Favoritism and the Church

David K. Bernard

Modern society expresses great concern for the evils caused by various forms of favoritism. For example, in the United States it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race or gender in education, housing, and business. The civil service system is designed to eliminate the hiring of unqualified people on the basis of family ties or friendship. In fact, no federal official, not even the President, can hire a close relative. Most publicly held corporations have similar rules designed to prevent nepotism and cronyism.

Biblical Teaching
The Bible strongly opposes all forms of favoritism, especially in the church. James 2:1-13 denounces those who show partiality because of social or economic status. James 2:9 bluntly says that favoritism is sinful: “But if you show partiality, you commit sin” (NKJV). James 3:17 contrasts favoritism and hypocrisy with divine wisdom. God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6), and He forbids His people to do so (Job 13:10). Leaders are to judge all matters fairly, regardless of who is involved (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:19)?

In Christ, there is no unequal treatment based on race, social class, or gender (Galatians 3:28). In other words, Christ’s body, the church, must be free of discrimination? Paul solemnly admonished Timothy to perform his pastoral duties without favoritism: “I charge thee- before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality” (I Timothy 5:21)? This instruction has particular relevance to ordaining a person prematurely or giving him a position for which he is not qualified, for the very next verse says, “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure” Timothy 5:22).

How should the church implement the scriptural teaching against favoritism?

First, the church must stand unequivocally against all forms of prejudice. Every local church must actively welcome any human being, for the Great Commission is the responsibility of every believer and every body of believers? A person of any color, race, or national origin should attend, a member of any of our churches without experiencing either overt harassment and intimidation or subtle social pressure and ostracism?

As a matter of evangelistic strategy, it is necessary to establish churches that minister to people of minority language groups, to plant churches in minority neighborhoods, and to help preachers who are members of minority groups to start churches. This does not mean, however, that we are to think in terms of “white” churches and “black” churches? Each church should simply be a local extension of the church, the body of Christ, and as such it must be open to everyone and have fellowship on an equal basis with all other churches.

As a matter of personal holiness, we must train our people, beginning with the children, to abhor prejudice. He who- hates his brother is a murderer in God’s sight and does not have eternal life (I John 3:15). If this is true of a person who hates someone who has wronged him, how much more is it true of a person who hates an entire Blass of people without cause? The Christian is to love all people, even his enemies, and especially his fellow believers (Matthew 5:43-44; John 13:34-35). Racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan are incompatible with Christianity, and prejudice will destroy holiness in a Christian’s life.

God’s church must not condone or promote racial segregation. Some may argue that we must not offend unbelievers who are prejudiced, but this argument often seems to promote the prejudices of believers. Moreover, should the church merely conform to the sinful attitudes of society? At what-point should it confront society’s false values and seek to transform society? If we refuse to discard other holiness teachings in order to be more acceptable to worldly society, why should we condone the sin of prejudice? If we plan to be among the saints from every race and tongue who will worship God together in eternity, why should we object to worshiping with our brothers on earth? Let us bear in mind that most members of the United Pentecostal Church International are nonwhite.

Jesus commanded us to preach the gospel to “every creature” (Mark 16:15) and to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). In the latter verse, the Greek word for “nation” is ethnos, which literally means race or ethnic group. The church needs to consider seriously how it can fulfill the biblical mandate to reach out to all ethnic groups in every locality. If a local church refuses to minister to people of a certain race or class in its immediate area, then it is not evangelizing its community. The church should also consider how it can include minority groups in all facets of corporate church life. At all levels, opportunities for fellowship, ministry, and leadership should be open to everyone equally, in practice as well as in theory.

The world also threatens the church with a more subtle form of favoritism: elitism, or control by an elite group. Many factors, wealth, talent, social ties, family ties, tradition, tend to create an aristocracy, or privileged class, in human institutions, and the church is not immune to such influences. New converts can feel locked out of a system that gives preference to old, established families. Young ministers can become frustrated with the lack of opportunities available to those who do not have an influential minister to promote them.

How can the church minimize such elitist pressures? First, those who have attained prominence or “success” should take care to lead lives of modesty and moderation. They must not become competitive or extravagant with such things as clothes, houses, automobiles, other material possessions, and even church buildings. They should not indulge in a lifestyle far above the average church member or the average preacher, even if they or their church can afford it.

Second, each person must constantly fight against exclusiveness, cliquishness, and snobbishness in his own life, refusing to allow social classes to develop in the church. Preachers should avoid cultivating only an inner circle of select friends. They must not evaluate their own or other pastors’ success by the wealth or social status of the people in their churches. They should be willing to preach for any church, regardless of its size, composition, or financial ability. They should be genuinely friendly toward everyone, even toward those with no “name” and no ability to help them.

Third, the greatest emphasis and recognition should not be given to talent or to outward standards of success, but to faithfulness. For example, it is convenient to promote someone with great musical or oratorical ability despite their failures in areas of holiness or spirituality. It is likewise easy to cater to a person who has wealth, education, high social standing, family ties, or great influence in the church. However, such a practice will create an elite group of people who receive special favors and are granted special exceptions, and it will result in carnality, hypocrisy, and disillusionment.

Nepotism and Cronyism
Most human beings have special love for family members and close friends. This love is natural and commendable; yet when it causes favoritism in the church, God’s Word is violated. God removed Eli’s family from the priesthood because Eli allowed his sons to exercise that office despite their sins and lack of spiritual qualifications.

Ministers must guard against giving special preferences, unfair advantages, or special exceptions to family members and personal friends. The New Testament ministry is not a lineal priesthood, nor is the local church a family business or a hereditary kingdom. Moreover, God’s will is not accomplished by personal manipulation or political maneuvering. The pastor is not the owner of a private company with absolute discretionary power, but he is the steward of God’s business. As such, he is accountable to God and to the people of God. The principles of God’s Word must guide his decisions and override his personal feelings.

Under what circumstances is it appropriate for a minister to appoint family members and personal friends to positions in the church or to use them in prominent capacities? For example, when is it proper for a pastor to place his son on the church ministerial staff or recommend that he become his successor? The Bible provides guidelines that should apply to everyone equally, whether or not he has personal ties to the pastor.

First, the pastor must genuinely know that this choice is the will of God. He should not automatically presume that it is just because it seems pleasing to him, nor should he merely ask God to ratify his own predetermined plan. Rather, he should honestly and diligently seek direction from the Holy Spirit. If it is the will of God, there will be no need to manipulate or to force others to acquiesce.

Second, the person must be spiritually qualified for the position or role. For example, the Bible lists explicit qualifications for deacons and elders (pastors). The person’s qualifications should be examined sympathetically but as objectively as possible.

Third, the pastor must give other people the same or equal opportunities. He has a responsibility to train and develop all whom God has entrusted in his care. For example, if he promotes his own son’s ministry, he should give other young ministers in his church equal opportunities to be used there or give them equal assistance in getting started elsewhere.

Often, family members will be more qualified in certain roles because of their experience and training, but the pastor still has the responsibility to qualify others and to provide opportunities for others to develop their potential. For example, even if family members are the most capable musically, other church people need to be used and trained as well.

Fourth, the person chosen for a leadership role must have the good will, respect, and approval of the people. And respect cannot be demanded; it must be earned. Someone may be appointed to a position of ministry, but unless he has influence with the people he will not actually exercise an effective ministry among them.

The apostles did not arbitrarily choose deacons to handle church business; rather, they asked the congregation to choose seven spiritually qualified men whom they could appoint (Acts 6:2-7). Paul and Barnabas were called by the Holy Spirit, but their calling was recognized by the church (Acts 13:1-3). Our form of church government provides that the congregation select the pastor, and it is not ethical to subvert this process.

As a practical matter, it is advisable for a young preacher to establish his own ministry in another place without relying heavily upon someone else’s reputation and influence. In this way he will develop self-confidence and confidence in his own calling. On his own, he will learn how to trust God and how to follow the Spirit. The people back in his home church will learn to respect him and to view him as a minister in his own right.

Finally, the person who is used in a certain capacity must perform his task faithfully and well. The pastor should help him overcome faults, problems, and inconsistencies. It is imperative that the pastor not overlook sin or false doctrine but uphold scriptural standards of holiness and discipline. He must apply these standards equally to everyone. It can be extremely painful for him to do so when family is involved, but this is the risk he takes and the responsibility he accepts when he appoints a family member to a position.

Nepotism and cronyism are not just local church concerns. The church as a whole must actively cultivate opportunities for young ministers who do not have family connections or who are converts to Pentecost. The church needs the constant influx of new blood and new ideas into the ministry. Established preachers should make a special effort to befriend young ministers who need help in getting started.

God does not play favorites; therefore, we cannot blame the will of God if certain categories of people seem to be favored disproportionately in the church. The church is not perfect and never will be until the Lord’s coming, but we can and should work to make it as free from favoritism, prejudice, and bias as possible. The Holy Spirit, who pours out divine love in our hearts, will help us to accomplish this task if we will be sensitive to Him.

April-June, 1988 Vol. 20, No. 2 J. L. Hall, Editor in Chief USPS 206-800
The FORWARD, A magazine for United Pentecostal Church International ministers. Published quarterly by the United Pentecostal Church International, 8855 Dunn Road, Hazelwood, MO 63042-2299. Second Class Postage paid at Hazelwood, Missouri. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to FORWARD, 8855 Dunn Road, Hazelwood, MO 63042-2299.

The above article, “Favoritism and the Church” was written by David K. Bernard. The article was excerpted from Forward magazine. April- June, 1988.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.