Of Fathers, Sons and Pulpits

kinnon —  September 7, 2006 — 1 Comment

There is a tradition among superstar evangelists…. of bequeathing the pulpit to a son. Billy Graham did it, as did Robert H. Schuller.” So says the LA Times in an article about Chuck Smith Jr being asked to leave his father’s denomination. Part of the story’s hook is that Chuck Smith Jr. won’t be inheriting the mantle of leadership of Calvary Chapel. He’s way too emergent for the fundamentally conservative Chuck Smith Sr.

There is much to make one sad in the story. CS Jr.’s story of his father not really being around when he was a kid. A story echoed in thousands of kids’ lives whose parents are “superstar” Christians. The disconnect of apparent warmth from the platform with a coldness in relationship with those who know the “superstar” best. The command and control style leadership of Chuck, the elder.

One of the saddest things for me is the LA Times recognition of the peculiar tradition of pulpits and leadership being bequeathed to sons. Not being a bible scholar of any repute, I can’t find this anywhere in the Scriptures. Oh, I do see the generational leadership traditions in Kings and Chronicles. And what a stunning success that is. (Go back to 1 Samuel 8 to understand the reason for this “success” regarding the Kings – not to mention Samuel’s own success with his sons, Joel and Abiah.)

Imbi once had a pastor tell her, “God wouldn’t have given me my kids if he didn’t intend them to be in ministry with me.” Really! This was months after he’d assured us that he didn’t believe in nepotism. (Now, I recognize that there is a logical fallacy in that previous statement – just because PKs end up in ministry does not indicate nepotism…at least some of the time. And quite frankly, I think that Franklin Graham is a worthy successor to his father, as can be seen by his own work with Samaritan’s Purse – although Billy’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, is considered by many to be a better public speaker and evangelist.)

I know of a church where the senior pastor father is leaving his 1,500 person church to his four sons. It matters not that none of the sons are capable preachers, teachers or even particularly good servants. They are his sons so they get the church. It’s nothing short of bizarre and I question how a 501(c)(3) can legally be “willed” to the children of the senior leader. What further amazes me is how people just go along with it. They are more than aware of the emperor’s new clothes – they just refuse to say anything. And I am both saddened and concerned for the sons. How exactly will they lead a church they haven’t got the skills or calling to lead. Their “inheritance” will quickly turn to dust. They will be saddled with a mortgage they can’t pay, on a building they don’t need with the remnant of a congregation they can’t lead.

Jesus was once told that his mother and brothers were outside asking for him. Eugene Peterson renders his response this way:

“Who do you think are my mother and brothers?” Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, he said, “Right here, right in front of you—my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Many of the “superstar” Christians would identify themselves with a CEO model of church leadership. They are good to great at quoting Jim Collins (but not particularly good at putting any of his recommendations into place). What they fail to recognize is that 80% of family run businesses fail (or are lost) in the 2nd Generation. Most are gone (or out of family hands) by the third. I wonder what the stats are for pulpits bequeathed to sons?

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

One response to Of Fathers, Sons and Pulpits

  1. Excellent post. What you say, but don’t say, is that there is an inherent conflict between our natural family and the family of God. We live in a time where many in the church worship the family as God’s primary institution for extending the Gospel into society. I love my family. Yet, at the same time, God calls each of us individually. And each of us individually must construct the life that God has called us to live. With that comes that circle of relationships that we need to succeed in the human endeavors we take on. It strikes me that these sons of superpastors can only succeed by staking their own course, and not following their father’s. I’d like to think this is just for a time, but probably not. It is the arrogance of parenthood that makes us want our children to grow up just like us. God forbid that my children be like me. I hope they are are better, and every indication is that they will be, and we all have their mother to thank for that. God bless her.


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