I stood in front of a church building, barely able to process what I was hearing that had happened a few years ago to this now thriving church. The church administrator and I walked the grounds as they pointed and explained, “The TV and news reporters would stand right here near this wall with their microphones and cameras just waiting for us to come out. For a while, it was too dangerous to even cross the parking lot to our cars because people from the community—and even some from our own church—would be throwing eggs and tomatoes at the building and at us.” We continued walking as she took me to the next building, “Some in our church didn’t handle all of this very well. But eventually, the violence died down.”
A brother who has been insulted is harder to win back than a walled city, and arguments separate people like the barred gates of a palace.Proverbs 18:19 NCS
What you’re about to read is a true story about what was once one of the most respected and influential churches in an entire region. I personally witnessed the aftermath of the tragedy of what happened at this church. Because so many are still connected to this ministry, I’ve changed a few minor details to conceal the identity of the community.
From Small Beginnings
This small charismatic church had roughly 300 or so members when the young, flamboyant, business-minded Pentecostal preacher arrived. He joined the staff for several years and eventually became the head pastor. Within ten years, the church grew to over 2,000 faithful attendees. Messages were getting better each week, prayer meetings were lasting longer, and some said that worship was “through the roof.” Most importantly, souls were being saved. Families were changing, and the community was starting to take notice. Excitement was in the air; everyone could tell that God was up to something good!
Then at the peak of what God was doing, everything came to a screeching halt!
One morning the pastor got a knock on his church office door, and the police barged in with a search warrant, immediately escorting the pastor away in a police car. Computers and accounts were seized. The pastor’s belongings on the property and his multiple houses were confiscated. For weeks, police combed through every conversation, email, phone message, and notepad that this pastor had in his care. They seized his cars and boats. His wife and kids were called into questioning, along with every paid church worker and elder. The administration team, including the financial department, was dragged through the fire with intense questions over and over again. Some workers had to hire attorneys because the investigators were so relentless. It seemed that the more people prayed, the worse things got.
Eventually, the facts came out, and math never lies! One corrupt business deal led to another false transaction; fraud kept surfacing. Apparently, the pastor’s misconduct dated back several years, and his meticulously designed money embezzling plan had come apart—busted! The senior pastor was later charged for money laundering, racketeering, drug trafficking, illegal prostitution, and theft!
What Was He Stealing?
Among all of the crime and fraud, investigators discovered that the pastor had been stealing inheritances from older widows within his congregation. He would convince the elderly to sign statements that upon their death, everything they owned would go to the church, but in the mix of it, he somehow tricked them into signing it all over to himself instead of the church. Like so many “prosperity-driven” Charismatic preachers out there today, this pastor would tell his own congregation that God was choosing to bless him for his “service and faithfulness.” He would declare behind the pulpit that God was laying it on people’s hearts to sow into his own family and life and that in return, the giver would receive greater blessings. These rich, helpless, widowed ladies had no idea that they were giving their inheritances over to this corrupt minister; they thought their estates were going to the church to further the kingdom.
I later came into contact with this pastor for a brief moment, and I still remember the hard, numb, evil stare he gave me as I crossed in front of him.
Why Does This Need to Be Discussed?
Right now, across America (and other countries), so many churches have been forced to shut down due to the pandemic’s aftermath. People are leaving one state and fleeing to the next to regain some sense of freedom in their lives. Everything is radically changing fast. New people are walking into the doors of our churches every week, and pastors are desperate for help. As quickly as we may want (and need) to fill our staff and volunteer ministry slots and programs again, it might be wise to get to know the people really well first. Relationships are vital right now. God will see you through this!
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.James 5:7 NIV
Andy Sanders has been involved with international writing and book publishing since 1999. His articles have been on Charisma Media, Ministry Today, Spirit Fuel, and The Elijah List. One book project directly under his care has now sold over 3 million copies. As a former publisher and ghostwriter, Andy is a book-writing and publishing consultant for authors. He coaches writers through the publishing process and works at CS Book Design. Andy has a bachelor of arts and a masters and doctorate in Christian, graduating with honors. He and his wife, Cathy, reside near Daytona Beach, Florida. firstname.lastname@example.org