SIDEBAR: Nepotism in the Church

by Harvey Mitchell Jr.

The dictionary defines nepotism as “favoritism shown to relatives or close friends by those with power or influence.”1

The funny thing is, the Church actually coined the term nepotism. It is an Italian word, meaning “cardinal nephew.” Nepotism happened when bishops appointed nephews as cardinals in the church. It became such a problem in the medieval Church that the pope passed an edict banning the practice unless the relative actually met the educational and religious requirements for the office.2

Today many opinions exist in the church regarding nepotism. Author Phil Cooke3 says there are good and bad examples of families serving together in ministry. He suggests making sure the relative is qualified, competent, and starts at the bottom. Cooke argues that if the relative is not qualified and competent, it breeds resentment in other staff members and volunteers and ultimately hurts the relative by creating a false sense of success.

Cooke explains that it doesn’t matter whether a person starts at the bottom in a relative’s church or another church. The point is, the individual works his or her way up and develops a track record of success in ministry before holding high-profile leadership positions.

— Harvey Mitchell Jr., Orland, California


1. Collins English Dictionary: Complete and Unabridged, 10th ed. (HarperCollins Publishers, 2014), (accessed February 26, 2014).
2. Wikipedia,
3. Phil Cooke, "Why Nepotism Hurts the Church, (accessed February 26, 2014).