I recently had a reader ask my thoughts on nepotism in the church.
My short answer is – it depends. I’ve seen very successful situations when nepotism in church works well.
But I’ve also seen it harm the workplace when (nonfamily) employees were not given the preferential treatment that relatives were.
Here is a great example I saw in a movie.
In the movie Tommy Boy, the owner of an auto parts factory gives his dim-witted son (played by Chris Farley) a plush job even though he just graduated from college—barely. The owner’s right-hand man (played by David Spade) does not approve.
When Spade’s character sees Tommy’s new office, he sarcastically quips: “You have a window. And why shouldn’t you? You’ve been here 10 minutes.”
Although the movie was an exaggerated expression of nepotism at work, organizations that employ relatives or close friends often have disastrous results.
This can be particularly difficult in the church when employing family members can seem to be a very natural thing to do.
Family and friends of church leaders often seem a good choice for hiring because they love the church, understand the mission, and we trust them.
Here are seven things to consider when hiring family or friends.
Nepotism In Church – 7 Things To Consider When Hiring Family And Friends
1. Recruit For Diversity Of Thought
Hiring someone who is not a friend or family member can be advantageous for the church.
The reason is every organization benefits from the diversity of thought that comes with different perspectives and frames of reference.
It is also healthy to have people with whom you do not have a personal relationship.
Close friends and relatives are often uncomfortable challenging church decisions.
While successful organizations understand the importance of employing individuals who feel comfortable speaking up, asking questions, and seeking to understand.
2. Hold Friends And Relatives To The Same Standard
Managing family and friends is awkward at best. Confronting unacceptable behavior and issues can be very stressful.
Write fair and specific policies and hold everyone to the same standard.
Policies are written for all employees, not just those who don’t have the advantage of being a blood relative.
If you wouldn’t tolerate a habit or action from a non-relative, don’t accept it from family members.
Favoritism and preferential treatment create division and resentment among employees. Be aware of this!
In addition, many companies have policies that forbid managers from having relatives as direct reports.
There’s a lot of wisdom in such policies.
3. Relatives Must Work Their Way Up
Some independent churches eventually hand off the ministry to a grown child.
This may or may not be in the best interest of the church. Regardless, those intentions should be made public to the congregation through a succession plan.
The child may not want the job when it comes time. Worse, he or she may feel entitled to it and not do the work necessary to earn the position.
The annals of business history overflow with organizations that collapsed under second-generation leadership.
Make the relative start at the bottom, learn about the ministry from every nook and cranny, and earn the respect of members, volunteers, and employees.
This will ensure a smooth transition when the time comes.
4. Identify A Non-family Mentor
Everyone needs a professional mentor.
Close relatives rarely fulfill this role simply because it’s difficult to separate the roles of “father” and “mentor.”
Enlist a non-relative in your church, somebody you respect, to take on the role of leading the professional development of your relative employee.
Some business owners like to set up a good cop-bad cop scenario.
The owner will play the “bad cop” to his son or daughter, being extra tough as a way to demonstrate to the rest of the workforce that he doesn’t play favorites.
A mentor can play the “good cop” and guide the son or daughter through his or her development.
5. Pay Equity
Relatives should earn the same wages as comparable employees.
If you think you can keep the pay inequity a secret, don’t kid yourself. Employees talk.
Review descriptions regularly to ensure what’s written still reflects the job qualifications, responsibilities, and compensation.
This kind of process helps the organization to maintain objectivity when giving job assignments and awarding salary.
6. Relatives Need Training Also
Hiring relatives for jobs they don’ have the experience, skills, or knowledge to perform is bad for you, your church, and for them.
Nobody wants to fail, but you may be setting them up to do just that if you hire them to lead your marketing team and their degree is in ancient Egyptian history.
This is another area in which having written job descriptions help.
Every job description should include minimum and preferred education requirements.
7. Sometimes You Have To Make The Tough Call
It’s unfortunate, but there are times when friends and family don’ work out as you’d hoped. You need to separate the personal relationship from the professional one.
If you would terminate the employment of a non-relative in the same situation, you have to be willing to do so with a family member.
This is the most difficult thing to do. After all, firing a relative can make for an awkward Thanksgiving gathering.
You can cushion the blow and maintain the family relationship by helping your relative find a better fit elsewhere.
Offer feedback on their resume, give them ongoing coaching and use your community connections to suggest potential employers.
Sometimes these employees simply need to gain some experience.
If this is the case, you can leave the door open to return once the employee gets the required experience and training.
Nepotism is often impossible to avoid.
And there are times when a relative is the most qualified for a particular job. Just make sure that when relatives are at work, they’re treated as employees, not as family.
Do you or staff members need training?
Check out our Fundamentals Of Church Administration Course!