First Baptist Spartanburg Conducts Investigation over Use of Church Funds
A Southern Baptist congregation in South Carolina is conducting an investigation regarding the possible misappropriation of church funds.
In a letter dated June 29, 2022, First Baptist Spartanburg informed members that the results of an annual audit revealed “potential irregularities in the financial claims of our church administrator and weaknesses in our financial controls.”
Members were informed that David Dennis, First Baptist’s chief administration officer, was placed on administrative leave and had subsequently resigned.
On August 14, Dr. Don Wilton, the senior pastor for the last 29 years, announced his retirement to the congregation. Wilton, who is called “the pastor of Billy Graham” on the cover of his 2021 book Saturdays with Billy, said he has been planning for retirement over the last four years, but also alluded to “another cloud that has entered in” as a factor in the decision.
That cloud could certainly be the controversy surrounding the resignation of Dennis. The letter to members — signed by Chip Foster, chairman of the church council; Mickey Sobeski, chairman of deacons; and Chad McAllister, chairman of the finance committee — stated that an ongoing, more-detailed review of finances was in progress, but “based on the issued opinions by our external auditors, we do not believe there are material financial discrepancies.”
However, the letter also concluded that “after review by the Church Council, and, on the recommendation of the auditors, a unanimous decision was made to place David Dennis on administrative leave. David resigned in the best interest of the church.”
In his announcement to the church, Wilton said his decision to step down was “a family decision” and “a God decision more than anything.”
“I’m standing here today looking at a people that I have loved and poured my heart and life and soul into for nearly three decades,” he said. “But it’s time, my beloved congregation, it’s time. This decision to announce my retirement to you began really and earnestly in 2018 … I wanted you to know right away so that the church can begin to prepare the search team, the prayer groups, and the process because God is on his throne, and He always has been.”
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Wilton has served as president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and is a frequent speaker for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism, according to the church website. He was also known for his longtime, close relationship with Billy Graham. The two spent most Saturdays together during the last 20 years of Graham’s life, according to an article on BillyGraham.org.
Under the leadership of Wilton, First Baptist Spartanburg has a membership of over 5,000 people. On Sundays, approximately 2,000 to 2,500 attend contemporary and traditional worship services on the sprawling campus in downtown Spartanburg.
In his recent announcement to the church, Wilton also thanked his ministry team and called them “a beloved group of servants.”
“We have loved together, trusted together, journeyed together, cried together, watched God do what He’s done in this congregation [and with] missions all over the world … God sees us through.”
Following the pastor’s retirement announcement, Sobeski said that Wilton had agreed to stay on as senior pastor “at least until the new year or until the point at which God calls the next pastor of First Baptist Church.”
In the meantime, in its correspondence with the membership, the church council has promised to continue its investigation.
“As we receive results from this review, we will act accordingly in a transparent manner to address members’ questions,” the letter stated.