Wisdom Can Prevent Fraud

by | May 30, 2016

One of the many interesting groups I engaged during the recent European Leadership Forum was the Leaders of Christian Organizations Network. This network is comprised of executive leaders from many of the most respected Christian organizations in Europe.

Prior to the conference, I asked for descriptions of the most challenging relational issues these leaders face in day-to-day ministry. One of the challenges they mentioned involved fraud and corruption within churches and ministries. Based on this feedback, we developed the following scenario:

When an NGO (parachurch ministry) gets a grant from a USA foundation for needed remodeling of their building, the president makes secret deals with the contractors to overbill him and then make donations back to the NGO that he can use to support missionaries in the Middle East. The manager responsible for reporting on the grant finds out and tells the president that the arrangement is unethical, leading to a major conflict that could cost the manager his job.

After reading the case study, we divided into groups of four or five people to discuss ways to resolve this crisis. After twenty minutes, we gathered together to share our thoughts.

All of the leaders agreed this is not an uncommon challenge in the European church. They also agreed that the president’s planned arrangement with the contractors was contrary to God’s command that Christians behave honestly and truthfully (Psalm 15:1-5; Eph. 4:25). Therefore, the proposed arrangement was unethical, fraudulent and corrupt.

Having agreed that the president’s plans were sinful, we then discussed several ways the young manager could respond to the situation. Suggested options included confronting the president personally about his sin, enlisting the support of another executive leader, reporting the situation to the NGO’s board of directors or urging the president to appeal to the USA foundation for permission to redirect some of the funds.

Our conversation eventually focused on a pivotal issue: how could the manager approach the president in a way that would prevent him from reacting defensively and help him to change course before he made an unethical decision.

To find relevant wisdom on how to respond to this pivotal issue, I led the class to 1 Samuel 25, which describes a brilliant, life-saving negotiation process. Here’s the story.

After killing Goliath, David’s popularity in Israel had become so great that King Saul was determined to kill him. David and six hundred supporters fled into the desert, where they lived as mercenaries, protecting the flocks of the local inhabitants.

One of the people who had benefited from this protection was a wealthy man named Nabal. When David sent ten young men to ask Nabal for food, Nabal denied the request and hurled insults at the young men. When David learned of this, he was furious and impulsively set out with four hundred armed men, determined to kill Nabal and all of his men.

Fortunately, Nabal’s wife, Abigail, learned what Nabal had done. Anticipating David’s angry reaction, she set out to appeal to him before he could start his massacre. She loaded a large amount of food on several donkeys and sent them ahead of her toward David’s camp. Abigail followed close behind and met David just as he was about to launch his attack. She bowed down before him and said:

Please let your servant speak in your ears…. I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the LORD your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. And when the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself. And when the LORD has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.” (1 Sam. 25:24-31; emphasis added)

This is an incredibly insightful and wise appeal. Abigail affirmed her concern and respect for David. She used words and metaphors that would be pleasing to his ears. The phrase “the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house” reminded David of Samuel anointing him as future king, and “the hollow of a sling” touched on the most glorious moment of David’s life … when he killed Goliath.

More importantly, instead of confronting David directly about his sinful intentions, which would naturally make him defensive, Abigail focused on David’s primary interests in this situation. To begin with, she sought to refocus his attention on his relationship with God (to be more “God-aware“) by mentioning the Lord’s name seven times in her appeal.

She then focused on David’s good standing with God. She had probably heard about King Saul’s recent massacre of an entire town of people who had innocently given assistance to David (1 Sam. 22:6–19). She also appeared to know that David had recently passed up an opportunity to kill Saul (1 Sam. 24:1–22).

Abigail realized that David’s clean record and honorable reputation was of great value to him, especially when compared to Saul’s bloody record. She wisely helped David to realize that if he stained his hands with innocent blood, he would lose God’s blessing as well as the love and respect of the people of Israel.

David’s rage had blinded him to his own interests, but Abigail’s insightful appeal brought him to his senses. Realizing she had saved him from disaster, he said:

“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! For as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.” Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.” (vv. 32–35).

After reading this story, the Christian leaders I was working with last week quickly came up with a plan on how the young manager could approach the president of his NGO about the funding issue. Instead of confronting the president head-on by telling him his plan was sinful, the manager could graciously affirm the president for the compassionate work he has led over the years and for his example of godly character and integrity. The manager could remind the president that many of the people who have supported and worked for the ministry were inspired to do so by the president’s vision, trust in God and godly reputation.

The manager could go on to say that he would not want those people to think less of the president or the NGO—or the name of the God they serve—if word of the proposed financial arrangement leaked out. Moreover, if workers learned of the arrangement, might they not be tempted to misrepresent their hours of work or other accomplishments?

Finally, the manager could remind the president that the primary interest of the USA foundation is surely the missionary work carried on by the NGO. Remodeling the building is only a means toward that end. So if the president went to the foundation and explained how he had found a way to reduce some of the remodeling costs, and appealed for them to allow part of their grant to be applied directly to missionary work, is it not likely that they would approve?

Although there’s no guarantee that a ministry leader would respond well, our group of leaders agreed that this approach was faithful to Scripture and the wisest way for a lower level manager to proceed in this kind of situation. And if God chose to bless this approach as he did Abigail’s appeal 3,000 years ago, then the ministry leader’s response might very well echo David’s words to Abigail:

“Blessed be the LORD who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from a foolish arrangement. Go up in peace. I have granted your petition.”

May God grant all of us the faith, wisdom and courage of Abigail whenever he puts us in a position to help someone else turn aside from a sinful or foolish course of action.

– Ken Sande

PS: Thanks to the generous response to last week’s appeal, we have received enough gifts to provide full scholarships to our new Discovering Relational Wisdom 2.0 online course for all of the 720 people who attended the recent European Leadership Forum. Praise be God!

Reflection Questions:

  • How do you think Abigail felt as she approached David and his 400 men with drawn swords? What gave her the confidence to do such a daring act?
  • Can you think of a time when you saw someone try to persuade a superior to change his or her course of action? Did the appeal go well or did it fail? Why?
  • Can you share a time when you had to make this kind of appeal … or when someone needed to appeal to you to change your course of action? How did it turn out? Why?

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© 2016 Ken Sande

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