Dealing with Bad Traditions
Jesus does not attack a tradition as being intrinsically bad within itself; He attacks the religious leaders’ inconsistency, insincerity, and their practice of hypocritical legalism. For the most part, I like traditions in the church. I look forward to them and if they work, I try to do them again, even better. Evangelism campaigns, Easter celebrations, and such are sometimes sacred cows in our churches, and, more often than not, for good reason. However, when the traditions become the focus, such as when the Easter service becomes more important than Whom and what the service is about, or the evangelism campaign becomes more about the mobilizing and rallying than the focus of reaching our neighbor, we have missed the point, and have become “Pharisees.” I have been a “Pharisee (they are not fair you see)” with traditions in the past. I had to learn not to be a Sadducee (they are sad you see), but to wake up and see His glory rather than what I wanted to do or redo. If you still are not sure you have a good or bad tradition, look at it this way: a good tradition glorifies our Lord; a bad tradition glorifies its founders, leaders, and/or participants. These are replete with power struggles, gossip, bickering, and the point is often missed in the chaos of dissention.
What can your church do to prevent, or at least inhibit, hypocrisy? Why can external rituals not replace the inward condition of the heart?
As far as the “sacred cows” go (programs that people cling to so much they are unwilling to review or improve them), remember that we are to honor the past and embrace the future! “Sacred cows” are best tipped by encouraging their founders and leaders that their time and energies can be better spent in a more useful direction, one they may not have considered. Allow them to brainstorm and help you do the “tipping.” Share the vision; let them visit other programs. Never follow a suggestion or do anything without their input, for “cows” may come at and crush you!
Jesus told His disciples not to worry about the Pharisee’s power. How can this truth maintain our focus so we do not worry?
If you are struggling with this, sit down with the leaders and powerbrokers, be in prayer, be encouraging, and restate with love the purpose of your church. (This is another reason why a good, God-honoring purpose and vision is so important—what we are about and what we are doing about it, affects everything that is done in a church.) It gets people on the same page and should be all to God’s glory!
Look over the tradition or program and evaluate it. Meet with the parties involved, and with encouragement, start and end with prayer. (for more help, see How to Start, Develop, and Evaluate Programs)
1. Ask how can you/we get this lined up better so it glorifies Christ and not just please personalities? Pick their brains for ideas.
2. What has currently been working well? What has not? (Get them to see the big picture; What do you all need to do?)
3. What should you have avoided?
4. What were the past successes and failures? How can things be made better?
5. Now, map out the successes and failures during the past year. If no evaluation has been done before, go back five years, regardless of leadership changes.
6. Do not put people down; rather, use this time to lift up and encourage! Make it a comfortable time. Be open, listen, support the idea or premise of the program, and encourage the people being evaluated to do the same. Condescending attitudes of the leadership will cause more destruction that not having a program at all!
7. Now, brainstorm ideas for changes. Be honest and do not feel you have to make changes if nothing is wrong. If it works, don’t fix it! Investigate small things that can be done to make improvements. If it is in shambles, at worst, you may have to start over or even “can” it. At best, it might just need some tinkering and encouragement or new leadership! If so, have a banquet or do something to honor the ones who have served, and make sure they are not out of the loop. (Keep it open for their return when they are ready.) It is easier to sew on a patch than to buy a new coat!
8. List the steps toward achieving the goals you came up with.
9. Make sure you honor the people who have worked hard, and encourage them to seek to be better by mutual faith and cooperation. If they refuse, then you have a fight on your hands. (At that point, handle it in prayer and as conflict, and follow our steps on our conflict channel.)
10. Write this all down so you have a record to go back to, and keep in mind any good program or tradition must have benefits for the church and community and must glorify our Lord!
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