This is an extract from the trial of City Harvest taken from the Straits Times today.
"My client is in the dock and his life is in a mess. His instructions to me is that if you had told him what was right and what was wrong, he would have followed your advice...You are breaking his heart, the way you are denying things." (Senior Counsel Sreenivasan for City Harvest Church).
Auditor Foong Daw Ching rebutted, "They know very well they come to me on an ad hoc basis...They are intelligent people. You paint (them) as though they are 21-year-olds."
There are actually seven helpful lessons that I can learn here. And they are lessons about running a multi-million-dollar, media-grabbing, magnum-cool, megachurch. Here are the lessons for your digest.
1) Just like the movie censorship RA(21) rating, running a megachurch has an age-restriction too. You have got to be above 21 years old. This is a must because any age below that would make you look unintelligent or unintelligible. This is the all-important first lesson. If you are eighteen years old, eager to set up a megachurch, and think the world of yourself, wait long long.
2) Related to the first lesson is this second: you have got to be intelligent, and preferably be surrounded by intelligent people. This is basic common sense because dumb people would ruin the church's reputation by making dumb investments on dumb-enough music videos and dance moves on the dumb premise that they are all for the feet-tapping glory of god...oops, the whole pun is honestly unintended.
3) The third lesson is instructive and it is culled from the quote above, "They are intelligent people. You paint (them) as though they are 21-year-olds." The catchword here is "paint". To run a megachurch, you must be an artist, familiar with the art of handcrafting and better still painting. It's actually all about painting the right picture for your devotees to see. Just avoid any possible kaypoh-like scrutiny. As long as it is admired from afar, from a distance, your art will shine like a shimmering mirage. This is another basic common sense because the devil is often in the details. And for a megachurch, the angels are often traipsing on stage.
4) Do not ever seek help only on an ad hoc basis. This is the fourth lesson on running a megachurch. Being intelligent and artistic is one thing, but seeking help only on an ad hoc basis is like peeing once a month. It's bladder-ly ill-advised. You have to bear this in mind because running a megachurch calls for continuous commitment. And any discontinuity in seeking advice or doing so only at one's convenience may be interpreted by the narrow-minded critics as if you have something to hide. So, be consistent and not consistently inconsistent.
5) "His instructions to me is that if you had told him what was right and what was wrong, he would have followed your advice," so says City Harvest’s counsel. The fifth lesson is hidden in this sentence and it is this: Never base "what is right and what is wrong" on a man, especially if he is someone who has admitted that he's not even good with numbers. As a megachurch leader, what is right and what is wrong should always be premised on the Spirit of Truth and not on a numerically-challenged bookkeeper who is now apparently aloof.
6) The sixth lesson is about breaking hearts and it is taken from this line, "you are breaking his heart, the way you are denying things." In order to run a megachurch successfully, always embrace or steel your heart for lots of disappointments. These disappointments come in many forms and the most heartbreaking one is when your member no longer accepts what you say as gospel truth because his version happens to serve him better. But, let's not sidetrack. This lesson is of crucial importance and you ignore it at your own peril. In a nutshell, it is about keeping your heart pure and in this case, pure from those who only have their own interest at heart and not yours.
7) Here comes a practical seventh lesson and it is about airing public laundry. The cue here is in this opening line, "My client is in the dock and his life is in a mess." As the leader of a megachurch, this public confession is a big no-no. Never get yourself in such a messed up situation if it can be avoided. In fact, you are to avoid it at all cost. If it is possible, always resort to scapegoating tactics like blaming the accountant - he is always an easy target, since, in like manner that a cook can always whip up a storm, the book-keeper can always cook up the books. Or, maybe, pick the weakest link in the chain and smoke out the Judas character. He is not hard to find. He is usually the one closest to the money trail like the business development manager. Alternatively, and this should never be tried at home cell, you can always look up to the heavens and expect an apology. That way, the church of sheep-like members would always view you as one of them, that is, a poor, sacrificial lamb offered to the "secular dogs" for a "god-ordained purpose".
Therein ends the seven lessons I have learned from this City Harvest saga. I hope you had as much fun learning them as I had writing them. Cheerz!
Disclaimer: All errors and omissions found in this article belong exclusively to the author, that is, me, and all credit, if any, goes to the leadership of a megachurch.