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Charity Commission review – Pastor P

By Stephen Mathews | 9 December 2020

The Case

 

The case was an appeal against a Charity Commission disqualification order of the former senior pastor of ‘R Church London’. The order disqualified P from being a charity trustee or holding a senior management position in a charity for ten years. The case is important for two reasons:

 

  • It is the first time that the Commission’s use of the discretionary disqualification power has been challenged in the Tribunal.
  • The power was used to disqualify someone who held a senior management position and was not acting as a trustee.

 

The grounds referenced in the Commission’s order

 

P had:

 

  • Made unauthorised use of the Church’s credit cards;
  • Used the Church’s funds to pay for overseas trips (without authorisation or evidence that the trips were for a charitable purpose);
  • Influenced Church members to attend a meeting in breach of the terms of his suspension from employment with the Church; and
  • Not allowed inspectors to access all parts of the Church’s property, to the extent that the Church’s interim manager was required to obtain a court injunction to secure adequate and proper access.

 

The Outcome

 

The Tribunal concluded that the Commission was correct and justified in making the order to disqualify P from charity trusteeship. It agreed with the Commission’s finding that P was:

 

  • The person primarily responsible for the proven misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of the Church, meaning that the criteria for making the order were satisfied.
  • The Commission’s disqualification order was appropriate because P’s conduct “was serious”;
  • Harm was caused to the Church for which he was primarily responsible and there was a risk of further harm arising from further misconduct or mismanagement if the order were not made.

 

The Tribunal also agreed that:

 

  • The ten-year disqualification period was proportionate given the seriousness of P’s conduct, and
  • That it was right that his disqualification should apply to charities generally.

 

It held that: “In considering the question of proportionality, the key issue is the need to increase public trust and confidence in charities and to promote compliance by charities with their legal obligations in the proper administration of charities.”

 

Our Perspective

 

Whilst having no inside knowledge of this case and relying solely on information within the public domain, our perspective on what we see here is an apparent misunderstanding by P himself of the role that he had in the church charity.

He may have had a major (or even ‘critical’) role in the family of God, and amongst the people that made up the church but it appears as though he exceeded his rights when acting as he did in his role as a charity leader. The opening verses of Romans 13 explain our responsibility towards authorities. As Christian leaders, we have to remember that we are subject to both:

 

  • The principles of spiritual life outlined in the Bible, but also;
  • The laws of the country in which we live – which include charity law if your church is also a charity.

 

We consider an ‘AAA rating’ as critical in the way that churches handle money, and what we sometimes see in the church are weaknesses in each of the following areas:

 

  • We sometimes see a merging of the personal interests of the key players in church with that of the charity and a failure to understand the integrity required of church leaders in the area of money.
  • Accountability can be bypassed when one person or a very small group of people can make decisions without challenge and input from others in the leadership structure. It is also important to have in place a properly sized and resourced trustee body appropriate to the size and the complexity of the church or charity.
  • Occasionally, weaknesses in a charity’s financial control framework only become evident after problems have surfaced. Ensuring a robust and ‘fit for purpose’ control framework is an essential part of a well-managed church or charity.

 

The charity is now closed, with the Interim Manager saying “this course of action has not been taken lightly and is considered to be the only option given the findings in the investigation.” 

For more on the ‘AAA’ concept, please see this link to one of our briefing papers.


Read more...

Raising the Standard: Transforming the Culture of Money in the Church

Posted by Stephen Mathews
 
Stephen is a Senior Consultant at Stewardship and has spent over 25 years in the accountancy profession. Stephen is a trustee for a number of small Christian charities and has been involved in various church leadership roles for over 20 years.

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