Family Owned and Operated by Andy Erwin

I would like to use this month’s editorial to speak to you about a danger facing certain congregations of the Lord’s church.  It could be that you have never considered this danger, or considered this topic to be dangerous. I suppose that is one of the reasons I wish to consider it here.  I am speaking to you about the “family owned and operated” mentality that can overcome a local congregation.

What Are We Discussing?

Many congregations have been in existence for many years.  Thus, a family (or families) can be part of a congregation for generations.  Eventually, a family can become the dominating influence in a congregation through sheer majority in numbers alone.  Elders, deacons, teachers, and sometimes preachers are selected from/by this family.  Men’s business meetings are run by this family. Decisions are not made without consulting said family or its patriarch (or sometimes the matriarch).  All decisions and practices must have the favor of this family to be permitted.

Is this necessarily wrong?  Is there really any danger in such a practice?

Possible Pitfalls

In some communities an over-abundance of congregations can be observed.  On one occasion, I noticed that there were a least five congregations within ten minutes of each other.  Each congregation had about thirty members, no elders, no deacons, and no adequately supported minister.  I have often wondered why these congregations did not merge.  They could have had approximately 180 members, elders, deacons, and a fully supported minister.  It is here that we see one of the possible pitfalls of being family owned and operated.

However, each one of these congregations had strong family ties to the history and meeting house of their home congregation.  They simply could not bear the thought of not worshipping where their family had always worshipped.  In some ways, they were more loyal to the church building than to the church.

The “family-run” mentality can also affect the way a congregation worships and works.  The worship period can become nothing more than a weekly family reunion.  The members of the family simply “go to church” because that is what the family does for that period of time on that particular day.  As long as they have a place to go, and someone to preach a little, everything is good.

According to the family owned and operated model, the ruling family usually appoints elders and deacons from within the family.  They believe that because they have X amount of family members in the congregation they should be represented (and in control) in the church’s leadership.

According to the family owned and operated pattern, the ruling family decides who will be their preacher, and how much he will be paid.  The patriarch (presiding bishop) or family will let him know what will go and what will not go from the pulpit.

In one family owned and operated congregation the presiding family threatened the other members by letting them know that if they leave, they will take X amount of members and X amount of dollars with them wherever they go.  They used these figures as a means of leveraging the congregation to get their way.  Indeed, this would have been a case of addition by subtraction, but no one had the courage to stand up to these bullies.

I have also observed that a congregation which is family owned and operated will not practice church discipline among their own.  How could they?  That would disrupt the purpose of having “church” for the family.  That would disrupt holidays, birthdays, etc.

Thus, the family owned and operated church becomes a very sickly organism which eventually dies with the family.  It cannot succeed.  How could it?  It is patterned for failure.

Do keep in mind that one of the earmarks of the departure from New Testament Christianity was the practice of presiding bishops.  The presiding bishop made the decisions for the entire eldership and congregation.  I must ask, what is the difference in this denominational practice, and the practice of a family patriarch or domineering family making the decisions for a congregation?  If you have one man or one family ruling over an entire congregation you have a presiding bishopric that is no less unscriptural than the denominational practice.

The Biblical Pattern

In order for the Lord’s church to be biblical, it must have and follow biblical leaders.  Not one word in the Bible is ever mentioned about leaders being members or patriarchs of certain families.  These men had to be qualified to the task of biblical leadership, according to the qualifications given by God, regardless of their last name.  The church had to submit to them only as these men submitted to God.

The congregation that is family owned and operated risks the danger of losing sight of who is really in charge.  Rather than seeking the family’s approval, we ought to be worried about God’s approval.  If God is not happy with us as our Father, and if heaven is not our eternal home, we have missed it all.  If you are so fortunate as to have your family in your congregation, be thankful, and teach them how to live!

Any man who would attempt to use his family as leverage to have a greater say in the decisions of the local church has by his deeds proven himself to be unfit for leadership.   Every prospective leader should ask why he wants to be a leader.  He must never forget that the church is owned by Christ (Acts 20:28), and that it is to be operated according to the Rule of this Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).