All In The Family?

All In The Family? March 21, 2012

Yesterday, the Out of Ur blog ran a post about one of the key reasons for the demise of Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral. The author of the post wrote, “A former Crystal Cathedral board member believes family dynamics led, in part, to the decline of the ministry.” After summarizing the low points of the long, messy decline of this particular megachurch, the writer asks readers to offer their responses to questions including

Would you want to be part of a church that’s essentially a family business? Are there strengths to this model we may not recognize? And what can be done to ensure ministries with leaders from the same family do not suffer the same fate as the Crystal Cathedral?

I posted a brief response at Our Of Ur referring to my experience a decade ago serving on the staff where most of the others on the paid staff were relatives that came from  two interconnected families. I did blog about the questions left in the wake of the experience a couple of years ago. In case you don’t feel like clicking over to read that post, I’ll summarize: Nepotism made working at the church a terrible, TERRIBLE experience.

After that experience, my husband and I have agreed that we will not join a congregation where multiple family members are paid staff or in leadership (elder) roles. If there is, say, a pair of family members receiving a paycheck or making directional decisions in a church, we will be asking lots of hard questions about how the congregation is protected from the potential toxicity of nepotism. Even if this spousal or parent-child pair is gifted by God to do the job, and they both happen to be the best choice for their respective positions, I have no qualms about asking questions like, “What safeguards are in place to make sure that these two family members cannot enforce their joint decisions on others? When was the last time one or both were told ‘no’? How did they handle it? What happens when others detect that they’ve shared sensitive information with one another after being specifically asked not to? Do you believe the decision-makers in the church have the will to remove one or both of them from their positions if need be? Why?”

(Yep. It was pretty terrible.)

I love seeing families working and worshiping together. But there are lots and lots of wonderful, God-honoring ways to do this that do not include allowing a family’s mortgage payment and electric bill to be solely on their church paycheck, or where a congregation becomes the stage upon which a family forms its identity.

I’d love your thoughts on this topic. Have you had a positive experience with a family-run church? What made it work?

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