by a disgruntled employee that he had fired.”

      if not someone like this, who would bring a charge against the pastor? One of the submitted, devoted sheep?]

      A disgruntled person often has an agenda, often a destructive one, and this fact is indeed pertinent.

      anonymous, it sounds like we’ve stumbled on some kind of witch hunt.

    7. Mark on Wed, October 13, 2010

      I am a pastor who for seven years used the church card points for myself. Then at a board meeting a board member said, “What do we do with those points?” I said, “I use them, it’s a fringe benefit right?” NO they said they belong to the church. I said, “Oh sorry, I can pay the church back if you want me to.” They declined. But now I wont use them anymore. I can honestly say that when I was a staff member under another pastor, if I found out he was using the points my attitude would be-“Good he deserves them.” But I guess the main thing is that it is agreed upon with the board and not taken for granted without permission.

      maybe I justified it like this- I took this church when they had 15 people and now we have over 100. I led them out of debt and despair and and into a church flush with money. Surely if it’s my good credit name that’s on the line for this church they wont mind if I enjoy a meal card once in a while. I have always been very sensitive about financial integrity because this church was swindled by a false preacher. It’s strange but I have proven my self very faithful in the churches finances yet I enjoyed more trust when they were broke. Now that I have led them with Gods grace into prosperity I feel like I am under a microscope. Oh well. I will definitely try to watch myself so as not to justify taking any fringe benefits without full disclosure and permission.

    8. Daniel on Sun, October 17, 2010

      You don’t know this Pastor, he has a heart of Gold! He changed me,my life and way of thinking. I would drive as far as I have to to listent to hin give a sermon. My God Bless him

    9. Dianne on Mon, November 08, 2010

      Pastor Hodgins is an amazing man of God - I pray that he will forgive those people who have wrongly accused him.  I will follow him to whatever church he goes to preach (in NY of course).

    10. maria corella on Fri, November 12, 2010

      As Daniel said.♥♥....you do not know Pastor Hodgins…..He is truly a Man of God!!!  He made me want to know MORE about the LORD .....he brought me to CHRIST….after being raised catholic….and feeling so empty…...I felt hunger for the word….like never before….I am behind you Pastor Hodgins…..you are Human…..but you understand the Lord…..and I want what you have♥♥ Thank you!!!

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