By Steve Reeves
A megachurch minister with decades of experience explains why and how staff members’ spouses and children—including his own son—serve together with him.
I have been lead pastor at Connection Pointe Christian Church, Brownsburg, Indiana, for almost 29 years. When my wife and our three preschoolers moved here in July 1986, there was a paid youth minister and a church secretary. It proved to be a wonderful place to minister and an encouraging environment in which to raise our family.
Life, church work, and family matters were much simpler when we arrived, although my wife probably wouldn’t use the word simpler to describe the task of raising three preschoolers and a husband, while adjusting to life in a new church and community (but that’s another article for another day).
During the past almost 30 years, life and ministry have become much more complex. We now have 65 paid staff members, and that includes eight married couples (including our youngest son and daughter-in-law).
So here’s the question: Is it wise or unwise for immediate family members to serve on the same church staff?
Church Size Matters
Nate, our youngest son, was hired as a summer intern to serve with our youth minister in 2006 (we were a church of 2,000 at the time). My guess is, if the church had been less than about 600, it would have mattered more. Perhaps Nate’s ministry would have come under greater scrutiny, since everything is under a closer watch in a smaller church. The active members are more involved, or at least aware of all aspects of the church.
In our case, Nate did well, but the majority of the church had no interaction with him, nor much awareness of the things he learned or how he served with our middle and high school students, leaders, and parents.
But at the end of the internship, our youth minister said, “We don’t want Nate to get away. Can we hire him, part-time, until he graduates from college?”
Suddenly it seemed like a potentially bigger deal. I wondered, What if they want to hire him full-time, to serve in our growing student ministry?
Well, that’s what happened; Nate was hired full-time. Turns out, the church size and the scope of the ministry were large enough that Nate had a pretty normal transition onto the staff as a full-time member.
Not long after Nate became a member of the staff, he met another staff member. They started to date, and now she is my daughter-in-law! Since that time, they each have grown in their roles on our staff, but have never been in the same area of ministry. They serve on different teams within the Connection Pointe staff.
While the personality of every staff member is significant, I believe it is particularly important that a child of the lead pastor love the congregation as much as his or her father. It’s natural for Nate to “love on” others and “be loved.” He cares for others and demonstrates it in tangible ways. That initial personality trait of a “church staff family member” opened the door for the leaders of the church to consider hiring other spouses or children onto our staff.
CAUTION: The church must adhere to the following guidelines, or “best practices,” if it hopes to avoid rocky waters with regard to hiring relatives of existing staff members. It’s important to note each potential staff member is subject to the same hiring process.
We do not create positions for spouses or children of staff members, and an applicant’s personality must fit the profile of the position for which he or she is applying. Well-conducted interviews and personality/temperament tests1 are critical factors in hiring.
In my opinion, when the candidate is a staff spouse or child, churches tend to hire based on personality more than a skill set, and that’s a huge mistake. If the applicant does not possess the skill, training, or experience needed, personality cannot make up for it.
Conversely, a person can have the ideal personality and skill set, but if ministry is not his heart’s call, a train wreck is likely around the corner. Jim Collins’s analogy in Good to Great is most fitting: “You must have the right people on the right seats in the right bus.”
It’s not enough to “want to work full-time in the church.” The question really is: “Has God wired you, gifted you, and called you to serve in this needed role on the paid leadership team of the church?”
While the family of any church staff member must be committed to Christ and the church, the full-time ministry is not an “equal opportunity employer.”
Just because a staff member has been “called” to serve in full-time ministry does not mean every member of that family is called to full-time, paid, vocational ministry. God’s call isn’t like a cell phone company’s “family plan.”
In my opinion, if full-time positions in the church ever become “just a job” rather than “a calling,” the church and family will greatly suffer.
Colossians 1:28 says, “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” While our task is to present every follower as “mature” in Christ, it is of the highest priority that all church staff members—and especially all staff family members—be men and women of high spiritual and emotional maturity.
Emotional Quotient Matters
Our emotional quotient matters, because we can have spiritual knowledge, yet lack the EQ to “work and play well with others.”
So, church staff family members must be . . .
Regardless of the church/work experience or the family pedigree, a person who is not teachable is unlikely to be hired and, if hired, will not be on the staff very long. Lifelong learning is necessary for effective ministry. (I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years, yet the learning curve has never been steeper, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.)
At Connection Pointe, no staff member “reports to” a family member. That means you must be willing to be led and taught by someone other than your immediate family member. And a staff leader must treat all team members fairly, not showing favoritism (or the opposite) to a staff member who is related to someone serving elsewhere in the church.
It’s not one of the Ten Commandments, but it is one of the core values for the staff of Connection Pointe.
“Blessed are the flexible” is a double whammy for a staff family member. Why? Because the staff member will, inevitably, need to flex as they work with others, plus he or she will also have to see their spouse, parent, son, or daughter be flexible! (That is where EQ comes in. You’ll need the emotional maturity to honor the boundaries between your family member and his or her supervisor.)
Scripture says we cannot be “mature in Christ” without becoming like Christ. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:3-5, New Living Translation).
Relatives of existing staff members come on board knowing they need to be teachable, flexible, and humble enough to truly serve Christ and others. And if a conflict arises that could harm the effectiveness or unity of the church, that person and his or her family member/coworker knows he or she will be asked to humbly resign for the good of his kingdom.
At his opening press conference upon being hired to coach football at Notre Dame University, Lou Holtz said, “Thank you for that kind reception to the Notre Dame family. But will you still love me if we don’t win a national championship?”
A member of the local press shouted, “Oh, we’ll always love you, Lou. But we’d sure miss havin’ you around.”
So, yes, there have been some difficult conversations and staff family transitions. And when a really good staff member is called to another ministry, and they’re married to a really good staff member—we lose two, instead of just one.
As in most things, there are pros and cons, but we have found we are healthier and more united as a staff as a result of hiring family members who already are in sync with the vision of the church and are called according to his purpose!
1HT SCAN™ by Humantelligence is used to define individual internal motivators and behavioral preferences. It uses four lenses that provide a holistic view of life priorities, motivators, behaviors, and ideal work preferences.
Steve Reeves serves as lead pastor with Connection Pointe Christian Church in Brownsburg, Indiana.
I DON’T KNOW Steve Reeves personally, but I’ve seen Connection Pointe do amazing things, and we regularly send people from our church their way when they relocate to Indianapolis for work or school. At Suncrest Christian Church, we largely share his perspective on this topic, so I would emphasize one key concept and ask one question.
Steve strikes a healthy combination of good policy and good perspective. A church writing policies to try to avoid every difficult situation (or in response to a past problem) about family serving together might be tempted to eliminate the possibility completely, but it would be a mistake for all the reasons Steve listed.
Instead, I see a healthy awareness of potential pitfalls. There is clarity that family members in this arrangement get the opposite of “special exemptions.” There is an expectation that standards for all staff are not just met, but exceeded. At the same time, the church wisely has enough policies in place (such as family members not reporting to each other) to minimize conflicts of interest and be sure staff functions stay above reproach.
My question: Steve mentioned that while his son was on staff, he dated and married another staff member! That raises another issue! What should be a church’s policy about staff members dating each other?
—Greg Lee, lead pastor, Suncrest Christian Church, St. John, Indiana
STEVE REEVE’S INSIGHTS demonstrate why he has led so well in ministry for so many years. Since most of the ministers I work with are young church planters, I’d like to respond to Steve’s essay with them in mind.
First, beware of rose-colored glasses. Hiring family for staff is not unlike getting engaged. It’s natural to focus on the positives and minimize the negatives before you make the commitment. And it’s much easier to get into than to get out of.
Second, don’t minimize church size. Hiring your wife or son to join you on a staff of three in a church of 150 is not synonymous with hiring family on a staff of 23 in a church of 1,500. If you and your wife are two out of four on the staff, can the staff genuinely have honest, frank disagreements? It’s unhealthy for husband and wife to strongly disagree in public; yet, if you always agree, half of the staff is always on one side.
Third, trust matters. Leadership is influence, and influence is a matter of trust. Hiring staff always tests the trust of the senior minister. Hiring family to serve on staff ups the ante even more. Hiring family raises legitimate trust questions (whether or not they are expressed). Questions like, “Is this nepotism?” “Did the senior minister hire his wife because they want more money? Because he wants more control?”
One bad hire can cost years of leadership credibility. One bad family hire can cost even more in the church, and in the family.
So, to the young church planter, I would encourage much caution and prayer!
—Brett Andrews, lead minister, New Life Christian Church, Chantilly, Virginia