They are usually called sacred cows.
Sometimes they are called idols. Though the sacred cow terminology has its origins in Hinduism, it is commonly used in churches to describe those facets of church life that are given undue (and sometimes unbiblical) respect to the point they cannot be changed.
To the delight of some and to the chagrin of others, I conducted an informal social media poll to find out what the audience deemed the most common sacred cows in their churches. The answers were voluminous. Some of the conversations were hilarious. Some people just got mad. Imagine that.
Here are the top 15 responses by frequency. Again, keep in mind this survey was an informal poll on social media.
- The parlor. Thou shalt not enter, touch, or change. Only the parlor elect may enter. Parlors typically have an occupancy rate of less than one percent. Parlorolatry is one of the signs of a church that will soon die (see my book Autopsy of a Deceased Church, chapter 11).
- The organ. I’m a bit surprised this issue is still around. But it is. And there are some pretty strong feelings about this instrument.
- Politics. A number of respondents said many of their church members equate a certain brand of politics (all along the political spectrum) with biblical truth, a truth that must be declared in the pulpit and elsewhere.
- Order of worship. Thou shalt not move the offertory to another part of the service. The Apostle Paul instructed us exactly where it should be.
- The building. Yes, this response is a general observation. But many respondents simply said “the building” was the church’s sacred cow. Perhaps I can dig deeper in the future.
- Flowers in the worship center. Both fake and real. Both clean and dusty. Often allergenic.
- Music/worship style. The worship wars have diminished, but they are far from over.
- Sunday evening services. An oldie that has been around awhile. Obviously, it’s still a point of contention in many churches.
- Pews. Single chairs are the instruments of darkness.
- Attire. I’ve opened this can of worms in the past. I might take another shot at it in the future. Bias alert: I despise ties.
- Committees. For God so loved the world he did not send a committee. Many of those who responded particularly focused on the number of committees and their failure to have a clear purpose.
- Cemeteries. Typically an issue with older churches. Most church building programs today don’t include land for cemeteries.
- Choir robes. Probably need them to cover up some of the problems in number 10.
- Previous pastor. The pastor of 25 years ago walked this earth as a near perfect person. The church members have no memory of anything this pastor did wrong. They hold to the inerrancy of the former pastor.
- White tablecloths over the elements for the Lord’s Supper/Communion. Didn’t see this one coming
Does your church have any sacred cows? Feel free to contribute to the conversation!
Posted on August 27, 2018
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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This is perfect. You did a great job.
So, as a worship leader, I do have to ask, “Do you think the organ is a dinosaur and needs to be removed and burned in the foyer, or does it simply need not be a source of argument? I am a bit confused on your angle on this article.
I hesitate to comment, because I can tell by the wording of your question that you are already defensive about the organ.
But, to answer your question, I would say that it depends. Is the organ music a turn off to guests, causing them to think that the church cannot relate to them? Does the organ music fit your demographic? The most important question is: Does use of the organ lead your congregation to encounter and worship Almighty God? I would ask these same questions about ANY style of music, whether it is traditional, contemporary, country/western, southern gospel, gospel, steel drums, high church, or what ever. The most important thing is that “worship” is worship of the Most High God.
Having said that, I realize that different people have different musical preferences. What works for one person or setting may not work for a different person or setting.
I know of a church who had a bizarre tradition. They had a little birdhouse on a stand up in the front of the sanctuary. If you had an upcoming birthday you could write your name on a piece of paper and put it in the birdhouse. The name would then be read during the service. You can imagine the time the new pastor had getting rid of that nonsense!
Did anyone mention those ‘short pews on the platform that are designed for the pastor and staff to be seated in?’ =- ouch..
As someone ALMOST as old as you Thom, I remember these things. GRIN
I really don’t believe it is a “sacred cow” issue. I really think from my pastoral experience it is a “hard heart issue” or in some cases an “evil heart or unregenerate heart” issue.
I just left a small county church after 10 years of service and knew some of the people for forty plus years. We grew slowly and went from 7 people to 25 and 60+ children from our neighborhood. Together we added a screen, tinted the windows, moved the pulpit, changed the worship and actively reached out to the community, (The previous all could have been called sacred cows.) This church was originally founded as a split because they did not want African Americans in the church. I did think we were past this evil “cow”. Only 2 founding members remained in their 90’s. Six members closed down the youth program – too many Hispanics coming- I had proposed an afterschool program and they also cited that the carpet would get ruined. To make a long story short – these six had a secret meeting and voted me out, contrary to bylaws and constitution. We had an official vote and had 9 members voted for me to stay vs. the 6. The six filed eviction papers and I had 24hr. to vacate the parsonage. Yes, I did consult a lawyer but did not have funds to retain him. The judge ruled for “the founding members.” They promptly removed the screen window tint etc. and 9 families left that church and all the children put out. My conclusion, after enduring ungodly out of order name-calling finger-pointing meetings (yes, I brought in a moderator) can only be an unregenerate heart. When it comes to “Sacred Cows” where is the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer? I have found that believers placing God first will seek to promote the gospel and the unity of the fellowship even giving up sacred cows when necessary. We all have traditions and expectations of what a church should be which in themselves may not be wrong. The question is are “these thing” more important than God? I stayed and fought to the end which is contrary to my nature, but know I was following God’s call for me in this matter. Maybe nurturing the “sacred cow” is a symptom of an underlying “heart decay” that should be warning to us all. Even I havehad cherished “sacred cows” from time to time and had to have some steak dinners! My answer – Romans 12:1-2.
Number 13 – “choir robes” is actually very important. One senior member of my church informed us that the choir just doesn’t “sound as good” without them. I didn’t realize they had such a positive acoustical impact.
The covering of hair.This is still predominant in Africa.
Thou shall not change the established Sunday morning service times (had some people leave our church because of this change)
Every Sunday the doxology right after the offering. Tried to change it and got my ears pinned back.
My friend at church is on the buildings and grounds “team” (trying to move away from committees..lol). They did a walk through of the grounds. She has been a member at our soon-to-be 150 year old church for about 7 years and made a comment about the fact that the front of our church looked shut off and like a Masonic temple. It does. Once she mentioned it, I looked at it from an outsider’s Perspective. No windows on the front doors or across the front stucco at all. Solid white with tall white columns across the front. Yuck.
The location of the piano.
I just moved our piano that hadn’t been played for over two years. and I had people who never called me get ahold of my personal cell phone number. SMH