TV Evangelist Salaries and Perks: is Nepotism in Ministry Okay?
Phil Cooke

Phil Cooke October 12, 2021

I think one of the issues few talk about is nepotism in the ministry. Certainly, I have two daughters, and nothing would thrill me more than if they followed me into my work. But it’s important to me that they can cut it and are qualified to do the job first. There are some ministries with entire families on the payroll, and many do little or nothing. In fact, there are a few major ministries where families on the payroll is a running joke with employees – not exactly the atmosphere you’d like at an effective organization.

I had one ministry leader tell me to help him mentor his daughter to eventually become the CEO of the ministry. The founder told me that he envisioned her on a 7–8 year training schedule to eventually take over the ministry. But within 6 months they mysteriously announced that the daughter would be taking over the organization immediately. I guess all the “training and mentoring stuff” wasn’t so important after all.

On the flip side, there are children of pastors and ministry leaders doing remarkable jobs, and helping to take their organizations into the future. So this isn’t a black and white issue, and should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Some of the ministry kids out there are brilliant.

Another thing that concerns me is the number of major, national ministry leaders with children who never went to college. Certainly college isn’t for everyone, but I think most people would be surprised at the number of these families who have the financial resources, are exposed to wonderful things, and yet don’t think having their children attend college is a priority. They’re grooming their children to lead a major organization, but don’t feel a college education is important.

Interestingly enough, I don’t see that with pastors. Most successful pastors I know feel that college is a real priority and send their kids to excellent schools. Again – not a black and white thing, but I do find it interesting.

So what’s do be done about all this? Or should we do anything at all?

Here’s what I think:

The current generation of ministry leaders came from an era when “perception” in the mass media wasn’t important. Oral Roberts is a great example. As brilliant as he was, and after all he built in Tulsa, he had little interest in the value of public relations. He never understood why he couldn’t just blurt out anything he felt like God was saying to him to a national TV audience. He didn’t have a real understanding of how the media audience perceives things, and what it could mean for his ministry. Oral wasn’t that uncommon either.

For instance, most ministry leaders of that era, think that the partners are thrilled that their entire family is on the payroll. To an extent that’s true. Ever since the “Humbard Family Singers” days, Christian TV supporters always seemed to like to see families in the ministry. But today’s audiences are different. They want to know someone in charge is qualified to lead, and that’s more important than whether or not it’s a son or daughter.

Can we change the thinking of this generation of leaders? Probably not. It’s the same reason an influential pastor or TV evangelist will make an outrageous statement about some hot button issue, cause an uproar, and then go back and apologize a week later. They’re speaking without realizing the power of perception, and how the audience – both religious and mainstream – will react to their words.

For the most part, they’re all good people, and certainly mean well, but without an understanding of the implications of living in a media driven culture, they’ll continue to shoot themselves in the foot from time to time.

I am encouraged by a new generation of emerging pastors and ministry leaders, who were raised on the media, and realize it’s power. This generation uses movie clips in church, makes pop culture references in sermons, produces short films, and understands how the media works. Things will change, and they’re the vanguard of that change.

The people most would consider crooks are something else altogether. The guys that build entire ministries around money – and how important it is for your success that you give money to them. They flaunt materialism, and have the beach houses and mansions to prove it. Fortunately, these are the guys you’ll rarely see on most legitimate religious TV or radio networks.

Speaking of which, I think the networks themselves should take more responsibility for what’s broadcast on their airwaves. Some networks have created policies to limit fundraising, and that’s another interesting conversation, but at least they’re attempting to take steps to eliminate some of the criticism.

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Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Their Credibility and How We Get It Back.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.