Q: An Adventist pastor’s father died and the pastor had to repatriate the body to his home province for burial. To cover this emergency, the pastor withdrew the equivalent of U.S.$5,400 from church funds in the church’s bank account by forging the signature of one of the two signatories. The church board found out and reported this to the local mission. The pastor was fired immediately without being given a second chance. Should this former pastor reimburse the money, with interest, back into the church bank account, or must the local church file a lawsuit to prosecute him? — Name and country withheld
A: This is indeed a very unfortunate situation. The pastor should be the congregation’s spiritual leader and adviser (see the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, p. 32).
Of the many character qualities of a pastor, integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, and good judgment are some of the most important. By his actions, this former pastor has shown a serious lack in these areas.
According to the Church Manual, “All offerings and gifts contributed by individuals for a specific fund or purpose must be used for that purpose. Neither the treasurer nor the board has the authority to divert any funds from the objective for which they were given” (p. 84).
It is unacceptable, under any circumstances, for church funds to be used personally by the pastor or anyone else. At the local church level, all tithe is to be remitted to the conference or mission office. Likewise, designated offerings are to be sent to the appropriate entities. Offerings given to the local church budget, or other local church offerings, are overseen by the church board, and are to be used only for the purposes given.
This former pastor stole church funds and committed forgery, offenses that reveal a serious lack of good judgment. In such cases, a person should not be kept in church employment.
Hopefully, this former pastor will realize his responsibility to repay the church funds as soon as possible, rather than the church needing to file a lawsuit in order to reclaim the lost funds.