This true story paints a picture of ‘trust but verify.’ These events cut me deeply, and I’m hoping others will read this, so that they will not be caught unawares, as I was caught.
I was once contracted by a medium-sized church, to provide consulting services related to designing their audio/video systems. (Many of you reading this may have similar contracts with A/V consultants) This church had recently burned down, because of a lightning strike, and they were in the process of rebuilding.
I was hired to guide this church on all things A/V, during the rebuild. From a small business perspective, this contract was substantial, and I was most likely blinded by this.
Truthfully, I wanted this contract.
It was good.
It was big.
I wanted it.
And I paid dearly for it.
My contact with the church was Tommy, the worship pastor. He convinced me that he was an expert in recording studios. This would prove useful, or so I thought, because Tommy said the church wanted a recording studio.
I, however, am not a recording studio designer. I have expertise in designing live audio/video systems, but not recording studios.
Tommy convinced me not to worry about my own lack of skill in this area, stating that together, we could work this out. Here is what we agreed on. Now remember, Tommy spoke for the church. He was my point of contact, so I trusted him. (I never verified.)
The church signed the contract, paying my company the deposit, which was about $10,000 for a 6-month term. This meant weekly meetings, design drawings, phone calls, consultations, and much more.
Tommy also convinced me to contract with him directly, to design the recording studio. Basically, I subcontracted him to do the work that I could not do. I paid him $5,000, and we had a contract agreement for work to be performed.
Yup, I did it. I contracted with a pastor to perform work for his own church. Remember how I said I really wanted this contract?
A few months into the project, I get an unusual email from Tommy. Of course, we emailed regularly, so his emailing me was not what was strange.
What was unusual, was the request he had for me. Basically, it read, “Steve, I’m really having a tough financial time. My family and I are struggling. Can your company give me some money now, and I promise, I will make sure your company gets it out of this project for my church?”
Essentially, he requested that I give him money now, and he would make sure I get money back. Not from him, but from his church.
I was stunned.
He was asking me to help him steal from his own church!
I cried. Literally.
I believed this meant I would, as a result, lose the contract. I did not see a way out of this, where we kept the contract.
I believe I acted with integrity with what I did next.
I went to my pastor and shared what was going on. I then called an emergency meeting with the head pastor of the church, the church’s financial elder, myself and my own pastor.
At that meeting, I handed everyone the email from Tommy.
You’ve all heard the phrase, “You could have heard a pin drop,” right? Well, that applied here. The head pastor was stunned. He asked me to leave, as they considered a response.
Within 24 hours, Tommy was fired from his position. Tommy called me while I was at my own church the next day, and I stepped out to listen to him, sobbing about what had happened. He apologized to me and then I said goodbye, and I cried.
I believed I had just destroyed this man’s career.
I felt responsible.
I had guilt.
The next day was a weekly meeting with the project leaders, and I attended as planned. Tommy was not present, and I found out everyone was already aware of Tommy’s departure, although very few at the meeting were aware why he was no longer the church’s worship pastor.
One more bombshell will drop in this story, which leads to my theme, “Trust by verify.”
After the meeting, I met with some of the key players to review a few of the project’s details. I pointed to a room on the architectural drawings, and said, “OK guys, Tommy was supposed to be designing the recording studio in this room. Who should take over this project? Should I reach out to some of my friends in the recording industry?”
BOMBSHELL MOMENT: The lead pastor looked at me and replied, “What are you talking about? We never asked Tommy to design a recording studio.”
Wait ... what?
While they looked at me as if I was speaking Greek, I outlined the contract agreement I had with Tommy for $5,000 to design the studio.
They just repeated themselves, “We never asked for that.”
I was then told the contract I had with Tommy was between him and I, and I should pursue him to collect on it.
I did pursue him, he admitted guilt and offered a repayment plan. He never paid much. A few hundred dollars here and there.
Finally, he just disappeared. Someday, maybe I’ll run into him … that will certainly be awkward.
The church themselves ended up not fulfilling their end of the agreement. We were owed a final payment of $10,000, which they refused to pay. Their claim was that even though we delivered all of the tangible items in our agreement, they were unable to implement them, because of issues with the city that would not allow them to rebuild their church.
There was no point in suing them.
• the worship pastor lied to me,
• the worship pastor stole $5,000,
• the worship pastor lied to his church,
• the worship pastor tried to use me to steal additional funds from his church,
• the church then failed to make their final payment.
What should have been a very profitable project, turned into a huge loss for my company, and for me personally.
I was blinded by the benefit I believed I was to receive, and didn’t see the warning signs.
To everyone reading this, please take time to trust, but verify.
I should have verified what I heard. I blindly trusted Tommy, because he was a pastor, and they are trustworthy, right?
Guys, ask questions. Repeat back what you hear.
Say it to other people outside your circle, to see if they sense something you missed.
Above all, pray and listen. This is where I failed, and I hope someone reading this can avoid my mistakes.