4 Sacred Cows Haunting Churches—and How to Corral Them

I’ve felt hindered because it meant opposing beloved traditions.

When these sacred cows have been in place at your church longer than you have, it’s tempting to enter a season of ministry with guns blazing, eager to make changes. Some changes need to be made definitively and swiftly. Others require more care.


As a young pastor, I was eager to take on my new ministry assignment and blaze trails for God’s kingdom. I’ve been in churches where I’ve had autonomy to do that. And there have been others where I’ve felt hindered because it meant opposing beloved traditions.

Now in my 40s, I realize I have (Lord willing) many years of ministry ahead. But that also means I’ve become acquainted with commonplace “sacred cows”—idols that have become so ingrained in the culture of a congregation, many can’t remember why they exist or make the case to continue them.

I can identify and describe a few of these sacred cows. But I can also offer some ways to wisely relocate these “cows”— by either moving them to their proper place or moving them out altogether.

1. Relics and Buildings

For some churches, it’s a preferred translation of the Bible. For others, it’s a landmark steeple that has been a mainstay in the town’s skyline for decades. Some might have a long-standing painting in the baptistery—hand-painted by one of the charter members.

For a church where I formerly served, one of them was a chapel space that had barely been used. When some of us realized our campus lacked space for children’s activities, there was a recommendation we convert the unused chapel into a kids’ ministry area.

Many embraced the idea. Others reacted as though we compromised the gospel itself by even suggesting such.

In cases like this, these physical sacred cows have become stumbling blocks instead of the service tools they were intended to be.

2. Traditions

In many cases church members will cling to a time they served, learned, worshipped, and ministered under a former pastor—especially if he was the founder of the church.

Other times, there are programs that have long since run their course and something new needs to replace them. Yet they stay, because that’s the way we’ve always done it.

Or perhaps an annual event is no longer relevant, but no one is willing—or able—to acknowledge it.

Instead of having a constantly renewed vision to engage the community with the gospel and make disciples, some congregations feed the sacred cow of tradition.

3. Elitism

Especially when we’ve poured ourselves into building ministries and legacies, it’s easy to think our way is the best way. Or that our program is the best one. Or that no other church in town can top our worship music.

The sacred cow of elitism makes other churches the competition. This is particularly damaging, because the church—a body made up of everyone who has believed in Jesus for salvation—is the bride of Christ. And when we see our particular congregation as superior to another, it’s an affront to God Himself.

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