In every new call there are landmines that must be sussed out and avoided, at least in the early days. You’ve got to figure out what topics can’t be discussed without hushed tones, what habit the last pastor had that drove everyone crazy, whose blessing is needed to launch a new initiative. Early wins + landmines avoided = longer honeymoon period for church and minister.
And then there are sacred cows. These are the preferences and rituals that church folk sometimes seem to love more than Jesus himself, bless their hearts. Every church has them, and they are the stiflers of new leadership, new ideas, and new life. They trap congregations in permanent maintenance mode.
In his article “Eight Common Characteristics of Successful Church Revitalizations,” Thom Rainer emphasizes the importance of taking on those sacred cows. He notes that one church listed all of its ministries and labeled them as biblically essential, contextual, and traditional. In other words, where in scripture do you find a directive for this ministry? If it’s not in the Bible, do we hold onto this ministry because it serves our community well or because we have “always” done it?
I think this kind of parsing – done by leadership teams or by the congregation as a whole – could be very eye-opening. “Why do we do what we do?” leads into “Is it helping us accomplish our God-given mission now, and if not, where would our efforts and resources be better spent?”
Ministers cannot tackle sacred cows alone. They must help the congregation come to its own realization that it is a new day with new needs.