Sunday, 22 April 2018

Nepotism in Megachurches.

Let's get the elephant out of the room here: broadly speaking, nepotism is human nature. It's our natural disposition. It is part and parcel of our society.
It may be a hush-hush word, something that is the antithesis of meritocracy (or democracy), but there's no point denying how common it is not only in politics, business and the arts, but also in churches, especially megachurches.
Like inequality, not everything about nepotism is bad. Of course, it is a matter of degree. Too much inequality and it leads to division, perverse patronage, entrenched entitlement, structured caste system, possible chaos, sporadic uprisings, even Marxist revolutions. 

But, growth at some point gives rise to inequality to some extent.
Same here with nepotism when excesses lead to blindness, which leads to indulgences, cover-ups and systemic perpetuation of wrongs within the familial framework. 

But, the connection alone doesn't poison the well of one's character.
So, there is such thing as good nepotism (for lack of a better word). We are not short of examples here. Think of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or Israel. How about David and Solomon? And there are bad ones, and the unfortunate examples of Samuel and Eli comes to mind.
Most times, the rest of us do not so much despise the nepotist but the nepotee. But that is only if the latter is undeserving of the appointment, that is, if he proves to be corrupt, inefficient and hopelessly inept. 
Yet, if the nepotee proves otherwise, that is, he diligently earns his way up from the bottom of the organizational rung, leads with humility and honor, and succeeds with enduring results and thus earns praises from his fellow men and respect from his subordinates, nepotism could very well be a blessing in disguise...right?    
Personally, I have come to accept that it is inevitable that the search for a successor in business or in any autonomous (independent) churches starts with the nurturance of talent and character within the founder's family. 
A good family will bring up a good successor who will then do his family and the organization (or church) proud. It goes down to the root that bears the fruit.
This may sound unfair to those born outside the family circle, but in cases like this, let's face it...blood is often thicker than water. Yet, it doesn't necessarily lead to unfairness as a whole or in the long run as the heir apparent may turn up to be a benevolent and wise leader after all. 
In the book "In Praise of Nepotism," Adam Bellow wrote: "The problem, then, is not that nepotism continues to be practiced, but that it is often practiced badly or haphazardly. The solution is not to keep banging it with a hammer like a glob of mercury but to bring it out into the open and subject it to the highest possible standards."
This brings me to a church's recent 40th year anniversary which I attended with my family last Sunday. It was a grand affair with all the expectant pyrotechnics, music and lighting. Every attendee was given a free bento set dinner, sculpted balloons and an inscribed magnetic button as a door gift. 
I was there to witness the handing over of the senior pastor mantle from father to son. It was a special moment for the pair and the church of six thousand strong all joined in to sing the church's unity song, "Let us hold on together". 
My heart was emboldened by the spirit of unity the church has shown over the decades of growth, resilience and maturity.  
Personally, I have plans to serve in the church, which is also the church I grew up in since 1986. I left it in 2011 and decided to return to contribute in whatever ways I can as a young adult leader, at least for a season where I am still of some use.
At this point, I suspect some readers may be wondering why I started out this post on such a wet-blanket mode about nepotism, and then curve-balled it to disclose my intention to serve in a church that had recently transitioned from father to son. 
Well, I did caveat at the start of this post that it is best to get the elephant out of the room (because there's no point being pretentious or disingenuous about the obvious). 
Further, I prefaced it by distinguishing between good and bad nepotism. For the end goal is still about the quality and character of the "nepotee" (or the one receiving the mantle).
As a side note, I am a father myself, and although currently, I have nothing of substance for my children to inherit, I nevertheless understand a father's heart (or bias) for his children. 
In other words, I am a realist, and if our country is currently led by the son of the founder, then I won't be surprised that the same is found in churches too. Examples abound here. We have the Grahams, the Ed Youngs, and locally, the Seawards - just to name a few.  
Alas, nepotism may very well be a self-driven desire to benefit one's offspring for a selfless goal of ensuring that he or she eventually becomes a blessing to and for all, within and outside the family.  
Now, at this juncture, you may ask: what has Jesus got to say about nepotism then?
Well, not specifically though, but in Matthew 20, he rebuked a mother when she came to him and lobbied for her two sons to sit on the left and right side of his kingdom. 
While the short exchange said nothing about the credentials of the two sons (James and John, sons of Zebedee), what we however know is that they were not part of Jesus' innner circle of ten as they were yet to be called by the Father. This is another way of saying that if the Holy Spirit does not anoint, we should not appoint. 
In the same passage, Jesus turned to his disciples and said this: "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave." 
He also added: "Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." 
For me, that's the summation of a leader. Jesus led the way here, and became for me the light, the truth and the life. 
Mind you, Titus 1:5-9 sets this high standard for pastoral leadership:-
"For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, nor addicted to wine, not pugnancious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict."
That is the point of my post this morning, that is, the character of the one being appointed, and not so much the process by which he is appointed. 
We can argue about it, the selection process that is, and we can even throw suspicion at it, or cry foul and label it as "nepotistic” or "dynastic", but that does not mean that the leadership is doomed to fail just because it is done within a family. 

What's more, as fathers, the soft spot to see one's flesh and blood succeed is a love that is most vulnerable.
Putting it in another way, the son can't help but be born to his father. Neither can the father deny their unique relationship. 
But what counts in the end is that the son is still accountable for his own life, ministry and faith. His leadership is his alone when it is handed over, and the pressure to walk in the light is no less acute because he is answerable to both his heavenly and earthly father. 
The mantle (or burden) is therefore no less lighter just because he is his father's son. And say what one will, his allegiance is still to his Father in heaven just as any leader who ascends without the same blood relations is accountable to the head of the church, that is, Christ alone.
I recall here that when Jesus' parents were searching for him, his reply to them was this: "How is it that you sought me? Knew you not that I must be about my Father's business." 
So, whether sons or daughters, friends, colleagues, or subordinates, he or she who takes over must be about their Father's business. And we will know this by the fruits they bear, lest they labour in vain. 
Ultimately, it is not about the celebratory service of the church. It is not about the handing over from one blood relation to another. It is also not about the nepotistic connection with all its negative connotations. 
The calling (as Jesus puts it) is servant-leadership, steward leadership, and life-as-a-ransom-for-many leadership. 
It is about the life of the one appointed, that is, his faith, his leadership and the fruits he bears in his long journey of obedience to the call just as Jesus obeyed his. It is a long obedience in the same direction.
In my book, that is a leadership beyond reproach. And mind you, it is a leadership that does not excuse one's flaws or hides them, but transforms and empowers them with His grace, love and hope. 
It is also a leadership that walks closely behind his Saviour's footsteps, and not on his own pathways, rushing ahead seeking his own agenda, and stepping out of the long shadow of Calvary to pursue the fleeting shadows of his own carnal appetites. 
And most importantly, it is a leadership that is always about his Father's business, upon which his own earthly father had faithfully dedicated his life. Amen. Cheerz. 

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