Warnings of Harm Caused by Family-run Churches

A believer recently told of a very common phenomenon in the churches in his city. Their management is almost always like a family. For example, the father is the pastor, the mother an elder, and the children or cousins are the core coworkers. He felt that this phenomenon was so problematic that it might cause churches to become a family business.

It should be said that the situation mentioned above is fairly common among current churches and that a sister who has been to many churches throughout China agrees. Family-run churches are largely found in rural areas, exist among local urban dwellers, and some churches have existed for decades. New churches of mainly migrant workers are less so. The family-run church is made up of one or several families to form their management team, dominating its power and responsible for conducting all of the ministry.

The family-run church reflects the current situation of the Chinese church and the influence of traditional culture. Due to historical and situational factors, many churches are on the fringes of society. It is difficult to establish a set of operating rules and regulations among the congregation and thus mainly rely on the personal perferences and charm of some of the spiritual leader within the church. Many church leaders tend to want to cultivate their own cronies in order to manage the church, so their family members are their best choice.

From a traditional culture point-of-view, the influence of the Chinese patriarchal mentality is strong. Since ancient times, Chinese society has been built by clans. Blood ties are important in interpersonal relationships. This social structure leads to the "home world" view and the formation of a clan society. Although many people believe in the Lord, such a cultural background is difficult to change. The patriarchal system, which is linked by blood in the Chinese tradition, has a profound influence on many Chinese Christians. In the administration of the church, some people give priority to their relatives and make them important.

Of course, there is a factor that cannot be ignored, namely that the Chinese Christian thinking regarding marriage also causes the "church family" pattern. In the Chinese church's view of marriage, the teaching "do not be yoked together with unbelievers" is the standard, requiring believers to find only brothers and sisters in the Lord as marriage partners. In the current situation however, Christians are a minority in society, and the vast majority of brothers and sisters do not have a large pool from which to choose. This has led to the intermarriage of several Christian families. Some churches have seen the phenomenon of members being related to one another, both as spiritually related within the body of the Lord, the church, and physically related as relatives of the family.

It should be said that a family church is not all bad. For example, in a ministry discussion, it is quicker to reach an agreement and avoid unnecessary quarrels. Many churches have made a lot of contributions in the spread of the Gospel, the formation of believers, social charity, and so on. However, in the long run, there are many disadvantages to family churches in the development of the church and the growth of its believers.

First of all, concerning ministry administration, which is almost all by one family, it is easy give priority to the family interests first, and ignore the will of God and the requirements of the development of the church. For instance, a minister, who accepted new theological ideas challenged the traditional church philosophy. On one occasion, there was a conflict with the management of the family church for the reasons of carrying out online ministry. Although his proposals were in line with the development needs of the church, the "family" was conservative and stubborn, and rejected his ideas. Later, the church's management, out of the family's interest, simply dismissed the minister, and employed a female preacher who was more of the "listening" type.

Second, regarding financial matters, family run churches are also prone to such problems. This kind of church has a "home and church as one body" dynamic. Regarding church property and designated offerings, they often are caught in the confusion of property rights. For example, some family members do business and sometimes encounter financial problems. In order to solve this, he/she borrows from these offerings and even misappropriates them. Since the church's leadership is of the same family, this behavior is neither supervised nor questioned, leading to the loss of the church property and the trust of the believers. Some people simply treat the church's property as their family's property not only to enjoy but also to even let their children and grandchildren inherit. This phenomenon is a serious crime. It is similar to the story in the Bible where Samuel reminds us of the family of Eli the priest. If there is no repentance, there must be severe disciplinary action.

Finally, in the training and assignment of coworkers, it is easy for the family church to neglect those with gifts and talents. Because a family church is managed by a family or an inner circle, and the cultivation of talents and the arrangement of ministry gives priority to those from within the family or inner circle while those many gifted brothers and sisters are excluded because they are not family.

Courtesy of China Christian Daily