Sad as it is to read about, leaders in the Christian community need to be aware of what happened at Willow Creek Community Church.

What can we learn from this mess? Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Anyone who has been an adult a few years or has read news for more than , oh a few weeks, knows there is massive ugliness in the world.

Anyone who has been in leadership of a church or ministry for more than a few months knows the ugliness we see in the world is also present in the community of believers.

Why read about and then study messiness?

There are several disasters in the Christian community at the moment which leaders should pay attention to.


So we can learn. By observing we can be better prepared for dealing with horrible things if (or rather when) they appear in our area of responsibility.

In my professional role as auditor over the last few decades I have observed moral failure of leaders, embezzlement, fraudulent financial misstatements, tax fraud, and sundry other unpleasantness. (Okay, okay, sin is the correct description of those things.)

Because of confidentiality requirements, I cannot discuss anything about any of those issues.

Current, public issues are a different story. Having no connection to those incidents frees me to discuss them.

Willow Creek Community Church

A major scandal has been in the news at Willow Creek for over a year. Here is a tour of some articles which can fill you in.

What can you learn as a leader from this fiasco?

3/22/18 – Christianity Today – Bill Hybels Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Former Willow Creek Leaders. Article summarizes a range of allegations that had surfaced over the previous five years, including stories of decades old misbehaviors.


Price cut on print books

I’ve dropped the prices for the print copies of my books available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes store.

Here is what you can find on-line:


 Tragedy of Fraud – Insider Trading Edition

Story of Scott London’s fall from regional audit partner at KPMG to prison inmate because of his insider trading.


Rationalization in action is frightening to see

It is scary to see the power of rationalization. We humans can exert great effort to persuade ourself that wrong is right. With enough effort, we can persuasively argue that wrong is a positive good, the noble alternative.

It is unsettling to me when I see a client deeply believe that tax or accounting fraud is perfectly legitimate and I am the one who is in the wrong to suggest otherwise.  Worrisome is a watching a friend who believes that hurtful or destructive or nasty or evil behavior is Godly. Even more upsetting is when I catch my brain in full rationalization mode.

No, I’m not about to give any examples from clients, friends, or my life.

Unfortunately, we have a sad public example of rationalization racing at full power (sad pun intended).

(Cross-post from my other blog, Attestation Update.)

Some background on Lance Armstrong’s massive doping schemes

Many public sources report that Lance Armstrong has been found to use performance enhancing drugs for a very long time. He won seven consecutive Tour de France races.

According to Wikipedia, in 2012 he received a life-time world ban on all competitive events in all sports. His seven wins were revoked. He was found to have engaged in sophisticated doping schemes for many years.

In 2013, he admitted massive doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. He admitted using a long and specific list of banned substances and did so in each of the 7 Tour de France races.

Rationalization on display

Having set the background, let’s look at an article in The Guardian:  Lance Armstrong: I would probably cheat again in similar circumstances. Thanks to Professor Mike Shaub (twitter @mikeshaub) for pointing out the article.


1 fact and 2 stories explaining why you should set up a fraud hotline in your charity

What would you think is the most likely way that a fraud is detected?

Internal audit?


External audit?


One fact

Forty-two percent of frauds are discovered by a tip.

Internal audits are the means to catch 14% of frauds. External audits catch a mere 3% of frauds.

Frauds are ten times more likely to be discovered by a tip than by an external audit.

That single fact, 42% of frauds discovered by tips, is a strong argument to set up an anonymous fraud tip hotline.

That data is provided by The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners in their 2014 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse based on their survey of over 1,400 frauds reported to the organization.

First story


How do you keep one rogue employee from destroying your company? Or at least prevent a FCPA guilty plea and $108M fine?

I often ponder just how do you create a high-enough quality environment with superb-enough controls that you can make sure one out-of-control person can’t take down your whole organization.

I have four examples.

Most of them (but not all) had really good internal controls, great procedures, told their staff constantly what was acceptable, reminded staff of ethical and legal requirements. Some had rigorous internal monitoring procedures.

Yet one out-of-control person took out a bank, severely damaged another bank, and another individual came close to seriously hurting an international accounting firm. A group of people cost one company a guilty plea under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act along with a hundred million dollar fine, deferred prosecution agreement, and tons of negative publicity. Let’s take a look at Barings Bank, KPMG, Société Générale, and HP.

Barings Bank trading losses


Internal control, 1860s edition

Two posts at my other blog illustrate how Wells Fargo stagecoaches used internal controls in the 1860s.

You will see the concepts discussed by your auditor today have been around for over 150 years.

Posts have some fun photos from the Wells Fargo Museum in San Diego. Well, okay, they are fun if you are an accountant or banker or like history of the Old West.

“Tragedy of Fraud” e-book now available at Amazon

“Tragedy of Fraud – The Ripple Effects from Fraud and the Wages Earned” describes the tragic consequences from fraud.

There are ripple effects that spread out to harm innocent bystanders.  The perpetrator draws a wide range of well-deserved wages that will be paid in full.

The book looks at two fraud incidents to learn what happens after a fraud is discovered. One took place in a local megachurch and the other in the mayor’s office of a small city.

The book closes with a discussion of the fraud triangle. That’s the idea that three components need to be present for a fraud to take place – opportunity, motivation, and rationalization. There are steps an organization can take to reduce those factors.

You can find the book at Amazon here

This book is a compilation of blogs posts that have been previously published at Nonprofit Update and Attestation Update. The posts have been edited slightly and reorganized for easier reading.

Major sections of the book: (more…)

8 more tips on avoiding traps for local churches.

Verne Hargrave, CPA, of the accounting firm PSK, is continuing his great series on traps that business administrators can fall into. He is offering tips on avoiding the traps.

Previously mentioned this in my post here.

New discussions include:

Trap #2 Operating without a compensation plan (part 1)


Some traps church business administrators need to avoid

The urgency of things that must be addressed now can take focus away from bigger issues that have long-term payoff.  Verne Hargrave, CPA, of PSK has started a good series on traps that business administrators can fall into because of tyranny of the urgent.

Looks to be a very helpful series. Would be worth your time to visit his blog regularly. Maybe even set it up on your RSS feed.  I’ll highlight it occasionally.

Ten Things to Avoid  in Church Administration starts the discussion. Mr. Hargrave points out a few problems that can arise if tyranny-of-the-urgent takes over your life: (more…)

“Once Upon Internal Control” is available on Kindle platform

My tale on internal control done well and poor at two churches is now available in Kindle format at Amazon.

Price is $0.99.

You can read the book on your Kindle device, on any smart phone with a Kindle app, or on your computer using the Kindle-for-PC application.

At Amazon, search for my name, Ulvog, or the book title, Once Upon Internal Control.

Or click here to go directly to the book.

Ethical atmosphere of an organization is set by the ‘tone at the top’

The ethical attitudes and values of senior leadership will set the ethical atmosphere for an entire organization.  This is called “tone at the top.”

This is something an auditor considers on every audit.

If you would like a short explanation of this idea, along with suggestions on what senior leadership can do to create a good environment, check out Tone at the Top, a post by Sharlynn Garza at the Nonprofit/Government GPS blog.

In my years of auditing, it has long been obvious that organizations have a corporate personality.  (more…)

Free book offer for pastors of local churches

I would like to provide a complementary copy of my book Once Upon Internal Control to pastors of local churches. This short fable is the basis for the cartoons you see on my other blog.

Update:  This book is now available on Amazon for $0.99USD. 

Offer good for delivery in U.S. only, effective December 5, 2011.  Free offer expired on December 31, 2011.