Today was a sad day for me. As a Pastor in the township of Hamilton, NJ I am deeply grieved by what just occurred in the Fisher Federal Courthouse in Trenton. After the former Mayor John Bencivengo solicited $12,400 in bribes from a school district insurance broker, he was convicted of corruption and was sentenced today to 38 months in a federal prison. Essentially, the leader of our community threw everything away. I had the privilege to sit next to the former Mayor at several Hamilton Township events and I remember meeting him when we started 217church in 2010. Mr. Bencivengo was cordial and I gave him the respect his office deserved. I don’t know Mr. Bencivengo personally and I’m not sure what went wrong, or when exactly he made a decision to steal money, but I do know this: Today was probably one of the saddest days of his 90 year old mother’s life, Rose Mary Bencivengo.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind,to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” Jeremiah 17:9-10
Let’s all be honest, we have all made mistakes, maybe we haven’t extorted $12,400, but we all have all done things we are not proud of. These choices have consequences and everyone has been tempted to do something extremely irresponsible and morally questionable. No one is above the temptation. Whether it was last week, last month, or last year, we all fall short of perfection. But when a leader falls off the “leadership bus” and has a “stupid moment,” it should make us all pause and take inventory of our offices, influence, our calling and our deep connection to others in the community we live in. Hopefully we can avoid having these major “stupid moments” like the mayor, but here are 4 things to consider before having a “stupid moment.”
Definition of a Stupid Moment: A moment in time when you think you can get away with something that you know in your heart is not only wrong, but compromises your reputation, family and your legacy.
4 Things To Do Before Having The “Stupid Moment”
1. Set Up Safeguards – The best way to not have a stupid moment is to NOT put yourself in compromising situations. There are three primary areas you need to safeguard yourself in, what I like to call the three P’s of integrity. These have the power to end your career, public service or ministry and damage your integrity: PRIDE, POSSESSIONS, and PLEASURE. Our desire for more power, more stuff and our inability to stay morally pure will destroy us. YOU MUST set up safeguards to protect yourself against even the appearance of impropriety. For every person and leader the safeguards are different, but my practical safeguards include avoiding morally questionable situations with the opposite sex. This may seem extreme, but I won’t go out for coffee with any woman alone in ANY circumstance. It just isn’t worth the risk to me. In addition, as a pastor, I don’t handle ANY money from the church. I am not a signer on any bank accounts and if you hand me money, I will hand it back to you. I also serve alongside a board and staff that has the ability to question decisions of mine all the time. You have to empower people to disagree with you in order to be a good leader.
Question: What safeguards do you need to set up, RIGHT NOW?
2. Consider Your Own Vision – If you don’t have a compelling life vision, you are more likely to wing it in your character. One of the things that has kept me from taking moral shortcuts is keeping my goals and calling in front of me. Whenever there is an opportunity to cheat, (and there will be opportunities), I ask myself this question. Will I be able to sleep tonight with a clear conscience if I do this? If the answer is no, well, I need to move on quickly. Trust is developed over a lifetime and then disappears in a day. The longer you entertain the thoughts of compromise, the more likely you are to have a “stupid moment.” If you know who you are, what you are about and what you are trying to accomplish in life, you are less likely to fall on your face in your character. Your vision has to be so compelling that others never question what you are about.
Question: How does your vision need to be refined to be made compelling?
3. Be Very Afraid, Fear and Honor Your ‘Office’ Above Yourself – There is nothing wrong with a fear and reverence for a position. As a matter of fact, many leaders in our country have lost their sense of honor for the offices they hold. How can you tell if you don’t honor the role? One word, ENTITLEMENT. As we develop leaders for roles and positions in our church to benefit the community, I sniff out the evil of entitlement and squash it as fast as I can. If you work with me and you become entitled, you may find yourself out of a job. If you are entitled you will be lazy and lazy people make terrible public servants, entrepreneurs, police officers etc.
Question: What do you think your job ‘owes’ you?
4. Think of Your Mom – And wife, and children, and co-workers, and constituents and the list just goes on and on. I said at the beginning of this post, the day of sentencing was probably most difficult for Bencivengo’s mother. How do I know this? Consider Jesus at the cross: We know from what the bible says that His mother was at the foot of the cross weeping while they crucified Jesus. Your actions don’t just have consequences for you, but all of your family, friends and every person you serve. You will either redeem or reduce people’s opinion of your role and the organization you serve by how you serve faithfully.
Question: Is there any behavior you are participating in that is moral grey area?
I hope we can all show grace to former Mayor Bencivengo and his family. Our job is to now heal and move on. Hopefully the integrity and belief in our municipal, civic and corporate leaders in our township will be restored quickly. I am saddened in my heart for what we have endured as a community, but I forgive and move on. Will you choose to forgive? Our community will be better off if we don’t hold grudges. If you are honest with the questions above, I am confident our township will once again be restored to honor and we will once again trust our public officials.
Pastor Josh Conn is the Pastor of 217church in Hamilton Township, NJ. 217church holds services at the AMC24 theaters in Hamilton every Sunday at 9:30 and 11:00am and is a church dedicated to serving the needs of Hamilton and surrounding mercer county communities.