Summit Church, a multi-campus congregation in Florida, has fired Jim Hines, one of its directing elders, after he was caught stealing from a Christmas Eve offering and admitted it wasn’t his first time.
The church did not immediately respond to calls from The Christian Post for comment on Thursday but said in a statement to The Roys Report that Hines, who led the church’s Emerging Leaders program, was caught stealing $1,000 from the offering on Christmas Eve, a violation of the church’s “protective policies.”
It is unclear if the police were contacted about the theft, but the church said that Hines admitted to taking cash during an offering count at the church in 2018 — something he had previously denied.
“That charge was taken seriously and Jim was put on leave,” the church said in its statement. “At that time, he denied the accusation and ultimately it could not be confirmed.”
Summit Church was launched on the Fort Myers campus of Florida Gulf Coast University in September 2003, according to its website. Since then, the church has expanded with campuses in Gateway, Fort Myers and Naples.
“We knew that God was calling us to make disciples of Jesus that would represent the gospel to every man, woman and child in Southwest Florida,” the church’s website states. “We continue to have a growing burden for the lost, not only in SWFL but also throughout our state, nation and world.”
Hines was an elder in the church. He is listed online as serving as a Summit Church executive pastor from 2013 to 2020. Through the church's Emerging Leaders program, he focused on “forming and releasing Kingdom leaders into marketplace and vocational ministry.”
“The investment in these young leaders is so that they would pursue the mission of representing the gospel to every man, woman and child. We are working with young leaders to discern and confirm their calling as a Kingdom leader and equipping them with the foundation they need for a lifetime of sustained Christian leadership,” an online description of the program that has since been removed from the church’s website reads.
Research cited by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, a leading provider of property and casualty insurance to Christian churches and ministries in the United States, says reported cases of church crime have been rising by about 6% annually. Church financial fraud is expected to reach the $80 billion mark by 2025.
The level of reported fraud in churches, however, is dwarfed by the 80% of church financial crimes that are estimated to go unreported, according to the organization.
Late last year, a plumber discovered an undisclosed sum of cash and checks stacked inside a wall at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, seven years after some $600,000 was reported stolen from a safe.
As for how the cash and checks ended up in the bathroom wall, Don Iloff, a senior executive at Lakewood Church, told CP last month that while the police are still investigating, there are different theories about how it could have happened.
“The bathroom is a public bathroom, but it’s a single-use bathroom and you can push the ceiling out of the bathroom,” he said.
“If you threw the bags [of money] up into the ceiling to maybe get them later or whatever and they fell down into the wall, you wouldn’t be able to get to the bags,” he said as a possible explanation for how the money may have gotten into the wall. “Every one of us was shocked when we found out seven years later.”