Hard Question #4:
What’s up with all the nepotism in “Charismaniac” churches?
Everywhere we turn, in almost everything we read, it seems like nepotism is an unavoidable fact of life within your typical charismatic church or ministry. If you look at well-known ministries, you’d be hard-pressed to find one where the staff is NOT made up of the celebrity pastor/evangelist’s family members.
Benny Hinn, for instance, has his wife on the payroll. His brothers also work for his organization, and according to one report I read, they and other family members comprise most of his board of directors. Joyce Meyer has her entire family on her ministry’s payroll, to the point where her ministry funds a lavish compound made up of several mansions where she, her husband, and her children and their spouses live. Paul and Jan Crouch, of pink-wigged TBN fame, have one son on their staff and have used millions of ministry dollars to fund their other son’s movie-making business.
And those are just a few celebrity examples. We could spend weeks listing the multitudes of smaller, lesser-known ministries where all staff members just “happen” to share the same last name as the senior pastor.
Like we mentioned before, the nepotism at Living Word Church (a pseudonym) was evident even from our very first Sunday morning there. It gave us a bit of a pause at first, since it was so unlike anything either of us had ever known in the democratic, egalitarian Baptist/Evangelical world of our past. But because we WERE new to Spirit-filled Charismatic stuff, and because this type of nepotism is everywhere within Charismania, we quickly shrugged off our concerns and chose to view the “staff family” as just something else that we had to get used to.
Pastor Smith (again, another pseudonym) did a remarkable job of convincing his people of the unique authority he wielded as our leader. Because of Smith’s prophetic gift, we were all under the impression that Smith had a direct pipeline to God. We’d often heard him utter the words, “God told me to tell you…” as an introduction to his prophecies. So, when Smith made various decisions regarding the church and its staff, there was that underlying assumption that he was doing so at the behest of God Himself.
Pastor Smith also did a good job of hammering away at the idea that “The Anointing” is somehow generational as well as transferrable.
Although I’ve grown cynical about some aspects of how Pastor Smith set up and ran his church, I’m still convinced that Smith sincerely believes that by virtue of their relationship to him, his sons are somehow automatically destined and equipped to follow him into the ministry. It was, after all, probably exactly what Smith’s own father did to Smith himself, as Pastor Smith took over his dad’s congregation – the same group that eventually became Living Word Church – when his dad retired some twenty years before.
At any rate, we – and apparently most of the rest of the congregation – bought into Pastor Smith’s teachings on this “generational” anointing, partly because of how Smith promoted and wielded his own authority, and partly because initially, at least, his two sons did well enough in the positions that he’d installed them in at the tender ages of 17 and 19, respectively.
While Tommy Smith had some serious trouble carrying a tune, he could certainly play the piano like nobody’s business, and he seemed to have a tremendous work ethic when it came to the music ministry that he led. His older brother Timmy apparently did a good job with the youth ministry as well.
Both boys were in college, working on ministerial degrees (or so we thought), and while they finished their education, Pastor Smith was wise enough to have youth pastor Timmy under the supervision of another staff member, a Bible-college-trained and ordained minister in his late 30s who was NOT a relative. Music minister Tommy had lots of help from his assistants in the music department. It felt like there was at least some system of checks and balances in place.
But after a year or two had passed, Timmy and Tommy Smith both graduated from college. And that’s when things began to shift. It seemed to start with their ordination, which took place in an elaborate church service where a celebrity preacher officiated. A scant few weeks later, Timmy – who hadn’t actually attended seminary after all but earned a business degree – preached his first Sunday morning service. And honestly, while it probably worked well enough with the youth, Timmy’s preaching had about as much depth as a cookie sheet. In fact, after he was introduced with great fanfare and a standing ovation that Sunday morning, he actually repeated, almost word for word, a cute little pep talk that he’d given on a Sunday evening some months before.
Nevertheless, the congregation that morning cheered and shouted their amens just as loudly as ever. When Timmy launched into a familiar “riff” of his dad’s favorite Scriptural promises – which didn’t even really fit into his pep talk – the crowd went wild.
In the following months and years, we grew increasingly dismayed by Pastor Smith’s apparent determination to move Timmy into more of an authoritative role. Tommy, too, took on greater and greater responsibilities, ruling over the choir members and other musicians with an almost despot-like control.
Then both “boys” (young men in their early 20s by this point) got married. Shortly after Timmy’s marriage, Pastor Smith maneuvered him and his young bride into a senior pastor position at another church in another state. Tommy then took over his brother’s old youth pastor duties, in addition to his continuing role as music pastor.
At this point, although we still loved and respected Pastor Smith – and still deeply desired to believe that he was making all of his decisions under the direction of God – we began to find ourselves questioning what was REALLY going on.
I mean, it was becoming so glaringly OBVIOUS to us that Smith, by placing his young sons in charge and giving them such unquestioned authority, could not possibly be looking out for the interests of his people. We couldn’t figure out why others on staff, with far more training and experience, continued to be sidelined in favor of Timmy and Tommy.
It was also obvious that Smith wasn’t even thinking clearly in terms of his own sons’ best interests. If all that unchecked authority wasn’t healthy for the congregation, it most definitely wasn’t healthy for the two twentysomething Smith kids.
Certainly Timmy Smith and his young wife needed some time to adjust to marriage and perhaps actually go to seminary before taking on the senior pastorate thousands of miles away from home. And Tommy…well, if both the youth pastor job and the music pastor job were truly full-time positions, worthy of the hefty salaries that the boys (as evidenced by their luxury cars, expensive clothes, and nice homes) received, then how in heaven’s name could one young, newly-married guy be expected to do justice to them both?
When, with no credentials other than her marriage license, Tommy’s wife suddenly became a staff member bestowed with the coveted title of “Pastor” (something reserved ONLY for members of the Smith family – everyone else on staff, no matter how educated or ordained, was simply called “Director”), we were forced to acknowledge that Smith’s personnel decisions had NOTHING to do with “God’s will” and everything to do with promoting his own family and their interests.
Since we left Living Word Church, we’ve been learning more about other Charismatic ministries. It sure seems to us like there’s some secret “playbook” out there containing all the strategies for starting your own
family business ministry. Why else would every single ministry be so rife with nepotism?
More to the point, why do we church members put up with it? Any thoughts?