Be Very Careful Hiring Your Family

Although nearly every church, ministry, or non-profit client I’ve ever known hires their family, I always urge great caution when doing it.  Sure – there’s nothing we’d all like better than to hire our spouse, children, or other relatives.  The idea of a “family company” sounds great.  But in truth, it doesn’t work as well as you think.  Entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki is direct and too the point, but worth listening to when he says:  “Don’t hire your family. The probability that your spouse or relative is the best person you can get for a job is 0%. The probability that people will hate working at a company with spouses and relatives is 100%. Never hire out of
expediency. Always hire the best person you can get. This usually means not hiring your family.  By the way, if you both hire your family and give them a lofty title, you are truly a bozo.”

The key issue is the perception.
  When everyone in the leader’s family is on the payroll – especially in spite of one or more being incompetent – it destroys a lot of goodwill with employees.  Sure there is  nothing technically or ethically wrong with it, but it starts eroding employee trust.

Don’t get me wrong.  In many cases, certain family members are doing excellent work.  So I’m not 100% against it.  But I do believe it’s worth thinking about because there are so many stories of failure out there.

I know I’m not going to get family members fired over this post, but I’m writing it to encourage you to at least consider the ramifications.  Get out of the ministry family bubble and take a cold, hard look at reality – especially the reality of church members, donors, and employee perceptions.  It might just change the way you look at the issue.

Sometimes it’s perfectly OK.  But often, it’s a recipe for disaster.

How about you?  Have you seen nepotism gone wild?  


This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009 at 10:00 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • David Peterson

    My wife just stepped down as the secretary of the church I pastor.  She was the secretary for 10 years.  I can testify that it was challenging working together for 10 years.  I think we did better than most, but it did have its moments.  I can tell she’s a lot happier, having stepped away and working outside the church.  I, for one, agree that families working together is not ideal.

  • telee

    I’ve worked with my father off and on since I was 15.  I’m now the director of his ministry.  I worked my way up from the mailroom.  He’s not one for nepotism – if I had not worked 24/7, given my life to this ministry, and achieved some success outside this ministry then I would still be in the mailroom.  I’ve had to work twice as hard to get where I am – and people have noticed that.  You can’t resent that – you have to appreciate that.  If someone expects their family members to give them a job and a title – that’s the real bozo.  You can be a bum and skeeve off your family – or you can man-up (and yes, sometimes it take a woman to be the one to man-up) and do more than what is expected.  You don’t do this to prove anything to anyone, not even your employer relative.  You do it because you, then, will never have to question your own abilities, worth as an employee, or self-worth.  You do it for you – and the Lord.

  • Fred Applegate

    The biggest problem when a pastor is surrounded by family is that they listen through a filter of love and faith, and they hear what the pastor means in their heart, not what he or she actually says. It’s part of what Phil calls “the Ministry bubble”: not “yes people”, but “I believe in you” people who don’t challenge hard enough, and that erodes the vitality of the mission.

    And should a ministry be a family business? There is nothing more painful than watching a pastor give over the sermon to a spouse or a child who is not nearly as gifted a speaker or as dynamically faith-filled, as the pastor. And the children, almost always sons, seem emasculated and weak, taking up ministry because, it seems, they are unable to break away from their powerful father and face the challenges of the real world. True or not, it is a very real perception. Called by God, or called by convenience and circumstance of birth? It’s a very hard question. (And like all generalizations, is proven by its exceptions.)

    But how do you fire your wife? Or your son? By not hiring them in the first place. From the outside, it seems just a cynical way to increase the family take from the collection, and anyone who thinks it isn’t seen that way is fooling themselves. Perception matters: it matters because it reflects at least a part of reality.

    What about having family surrounding, family members who live in the real world, volunteer in the Church’s outreach, and lead independent lives of Christian struggle and triumph? That would be a very powerful, powerful message.

    What we offer the Lord should be our very best, and sometimes our “most sincere” and our “very best” are not the same thing. We all know how charming it is to have the third grade decorate the church for Youth Sunday: but we wouldn’t let them repair the plumbing in the bride’s room, would we?

    God bless you all.

  • Adbon

    Iv’ e worked in some major ministries and Phil is correct to say “Don’t hire your relatives, it does erode employee  trust I have seen it over and over again, pastors hire inexperienced relatives in key position with little or no experience, it’s call “Faithful” when God gave instruction in building the temple He wanted the best craftsmen, experts in silver and gold workmanship,etc in the secular world you see major companies hiring experiencepeople to meet a need. I am not talking about training a family member to minister they should partake of the anointing, that is a good thing. 
    Remember it is about HIM, we give our best, I trust that most of us have prayed for direction and  waited patiently for HIS guidance. We spent years working in our particular fields gaining precious experience in our craft,  then a time comes when we want to give back and multiply ourselves for the Kingdom only to be discourage by church politics..

  • island girl

    No doubt Larry Jones wishes he had not hired his daughter!

    I have to say I have seen this work though with the kids if, and only if, they have worked somewhere else for a period of time.  If they learn and grow their skills in another environment, succeed there, then they will be respected at “the folk’s” ministry (or company, for that matter).


  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    When everyone in the leader’s family is on the payroll – especially in spite of one or more being incompetent – it destroys a lot of goodwill with employees. Sure there is nothing technically or ethically wrong with it, but it starts eroding employee trust.

    Because this says “Hereditary Aristocracy” with the flip side of “Serfs bowing before their Betters”.  And creates the attitude in the relatives-hired-with-lofty-titles of “I Am Lord and Master by BIRTH”.  And the attitude of a French Revolution takes hold among the employees/serfs, even if only expressed in passive-aggressive sabotage.

    Also, such nepotism among ruling castes was near-universal during the Dark Ages and in most Third World countries today.  Keep power and wealth within the Family, locking out all outsiders, even if you have to inbreed like Egyptian Pharoahs or Spanish Hapsburgs.  Look where it got them.


  • Craig Brewer

    Hiring relatives into management positions also can affect the attitudes of employees as far as work ethic, advancement, and long term employment. “Why should I bust my tail working here if I’ll never get to be VP because the owners son already has that job and they are not going to promote me over him.”