Family, Finances, and the Faith: Nepotism In The Church

Nepotism

Let’s face it, Jesus says some hard, sometimes harsh things. One of the most offensive statements in the Gospels is this winnowing word about families and disciples or followers of Jesus:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26 ESV)

First, what is Jesus not saying? He isn’t barring or shutting anyone out of the Kingdom. Rather, He’s speaking the language of common sense along the same lines as this statement:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

If our priorities are out of line, we will serve or follow the one we love most: In this Matthew passage devotion to money shows that we despise God and serve cash. The Luke passage makes a similar point. A disciple of Jesus is one who lays down his life and His relationships at the feet of the Master: both become the property of Jesus to do with as He pleases. Unless we daily take up our cross and lay down our lives, we cannot be a disciple of Jesus. It’s mathematically impossible. Only One can occupy first place in my heart, might, mind and strength. Not my life, my money, my friends or even my family. Only Christ can occupy the number one spot.

I think most of us know this to be true and we think about this passage in terms of our conversion. We turned and followed Jesus, leaving behind those who would not come along with us. Many of us did that. We left behind family and friends, only to find that we actually gained a hundred times more within the Body of Christ:

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29–30 ESV)

Yes, as disciples of Christ we have been blessed a hundredfold with family, friends, and property along with lots of persecution. Of course, the real bonanza comes later when we enter the new age and eternal life.

But, what if you’re a disciple of Jesus and, perhaps, members of your family are believers, too? What if you and your extended family gather together in a local church? Let’s say you and some close relatives serve as leaders in a congregation. Is it possible to over love your family in that situation and put yourself in the impossible position of serving both your family and Jesus? If money is involved, doesn’t that make your situation doubly dangerous? A number of financial experts and Christian ministers think so. They have some words of wisdom for anyone in vocational ministry and the family members who support them.

Dr. Jimmy Draper, a national leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, identifies five “land mines” Christian leaders should avoid. Number one on the list is nepotism or “the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.” He says this:

This is a very sensitive area. When a minister hires his wife, siblings, children, spouses of his children, etc., it opens up some areas of concern. I believe it is inappropriate unless it comes as a demand from the church itself.

In other words, in financial decisions regarding jobs or pay the mission of the entire church should be in view and not the needs or desires of a few family members. One way to avoid this kind of problem, according to church financial counselors, is for family members in leadership to recuse themselves when the church makes financial decisions regarding their kin. In some very small churches, this may be difficult or nearly impossible. In those cases, it may be wise to have others from their denomination or an association or a neighboring church involved in the process.

Michelle Van Loon relates first hand how dangerous nepotism can be to a church and its Gospel mission:

We attended a church that had a pair of brothers-in-law and a set of sisters on the paid staff… The elder board at the church included relatives of these relatives… It didn’t take long to discover that not all staff meetings happened in the church building. Some also happened at family birthday parties and during vacations. Plans were hatched and decisions were made in the context of these tight family bonds… Protecting the family was a more powerful motivation than protecting the sheep.

Robert Cubillos, the business administrator at Rolling Hills Covenant Church points up what may be the greatest danger nepotism poses to the mission of the local church:

Nepotism can create a group of people who are insular and self-referential; they are insulated from outside scrutiny and opinion and are allied together by powerful allegiances to each other. Our concern was to avoid any situations tending toward partiality and/or favoritism that threaten our church’s organizational unity and our ability to function cohesively

There are no ties for first place in God’s Kingdom. When family comes first, Jesus and His Church will drop into second place.  Yes, a “kith and kin” kind of church may continue to “proclaim the Gospel and make disciples.” But, its mission will always be divided between the Gospel of Jesus and  the interests of “father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters.” If you or I cannot repent of partiality and allegiance to family first, Jesus has this sobering assessment: you cannot be His disciple. It’s impossible.

Update 1/2016: I wrote another post on 501 (c) (3) status over here.

Here are some resources to help you and your church avoid the sin of nepotism.

Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability

Body of Christ or Family Business?

If It Stinks, Investigate 

Hiring Family: Avoiding Nepotism On Church Staffs

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