If you sit down and really think about it, there’s a whole lot about “church” that’s not biblical. At all. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying it’s not in the Bible. When you get right down to it, much of our contemporary Christianity is running on the fuel of tradition. I’m going to suggest that some of these “traditions” are no longer useful. We’re running on fumes. So, at the risk of being labelled as an iconoclast, skeptic, heretic, dissident, rebel, renegade, and mutineer, I’m going to suggest that we rethink a couple things. To be blunt, I’m going to suggest that we slaughter some sacred cows.

Slaughtering Sacred Cows: 10 Church Traditions You Should Rethink

Maybe the reason we don’t sit down and think about things very often is because thinking gets pretty uncomfortable. Thankfully, there are many Christians today who are doing the hard thing, and challenging tradition. However, it may be that they’ve raised some sacred cows of their own. On the other end of the spectrum, there are Christians who fiercely cling to tradition, diligently protecting their herd of sacred cows. Either way, I’m going to give you fair warning:  this might get uncomfortable.

  1. Sacred Cow # 1:  Multiple Sunday services. In some churches, Sundays become busy days. Let me rephrase that. In some churches, Sundays become the day that you run-yourself-ragged-don’t-get-any-rest-forsake-your-family-sit-for-hours-and-make-yourself-think-that-you’re-being-spiritual. I’m not trying to mock; I’m trying to point out a problem. Sunday School, Sunday morning worship service, dinner on the grounds, afternoon Bible study, choir practice, Sunday evening service, and Sunday evening’s fellowship might be fine and good, but it may also be violating God’s whole idea behind a day of rest. And that idea is to rest (Exodus 20:8-11). Perhaps churches would do better to encourage more rest, family time, interaction with neighbors, and personal quiet time, rather than hurrying and scurrying to the next Sunday church activity.
  2. Sacred Cow #2:  Running the church like a corporation. Somehow, churches have gotten this idea that they need to run like a big business. The pastor is “CEO.” The deacons are the “Board of Directors.” The prayer meeting is a “business meeting.” Church volunteers are “staff.” The building is the “physical plant” and the church members are the “customers” or “consumers.” Woah! I’m not seeing this in Acts. Can it be that the corporation-mentality is degrading the church ideal of community, interaction, authenticity, and evangelism (Acts 2:42-47)?
  3. Sacred Cow #3:  Fighting with other Christians. Few churches would put “fight with other Christians” in their mission statement. But the reality is, there is a whole lot of squabbling and bickering between churches. Let’s rethink this. They’re not the enemy. Seriously, they’re not.
  4. Sacred Cow #4: Worship service rock concerts. I love good Christian music. But are the worship service rock concerts necessary? I’m not saying that it’s a sin to have loud music, sing like a pop star, and jam on the guitar. But how much does it cost to buy the equipment? How much congregational participation is there in the worship songs? How much real “worship” is going on? As one author wrote, “When the gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.” There is something else that I’ll mention here. In many churches, it’s called “special music.” This is where a soloist, or several vocalists sing a special song to the people. Ideally, this is done, not for their own glory, but to glorify God. Ideally, it is also not done as a performance, but as a ministry—much like preaching. Unfortunately, even “special music” falls short of its ideals and degenerates into another tradition-bound necessity that is full of pitfalls and problems.
  5. Sacred Cow #5:  Inviting people to church. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that there is any command in Scripture to invite people to church. Somehow, for many Christians, this is like the 11th commandment. Better yet, it’s a substitute for evangelism. Rather than love people like we should, we invite them to church. And we feel like we’ve done our duty. But is that the best way to “make disciples?” In Acts, church life was for believers, maybe occasionally frequented by outsiders. Perhaps there is a more biblical way to evangelize than by inviting people to a church service.
  6. Sacred Cow #6:  Sunday School. In a past article, we evaluated the role of Sunday School in churches today. Is Sunday School meeting its goals and fulfilling the church’s mission, or is it a distraction? As the article queries, “If Sunday School is so near and dear to the faith, then why don’t we see it clearly in the Bible? When we begin cherishing traditions above the inspired Word of God, we make a tragic mistake. When we think that our man-made institutions are more important than strategic adaption and biblical innovation, we are treading into dangerous territory.”
  7. Sacred Cow #7:  Door to door evangelism. There was once a time in American history, when door to door evangelism was a pretty good method of spreading the truth. Today, in most neighborhoods and communities, that time is long past. Door to door people are usually perceived as mormons, Girl Scouts, or security system salespeople. Appearing on someone’s doorstep predisposes your target to say, “no” to whatever it is that you’re marketing. After all, you may be disturbing their rest, their family time, their meal, or their privacy. You have no relationship or trust with the individual, yet you’re asking them to make a radical, life-changing decision. Let us be careful that we are not peddling wares, but preaching Christ.
  8. Sacred Cow #8:  Being hip. Some Christians are drunk with the desire to be relevant. That has led them to do some pretty wild things…and even some downright heretical things. If we don’t think that Jesus and the Bible are relevant enough, we try to make Jesus and the Bible relevant. In order to do that, we have to yank some things from pop culture—stuff that’s hip and cool and trendy. And we have to put it in the church, and sort of drape it with Jesus and the Bible. In so doing, we’ve dragged Jesus down to the level of culture. That’s not just arrogant. It’s wrong. Maybe “relevance” isn’t what you think it is. Was Jesus cutting-edge, hip, and trendy, or was He the kind of person who would go to someone very uncool, put his arm around them, heal them, and hang out with them (Mark 2:15-17)? In fact, it was Jesus who said, “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13). Church isn”t where the cool people come; it’s where the broken people come.
  9. Sacred Cow #9: Having lots of activities. I’ve said enough on the issue of activities, so I won’t flog the horse right now. Feel free to find out why too many activities are a bad idea.
  10. Sacred Cow #10:  Passing the offering plate. It is good and right for churches to collect money from people. But I’m not so sure that passing around a tin plate with velvet lining is the best way of going about it. I could go into all the reasons that this is a bad idea. For one, we live in a largely cashless and checkless society. Furthermore, too often the perception of taking an offering is that of collecting payment or dues for the church experience. Others see it as a tip or financial reward based on a good show. From a biblical perspective, this is all pretty skewed. There are alternatives, such as online giving or money boxes.

So maybe the word “slaughter” is a bit strong. And maybe the term “sacred cows” is a bit too Hindu. But do you see the point? Rethinking traditions is really just about rereading the Bible—seeing what’s there, what’s not, and applying it to today’s culture. I’m not asking you to become an iconoclast, skeptic, heretic, dissident, rebel, renegade, or mutineer. I’m simply asking you to boldly do what needs to be done give God greater glory.

(Update: June 30, 2011:  Thought of another “tradition” (special music), and added it under #4.)

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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