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Ed Young Sr. Resigns: The Cult-like Trend of Pastors Handing the Pulpit Over to Their Children

by | May 28, 2024 | News, Opinion, The Church

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Behind the scenes of a Southern Baptist megachurch empire, a subtle shift of power is underway, cloaked in the guise of tradition. The recent announcement that Ed Young Sr., the long-standing senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, is stepping down and passing the leadership to his son, Ben Young, adds yet another chapter to the ongoing saga of evangelical megachurch dynasties. This transition, which feels more like handing over the family business than a spiritual calling, isn’t exactly a traditional Baptist practice.

Typically, at least in Southern Baptist history, a new pastor is chosen through a quasi-democratic process involving a search committee and a congregational vote. Ed Young’s move—and similar moves by other high-profile pastors—showcases the cult-like tendencies within some evangelical megachurch circles, where church leadership is treated more like an inheritance than a ministry.

The 87-year-old’s tenure at Second Baptist Church has seen it balloon into one of the largest congregations in the country. Yet, his leadership style often seems more suited to an entertainment mogul than a pastor. Now, I’m not saying that Ed Young is a false teacher or a heretic or anything like that. In all honestly, I have never really listened to him preach. I’m simply not drawn to his style—flashy presentations and a non-exegetical approach to preaching and doctrine. To me, it just seems like Young’s ministry has been more about showmanship than shepherding—what percentage of his members actually know him personally? I’d venture to say, not many, and very few could ever have access to him.

His latest move to pass the pastoral baton to his son, Ben Young, further demonstrates the shift from spiritual stewardship to family business succession.

Ben Young, who has been an associate pastor at Second Baptist, is now set to take over as the lead pastor. This transition mirrors the path of Ed Young’s other son, Ed Young Jr., who leads Fellowship Church, a megachurch in Dallas. The Young family’s approach to church leadership, where roles are seemingly handed down like family heirlooms, is a departure from the traditional Baptist practice of selecting a new pastor through a rigorous and democratic process.

Yet, giving up the inheritance might be a tough call for these megachurch pastors. At least one source has Ed Young Sr.’s net worth valued at $65 million and another source has his son, Ed Young Jr. valued at $11 million. Whether or not those figures are exactly accurate, I can’t say—but I can say for sure that they’re worth a lot of money. And in the minds of men like this, it’s their church that they built, not God.

The trend of pastoral succession within families is not unique to the Youngs. In Florida, Church by the Glades has similarly positioned family members in key leadership roles. David Hughes, the lead pastor, has been known to place his wife, children, and other relatives in significant positions within the church, perpetuating a family dynasty rather than fostering a fully vetted and qualified leadership.

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Ronnie Floyd, another well-known name within the Southern Baptist Convention, did the same thing when he stepped down from the pastorate at Cross Church to become the president of the SBC. The reins of Cross Church were handed to his son, Nick Floyd, continuing the family legacy.

Even Charles Stanley followed a similar path. His son, Andy Stanley, a notorious heretic and unqualified false teacher in his own right, began his ministry under his father’s auspices at First Baptist Church Atlanta.

The practice of familial succession within these megachurches bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the dynamics seen in many cults. In cults, leadership often remains within a single family, creating a tight-knit power structure that is difficult to penetrate or challenge. This approach not only consolidates power within a small group but also raises significant concerns about accountability and transparency.

The comparison to cults is not merely rhetorical. In both scenarios, loyalty to the family or the leader often supersedes loyalty to the broader community or worse, to the Scriptures. This dynamic more often than not leads to a lack of critical oversight and a culture of unquestioning obedience.

But the transformation of church leadership into a family affair reflects a broader trend within evangelical megachurches, where the lines between spiritual leadership and business management are increasingly blurred. Churches are run like corporations, complete with branding, marketing strategies, and leadership succession plans that resemble those of family-owned businesses. This business-minded approach prioritizes growth, influence, and revenue over spiritual depth, doctrine, and accountability.

The case of Second Baptist Church and the Young family is just one example of this trend. As Ed Young hands over the leadership to his son, the church faces a critical moment. Is this how the Church—especially Baptists—should operate? Is anyone going to question this move? Does anyone care?

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