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"Lessons from Valleygate"
by Tom Goodman
November 17, 2006

Some have dubbed it “Valleygate.”  As in “Watergate.”

News reports reveal that $1.3 million of Texas Baptist tithes and offerings meant for church planting in the Rio Grande Valley didn’t actually go to church planting.  Funding was sent to support what was claimed to be over 250 churches.  In reality, only five actual church plants exist.  False monthly reports were created, home Bible studies were misrepresented as church starts, “phantom churches” were invented in some cases, and church plants that went defunct were not reported, and thus funding continued to flow for nonexistent work.

We can’t just chalk it up to a few pastors in the Valley acting irresponsibly.  We employ state convention leaders to distribute our church-starting funds, and they ignored numerous “red flags” that should have prompted immediate investigation.  For years pastors in the Valley have complained of improprieties in the church starts, but convention leaders just regarded it as local jealousy at the success and notoriety of the pastor behind all these church starts.  Even when the FBI investigated the allegations way back in 2000-2001, no action was taken by our convention leadership.

What conclusions should we draw from all this?

First, guidelines exist for a reason.  Our convention has a procedure that has to be followed in order for funds to be released for church planting.  Valleygate happened because good guidelines were set aside.  Leaders decided to suspend the guidelines because it appeared that explosive church planting was taking place, and they didn’t want to “gum up” the exciting work with administrative demands.

Often, those of us involved in ministry get impatient with paperwork and administrative guidelines.  We roll our eyes at what we call “hoops we have to jump through.”  We see guidelines and rules and manuals and paperwork as just impediments in the way of our ministries.

But these rules exist for a reason, and when they aren’t followed, good ministries can end up in a train wreck.  We need to learn from Valleygate if we are in a position to release tithes and offerings to ministries that ask for our help.  Guidelines are not impediments to ministry.

Second, always inspect what you expect.  Those in positions to provide funding to others have to approach their jobs with a certain toughness.  They have to ask the hard questions and look for verification for the answers given.  Why?  Because it’s not their money they’re handing out.  It’s the tithes and offerings of people who employ them to distribute it to worthy causes.  In addition, those who are the recipients of inspections, audits, on-site visits and so on should not see these things as actions of distrust.

Third, we will have to watch how our state convention handles Valleygate.  Each year our church gives about $30,000 of your tithes and offerings to the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT).  In addition, we collect about $9,000 a year for the Mary Hill Davis State Missions Offering.  Your Ministry Staff and Missions Committee want to make sure that the support we raise for our Texas convention is used wisely.  That’s how we serve this church in the positions we occupy.  I will be very disappointed if the convention doesn’t (a) work to retrieve the $1.3 million from the sinkhole of Valleygate, (b) take action against the pastor or pastors in the Rio Grande Valley who created Valleygate, and (c) hold accountable any and all paid staff of the BGCT who failed to do their jobs, even if that failure reaches to the top.

There are hundreds of worthy church startups in our state.  These startups deserve our support.  Sadly, Valleygate may cause worthy startups to be called into question and funding may move to these new works more slowly.

You can read more about Valleygate here, here, and here.  Let’s keep watching this developing story, and let’s pray for wisdom for how to respond as a church.


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