Family on Staff
I’m considering hiring an immediate member of my family to be on our church staff. I’ve heard some pros and cons to this. What are some of the guidelines I should be aware of and implement to make this a success? What are the pitfalls I should watch out for? I’d love to hear from other pastors what’s worked well for them and what’s not worked so well in this regard.
Pastor Jim Graff – Victoria, TX
We have found whether we hire family members or non-family members, it is important that we make the objectives clear. Objectives should include personal character, benchmark competencies for the position, and chemistry with teammates. Family members on staff have definite advantages if family relational skills and communication skills are well developed. Sadly, often they aren’t and pastors end up with staff and family issues through the hiring of family.
Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
This is a great subject for discussion – I’m looking forward to reading the responses as I, too, have family members on my staff. It has been a very interesting journey as we’ve maneuvered through challenges and obstacles that this arrangement has provided and, for the most part, we’ve come out on top (most of the time)!
My wife and I are partners when it comes to the ministry. I serve as the Senior Pastor and she is my Associate (she oversees the office staff and the Women’s ministries within the church). We have always worked well together and it’s a JOY to have her on my side, 24/7. We also have three sons, whom we’re very proud of and happy to see them each serving God. However, their involvement in our ministry has not always contained that JOY that my wife and I have always shared.
We’ve encountered so many challenges with “family/staff relationships”… Every time I think “we’ve seen it all”—they prove me wrong! It is important (in my opinion) that the rest of your leadership team have a clear understanding of the roles that each member of the team is to play—especially when dealing with immediate family members. If the entire team can recognize the calling and gifting that is being brought to the table, dealing with the challenges becomes much more tolerable. It is often “other team members” that serve to remind me of the plan of God for my children. I often expect MUCH MORE from my sons than I do any other member of our team.
I guess that would be one of the issues that I would recommend giving great thought and prayer to when enlisting immediate family members to the work. Clarify the roles AND the expectations ahead of time. It isn’t fair to hold unreasonable expectations over any one—especially your family-staff members. On the other hand, it is imperative that family-staff members recognize their need to be great achievers. If, for example, they tend to expect to get by with little or no effort, or by offering less-than-excellent results, they’re the ones with unreasonable expectations. If the expectations are understood and agreed upon in advance everybody has the right to an enjoyable work environment and a productive future.
I’ve actually had to fire one of my own children. NOT FUN! It’s taken years to repair the relational damage and there are still remnants of relational stress. He has to deal with mind-storms constantly, especially when he witnesses his siblings experiencing ministerial success. His tendency is to compare their successes with his own failures … it’s an area we grapple with together quite often. I share this simply to point out that engaging upon this journey with our family members opens several doors that we need to be aware of. I’m so grateful for each of my family members and the place where God has them! However, this hasn’t come without great cost. I HIGHLY suggest giving much prayer and consideration prior to taking on the challenge. Not that one should “pass on the opportunity”—but that one would be “aware and prepared for what’s coming.”
I’m certain that there is still much for us to learn in this area—but the rewards of doing Life and Ministry Family Style is AMAZING! Our entire staff has realized the blessing that our children are to the house and we’ve trained them to use our family portrait as a picture of what God can and will do in every family that Seeks 1st The Kingdom. Our entire staff is working hard to grow the ministry with a vision of enlisting many of their family members into staff life, as well. We simply promote the idea of doing Life and Ministry Family Style. We’ve made sure to communicate our desire to keep doors open for everyone who is called and made a commitment to equip any who will answer it.
Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
Ask yourself this one question and it will answer most others:
Q. Are they already doing that job? Are they enjoying it, and doing it well, or is this a family member who needs a paycheck?
Pastor Jim Blanchard – Virginia Beach, VA
Some churches start with spouses or family members being the first paid staff. This type of staff set up can be a two-edged coin. On one side of the coin you are confident that you can trust your family members to be loyal to the pastor; on the other side of the coin they may have a difficult time seeing you as their boss or employer (even if you sign the checks). The ideal situation would be for both parties to agree to a 3 to 6 month trial basis; if it works for them, the pastor, and the church that is wonderful; if it doesn’t work out no hard feelings in the family.
Another challenge can be that the pastor never leaves the ministry in his thought life and there is no “family time” separate from church business. This can cause resentment to build in your spouse and children that all of your time and energy is consumed by ministry to others and nothing is ‘left over’ for your spouse and family. It is a great idea to have times where you don’t discuss church business and just enjoy family time together.
In some cases, we can have higher expectations of family on staff and at times not be as strict on them as we would be another staff member. It can be an ideal situation as Abraham recovered all that the enemy had stolen with people from his own household; and it can also challenge your love walk and leadership ability with family on staff. Overall, it has worked out well for our church with my wife and daughter on staff and I wish you all the best and God’s wisdom in leading your church and family in love.
Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
Make sure they realize that you are hiring someone to WORK in the ministry. You need HELP with the work that needs done. Some family members are looking for a position or a title and not somewhere to get busy about the Lord’s business.
If you hire the family member, hire them on a short trial basis to begin with. If they work out, you might want to extend the trial period a little longer rather than making things permanent. Family tends to get too familiar and think that you are offering suggestions, when sometimes you need to give orders. A family member CAN be a great asset, if they understand what you are asking of them. Make sure this person is very tight lipped—not even sharing church business with the rest of their immediate family.
As with everything else, be led by the spirit of God. No one is perfect and challenges will arise with family and non-family employees. Pray, ask God and act upon His leading and you can never go wrong.
Pastor Duane Hanson – Saint Paul, MN
There are definitely “Pros & Cons” involved with having immediate family members functioning in “paid” staff positions. Fortunately, we haven’t experienced any of the negative scenarios that I’ve seen in other ministries over the years.
Having come from a business background where I was required to “hire & fire” employees of the company I worked for, I learned what it takes to make sure you hire the most competent person for a job. If that happens to be a relative that can be trusted with the responsibilities of the ministry, then it can be a great experience. However, if they’re hired for the wrong reasons, the experience can become a horrendous one! The simplest and safest guidelines might be to keep any hiring decisions on a very professional level, and avoid the temptation to allow a “personal” relationship with an immediate family member to influence such an important hiring decision.
If I was faced with the decision to fill a paid staff position today, I would make sure that I treated the relative with the same respect as any other prospective employee, and have them go through the same steps and procedures as any other potential candidate before bringing them on staff. In each case, a job description should be defined and reviewed so that the relative knows exactly what will be expected of them, and the consequences of failing to perform those requirements.
My wife and I are both ordained ministers, and currently the only paid staff at our church. Over the years we’ve had others in both full & part time paid positions (Assoc. Pastor, Office Manager, etc.), but never a direct family member. We’ve tried to stay with volunteers in most positions whenever possible, and for as long as possible.
Both of our adult children have been in leadership positions within the church at some point, but we’ve always had them functioning on a volunteer basis. Before having them step into these positions, we’ve made it clear to all of our “volunteer staff” that we expected the same level of commitment and professionalism from them, just as if they were functioning in a paid position. We emphasized that the real “Boss” was Jesus, and we were just the Supervisors.
Under those parameters, it’s been much easier to deal with people who may need to be shifted from one “job” to another within the church, or have them step out of a ministry position due to the need to promote that specific area of ministry and have someone else step in to take it to the next level.
Sadly, when I’ve seen family members having to be released from a staff position in a church, it’s been treated more like a “divorce” than a “dismissal.” In some cases, the family member felt they weren’t understood, or given the opportunity to improve, and eventually left the church.
If there’s been a strong family bond of love, respect, and trust, having that family member on staff can be a wonderful experience. However, if a relative is hired for the wrong reasons, and the relationship isn’t as strong as it should be, then avoid the situation and keep the staff position open to anyone that fits the professional qualifications required by the position being filled.
Basically, it would be safe to focus primarily on the ministry position that needs to be filled, and the qualifications of the individual that will fill it. If an immediate family member qualifies as an applicant for the position, then encourage them to fill out an application like any other potential candidate, and keep the relationship of the hiring process as professional as possible. By doing so, the potential for an accusation of nepotism can be avoided, and the integrity of the hiring process kept intact.
Pastor Phil Edwards – Ennice, NC
Hiring family members is risky. You better have a rock hard relationship with the one you are hiring. The most frequent thing I’ve experienced is familiarity. Along with that comes disrespect. It can be a problem for the both of you. When hiring a family member, they must adhere to the same set of hiring protocol and follow the same employee practices as anyone else. You should not show favoritism. If you do, it will be a morale buster for the rest of your staff. I have never disciplined a family staff member without some problems.
The most effective thing that has worked for me is to have written guidelines not only for family but everyone that comes on staff. They must read them and sign off on them stating they understand the guidelines and the disciplinary action that comes when they are not in compliance.
When done right your family can be a great asset to your ministry.
Pastor Phillip Curtis – Franklin, IN
I have my wife on staff with me as my Pastoral Assistant. She does hospital calls and fills the pulpit for me when I need a break and also follows up with visitors. I was here for over 20 years before hiring her. By then, the people knew her integrity and heart. Most felt like they could trust her and it’s been a good fit for us.
Pitfall’s do exist, though. One is, when I need a vacation, I want to take my wife with me and this causes two staff to be gone at the same time. It also causes us, at times, to bring work home which hinders other types of communication that needs to be discussed to take a “back seat.” I’ve also thought about the trouble it will cause should I ever have to leave the church, for the church to loose, again, two staff at once.
I believe every situation is different. Every church congregation will react differently. Every family has different working abilities. To be up front at the beginning with a possible family staff person and set down expectations and be clear and not to “assume” anything is wise. My wife being a PK has helped also and a lot of things that need attention, she’s already on top of.
If you feel that the Holy Spirit is giving you the “green light” and you have a good, open relationship with your family member and you can sit down at the beginning and have expectations and benefits written down and both parties agree, I’d say go for it. At least you got somebody in the church who “should have your back.”
Pastor Terry Scheel – Fenton, MO
There are pros and cons to hiring immediate family members.
- You should already know their character
- They are likely to be loyal to you
- They are likely to be more invested in your church than a non-family member
- Because they are familiar with you, they may not be able to respect you as their boss
- Because they are related to you, they may think they have more authority than they really do and treat other church employees in a “bossy” manner
- Also, because they are related to you, they can get a false sense of job security and take liberties, such as coming in late, cutting corners on assignments, etc.
- If you have to discipline them, it can cause turbulence in your immediate family
- Because they are a family member, you might expect too much or too little of them
It appears there are more cons than pros to hiring an immediate family member. However, if you lay out in detail what you expect of them before you hire them, and they stay within those boundaries, working with an immediate family member can be a great blessing.
Pastor Tim Kutz – Bartlesville, OK
What a very good question. Allow me to answer this on multiple levels.
First of all, when a man or woman entering ministry gets married, they must make sure that their spouse is called also. This does not mean that the spouse cannot work secularly, and apart from the church, but it does mean that the spouse is in agreement with their husband or wife’s call and can stand beside them in certain ministry situations. A couple of common examples would be praying for or counseling with the opposite sex. But many pastors include their spouse as a co-pastor, and work side-by-side with them at their church. This is common, and answers the question, who has your heart for the people more than your spouse?
A man’s children can be a little more complicated. There is a Biblical pattern, but not etched in stone, that God calls families. Ministry succession that passes from parents to children is scripturally permissible. Many have promoted their children before they are ready, or without the necessary “shepherd’s heart,” but many more still have moved their children in beside them with great fruit and results. The key here is that you know what you have put in them as parents, and what they have developed in their lives. If they demonstrate a call and wish to stand beside you, that is ideal both for them and for you and will most generally yield positive results within the congregation. However, if you bring your children beside you without “the call,” you are making a grave mistake, for you, for your congregation, and especially with your child.
Siblings on the other hand are problematic. While some of these situations have worked well, many have brought great division and confusion. Although you may think you know your sibling, they have had time to develop in things apart from you and they could be a great help or a great hindrance. Know what they have been giving themselves to and do not override any check that you have in your heart because they are your brother, sister, or those of your spouse. Certainly this does not disqualify them, but a firm understanding of work ethic and expectations should be entered into “in writing” if you employ a sibling.
A niece or nephew is an even bigger problem, especially if they are under 30. With immaturity comes an expectation of entitlement regardless of performance. A very rigid job description and work schedule predicates any such employ! Once again, this is not something to avoid if the right set of circumstances exist, but keep in mind; a mistake made by an extended family member incurs greater disappointment and inflexibility from the congregants! It is also the spawning ground for staff disillusionment!
Pastor Gil Zaragoza – El Paso, TX
My counsel would be, BE SURE TO HEAR FROM GOD (Proverbs 20:27; St. John 16:12-15; Romans 8:14-17). Why? Because the term, “blood is thicker than water,” is true in the positive, but also in the negative. In the negative, objectivity will be lost, especially when the congregation starts criticizing the relative. The defenses will go up 10,000 notches. Believe me, your temperament and self-control will be sorely tested. In some occasions, you will pass. On other occasions, you will fail. When this happens, that will be the time where you will have to answer the delicate question, “Can I continue having my relative on staff?”Also, the relative must have a very clear understanding to “leave the bloodline outside the walls of the church, if you will.” When it comes to “stepping inside the church,” you are no longer blood-relatives, you are the Pastor and he/she is the staff member. When this is clearly communicated, then the working relationship will work out well. If this is not communicated, then trouble will come—and then you will have to answer the delegate question again, “Can I continue having my relative on staff?” BE SURE TO CLEARLY HEAR FROM GOD on this matter.
Dr. Dan Beller – Tulsa, OK
This issue is about nepotism which is defined as “Favoritism to family members or relatives.” If a church is started with a senior pastor and family members or relatives on staff, it can be successful but it is a different paradigm. People who attend that church understand that it is a family led church and their input is secondary to what the family thinks should be done. They give mental assent and know that the program of the church and decisions about finance, personnel and administration are made by the family led church. In most cases, however, nepotism can hinder the outreach and growth of a church for the following reasons:
- Members can feel left out of the loop in any decision making and financial accountability because they know that the senior pastor and family staff members are running the church.
- Other staff members will feel limited on their ideas and creativity, knowing that the senior pastor will favor family members. They will not feel free to offer ideas in staff meetings or other times of discussion. They usually cannot offer constructive criticism or suggestions to any of the family staff members or the Sr. Pastor because it may threaten their employment. Staff members who are not family or relatives will always feel “outnumbered.”
- Church members and other staff members feel left out of the decision making process.
- The senior pastor is not free to correct family staff members because it can affect, sometimes permanently, his relationship with his spouse and other family members. A good example of this is the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA, where Dr. Schuller fired his own son from being the succeeding Sr. Pastor. As a result, the church suffered great loss which included the Crystal Cathedral building.
- The objectivity of the senior pastor in administrative decisions or in dealing with family staff members can be very limited.
- The quality control and excellence of the church is limited because the Sr. Pastor cannot be as objective in dealing with and/or correcting family staff members.
- The ideas and suggestions of family staff members can be too influential on the Sr. Pastor because of their family relationship. This influence may hinder him from making some of the hard decisions which are necessary to build a strong and productive church and developing a quality leadership team.
The board of directors or councilors cannot be as open and objective in dealing with the family staff members. This is very important because it is imperative that these staff members continually grow and mature. This maturity is only possible if someone or some group is continually giving them objective evaluation and even correction.