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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes

5 traditions that shackle church leaders: sacred cows

Then, there are the sacred cows. These are the ideas, customs, or organizations that are above criticism, change, or even dis- cussion. And, churches have plenty of them, as do most orgainiztions and insti-tutions. They're a little more troublesome in a church environment because, as the name suggests, they approach idol status. Church people may not actually worship or reverence them. Just the same, they're typically untoucables and remain fixed in the tradition of the church because they are givens. They shackle leaders too.

So, what are they exactly? Identify these icons so we can deal with them. Well, as usual, it depends on who you ask. On March 13, 2015, Thom Rainer listed the 10 most fiercely defended traditons in local churches ( His research group had conducted the background studies and his list is a compilation of the data. You can visit to review them and the solutions he suggests to those dealing with them. It's a great list and I appreciate the research which always supports his conclusions. Make note of them.

I'm not scientific and can't support my ideas with statistical support. In thirty-five years of pastoral ministry, three years as Director of Pastoral Ministries at the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and many years of pastoral coaching, I've noticed six sacred cows that can shackle leadership and often interfere with the mission of local congregations. They're not sacred cows in every situation nor do they always hinder the work of God's people. In fact, they can be great assets in defining and achieving the congregational ministry plan if they are subsidiary to the mission and vessels in accomplishing it. But, when they become the mission, or fail to support the mission, they can be human traditions that frustrate the leadership and interrupt what the leadership is attempting to achieve. They are---

(1) Bulletins: the ministry plan for the day and the week (2) Budgets: an estimate of the cost of misson over a period of time (3) By-laws: the ruling documents of the church (4) Business: monthly business meetings (5) Buildings: the facilities from which the mission is launched (6) Buses: the means of coveying church groups to various functions

Space doesn't permit examples of each, though there are plenty. I remember once when the printing machines malfunctioned and we had to do Sunday morning worship without a bulletin. You might as well have blind-folded everyone, we were so lost in moving through the worship service. Or, when a local church had to cancel Vacation Bible School because someone had forgottoen to include the numbers in the annual budget and the inflexible Finance Committee wanted to teach the leaders a lesson. Or, when the homeless ministry was cancelled because the participants soiled the new carpet. Or, when the church failed to purchase a new high-chair for the social hall because they hadn't approved the expenditure in the monthly business meeting. Or, when youth camp funds were used to make emergency repairs to the church bus, resulting in the kids not being able to attend camp.

There was a horrifying experience once when a church was approving the annual budget. The church by-laws mandated a called business meeting on the second Sunday evening in December with one item of church business, the budget. One year the music ministry planned the children's Christmas pageant on that evening. So, at the end of the musical presentation, they convened the conference, then argued over pennies here and pennies there for an hour. The chidlren, their parent's, grandparents,. neighbors, and many visitors witnessed a spectacle of church drama on a night that should have been pure seasonal blessing. Bah humbug!

To worship and obey the Lord Jesus Christ is the single intention of God's church. All of the resources of the mission are generously and graciously given to fulfill that mission and the comission Jesus entrusted to his church. Sacred cows are any of the resources designed to supplement and enhance the mission, but have suddenly become more signficant than the work Jesus assigned. I remember a time when some wise leadership guided us past what could have been a sacred cow crisis. We wanted to remove the pews in the old chapel so that the room could be used for smaller groups, re-configured for various gatherings, and become more useful to the church. Of course, many of the pews had been donated to honor and remember people dear to the donors of the funds that purchased them. There was a brass plaque on each annotating the remembrance. The pews could have become a sacred cow. Someone suggested that we contact each of the families related to the names on the pews. That was done and they all agreed for us to donate them to a Vietnamese church plant in Greenville, South Carolina, The day they were removed we celebrated the people to whom the pews had been dedicated, along with the joy-filled Vietnamese believers who took posession of them. Yay God!

Jesus demonstrated his affectiion for the kingdom and taught often about the things that could distract us from seeking it first. He warned about treasuring the things of the earth more than the joys of the kingdom, and about the dangers of being captive to the traditons of men. Sacred cows can often stand between us and him. He must be first, and not the things we have engineered to help us administer his church or fulfill the misson he entrusted to us.

God announced "Behold, I am doing a new thing' (Isaiah 43:19). Sacred cows often blind us to the new thing he wishes to do in us. And, they do actually may make the best burgers.

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