© 2011 John Casimir O'Keefe

Is It Wrong to See The Church (or Ministry) as The Family Business?

Over the past decades I see many Churches where the Children or In-laws of the Pastor have grown to become the new Pastor of the Church when the father or father-in-law retires. Many of those sons have stayed home to become Asst/Assoc Pastors only to become the Senior Pastor when their father or father-in-law retires. This leads to a very interesting question, “Is this wrong?”

For some, there may be nothing wrong with the idea of passing along the church to the son, but by doing so is the Family who leads the Church becoming too powerful in the Church? When the Family name becomes an iconic symbol of the Church, what room is there for Christ, or for others? Another question that comes to mind is, “Is this an isolated incident happening in just a few places?”

What brought this to mind? Recently I was at our local UPS Shipping Store mailing out a Christmas package we put together for the family when I ran into guy who just happened to look like a “mini-me.” I never pass-up an opportunity to say, “Hey, nice look” because it starts a conversation with a stranger. This was no different. During our conversation he had mentioned that he was attending one of the “larger” churches in our area. It was at this point that he said something very interesting, “Our pastor retired and passed the church down to his son.” I thought, ‘Passed the Church down to his son?’ Like someone passing along the family business – “Here are the keys to the Pizza Shop son, I am retiring.” Keeping in mind that evidence of a family business is when a son inherits the business from the father.

I have to be honest, for all of you who keep telling me that the church is not a business and that “it is the people” you have lost on this one. It is hard for anyone to make the case that the church is not a business when things like that happen; when the church becomes the church of “Pastor Smith and Son.” It does not matter how big or small the church is I am automatically repelled when I hear a story of how a church is “passed down, father to son, or son-in-law.” To be honest, it also does not matter how successful the son becomes. I have heard some say that “God must have blessed the family, because the son is just as successful as the father” but I wonder. The idea of “blessed” seems rather interesting because many in the church believe that if God is blessing a church it will grow, and since the Latter Day Saints are one of the fastest growing “Christian Churches” around, are they blessed?

One can ask the question, “Does the New Testament specifically prohibit a father-to-son dynasty?” The answer to that question would be, No. Yet the New Testament does not even hint at one man owning a church as if it were the family business. Still many in the church see this pattern of a father-son family business to be reasonable and normal because it is all they have ever known.

Below is a short list of well known Father/Son preaching acts that transferred the wealth and prosperity of a congregation like a piece property.

John Hagee – Mathew Hagee: Mathew is the executive pastor of Cornerstone Church. Matthew Hagee is the sixth generation in the Hagee family to carry the mantel of Gospel ministry. He serves as the Executive Pastor of the 19,000 member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas where he partners with his father, founder Pastor John Hagee.

John Osteen – Joel Osteen: When John passed the ministry (Lakewood Church) passed to his son Joel.

Billy Graham – William Franklin Graham III (Franklin Graham): While the senior Graham did not pastor a Church, he was the president and CEO of Billy Graham Evangelical Association, and the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. Franklin took over the ministry before Billy Graham retired.

Ed Young, Sr.– Ed Young, Jr.: Ed Sr. has been the longtime pastor at Second Baptist Church in Houston. Ed Jr. grew up Southern Baptist. Ed Jr. served as a pastor in his dad’s church for 8 years at the beginning of his career and then moved to Dallas to plant a new church.

Oral Roberts – Richard Roberts: Oral passed on Oral Roberts University, Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association (OREA)., and City of Faith Medical and Research Center to his son Richard Roberts.

Frederick Price – Fred Price Jr.: Fred was the Head Pastor of Crenshaw Christian Center, now the Ever Increasing Faith Ministries.  Fred has been positioned to continue the family business of prosperity preacher.

Now, I would have to say that it would not bug me as much if the legacies of their fathers told the story of Christ; a man that gave away their wealth in a desire to change the lives of the less fortunate members and not as a coronation of their son. To me, it just seems to follow the lives of the old Roman Church, where Bishops passed their seats over to their sons or other male family member. It seems to me that the only thing we can expect from the sons is the over indulged pastoral lifestyle of the father.

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