Two years ago I joined the pastoral staff at the church where my dad serves as the senior pastor. He has been in that role since the forming of the church over a decade ago. As a college student I led worship at the church. Rose and I would visit a few times a year when we were home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I grew up with many of the individuals within the congregation.
It certainly hasn’t been easy having my dad be my direct report within the organization of the church. On my day off two weeks into the job I went golfing with my dad, we talked about church ministry related items for five straight hours. So much for a day off. Around that same time I met with my dad at a coffee shop for our weekly meeting, and an acquaintance approached us who had heard about my new role: “Got a little bit of nepotism going on there eh?” I prayed to God, “keep my hands in my pockets,” because everything in me wanted me to mop the floor with him.
I’ve engaged conversations with church members who have insinuated their concern about whether I’m speaking, serving, and leading within the church because my dad is the pastor (to be fair, these conversations have been extremely rare). Without hesitation I make sure they know I serve and lead because I feel called to, not because my dad asks me to.
Working with dad is not easy, but it has been a rewarding experience these past two years. My church has been incredibly graceful in giving me space to not only navigate a new church, but also the unique situation of a father and son being key leaders within the church body. I’ve had to learn on my feet to figure out how to make it work well, and I thought I’d share some takeaways I have from 2 years of navigating the possible perception of nepotism.
If it were any other job the assumption would be that working for dad means the child MUST go out of their way to prove they can cut it without dad saving them. The first six months in any new job are vital for establishing who you are, this increases when dad is the boss. I don’t think the church is (or should be) a place immune to these expectations.
Dad is the Leader
Yes my dad is still my dad, but within our roles at the church he is also my elder. He deserves respect. He deserves my listening ears. He has a role of authority in my life in more ways than one.
This doesn’t mean I don’t give critical feedback. It actually means I probably give more critique than if my position was held by someone else. My critical feedback is not given to get under dad’s skin, it’s given to allow my dad to see blind spots, and to allow our church to function better.
When opportunities come to undermine the authority of my dad I do not take them. I pursue opportunities to publicly praise my dad, and seek to affirm his calling of leading our church. People may question whether I’ll be the future leader of the church, but I will not provide ammo for their questions.
Whenever a stray thought of, “I can take this one off, dad will cover for me” enters my mind, I know it is a temptation from Satan. Only the evil one would desire for me to see a pastoral vocation first as a job that can be slacked on, instead of a calling that demands hard work.
Thankfully this isn’t a constant temptation because my weekly tasks necessitate work ethic, and my desire to continue growing even after finishing a seminary degree makes it so I never finish everything I’d like to in a given week. When that temptation comes, rely on your calling, not your job.
Dad Can Still Be Dad
Just last weekend dad came over to watch a football game. We talked about family, hobbies, and of course my fantasy football team beating my brother the week prior. Sure, topics related to our roles within the church came up, but it would be weird if we avoided such things.
I still ask my dad for personal and vocational advice. I want dad to be dad, not pastor, then dad. While so much of our relationship has changed by becoming coworkers, I know both of us desire for the connection as father and son not to get lost in that.
Invite Outside Perspective
That nepotism word has some basis when it comes to sons working for their fathers, so I went in eyes open, expecting people to have concerns. Upon starting my role as associate pastor underneath my dad, the elders of the church put together a team of people from various parts of the church to meet with me on a monthly basis. I can’t take credit for the idea, but I will pass it along as a great one.
Meeting with this group of people, some whom I knew well and others I knew little of, gave me a sounding board for my concerns and also allowed me to find out if any of my actions were being seen as inviting the nepotism critique.