Kill Your Church Traditions Before They Kill Your Church

bent crossWhen people start attending the church I pastor, there are a couple realities we tell them early and often. Here’s one of them.

Don’t fall in love with anything but Jesus, the bible and the people. Because everything else is up for grabs.

If you’re coming to our church because you love the way we sing, the architecture or location of the building, the way we run our youth program, or the way I preach, that’s nice. But if you love any of them so much that you’ll leave the church or fight with other members when it’s time to do things differently, you might want to find another church now. Because at this church, all of those things are subject to change.

When do we change them? When they stop working. Or when we find something that works better. And we’re always assessing what works and what doesn’t.

If changing important, but extra-biblical church traditions bothers you, you may not want to read the rest of this post.


I don’t want to get into an argument with people who like their church’s traditions. I’m not saying my way is the only way. But it is the best way for our church. And, if you’re curious enough to want to read on, it might be good for your church, too.


The Trap Of Tradition

I’m not big fan of church traditions.

I know that many people find value in them, and that’s great – for them. To the degree that those traditions help people keep order in their hectic life, bring depth to their family heritage or draw them closer to Jesus, that’s wonderful. Truly.

But the problem in most churches isn’t that we have too few traditions, but that we have too many.

We often do things for no reason other than because we’ve always done them. When that happens, tradition gets in the way of effectiveness. 

So, in our church we have one rule for all our practices, facilities, programs and more – whether they’re brand-new or decades old.

When something stops being effective, we stop doing it.

The test for effectiveness is simple. If it helps us hear, know and do the Gospel better, it’s effective. If it doesn’t, it isn’t.

When a church is bound by tradition, there’s a temptation to keep a not-quite-working-but-not-fully-broken program going until you find a replacement. That can be very dangerous.

More often than not, the presence of the old program or method gets in the way of starting something new and better. It contributes to a passive mindset and creates a culture of inertia.

Killing the not-quite-broken system causes discomfort, breaking the inertia and creating an urgency for positive change.


Becoming Window-Breakers

Some bosses are known for the policy that if they see something a little bit broken, they bust it up completely, creating an emergency that must be fixed. A scratched window stops getting noticed, but a broken window gets replaced right away.

Some pastors need to start becoming window-breakers.

No, not on basic bible doctrine. Like I wrote at the start of this post, the things that matter are Jesus, the bible and people. The more other things change, the more those essentials should be reinforced. But everything else is up for grabs and should always be questioned.

Often, the biggest enemy of the best things are second-best things. One of the tasks of leadership is to create an atmosphere where people want to let go of the second-best in favor of the best.

Focus on the things that matter. Hold loosely to the things that don’t.

Some traditions give a church stability and depth. Some choke out its life. We need to kill those traditions before they kill our church.

 Want to read more like this? Check out my companion post, Don’t Let Your Church Building Kill Your Church.


So what do you think? Is there anything in your church that needs to be broken in order to do something better?

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(Bent Cross photo from Vicky TH • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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13 thoughts on “Kill Your Church Traditions Before They Kill Your Church”

  1. It’s so easy for us to fall into the Pharisee trap.
    Church becomes more about me than God, the bible and people. Your words are always a great encouragement to this tiny (less than 100) church pastor. Thank you!

  2. One of the benefits of a small church is that change can happen more quickly and with less struggle IF there is a culture that allows for it. A smaller ship is easier to steer than an ocean liner. Decisions can be made more quickly, people informed and brought on board and there are less complications.

    1. I’ve been pastoring small churches for over 30 years and always have reply to the “easier to steer than an ocean liner” phrase that some times those smaller ships have rusted and frozen rudders that make it hard to steer it anywhere. Patience, love and prayerful persistence can turn the ship around.

      1. You both make great points. Small Churches should be like speedboats that can change directions more quickly, but too often they’re the hardest to turn because of that pesky frozen rudder. But a healthy Small Church… now that’s a thing of beauty and adaptability.

      2. I agree entirely, Sam. That is what I meant by the phrase “IF there is a culture that allows for it.” Rusted and frozen rudders are a problems of churches of all sizes and (to stretch your metaphore) the grease of patience, love and prayerful persistence is always necessary getting those rudders to once again work. BUT, (and this was my point), once that is accomplished and people are open to change, then the logistics are much easier in a small church.

  3. Gary W. Davis

    I like this post, and on the face of it the sense that it makes is priceless. I think the problem that I would encounter, and may other pastors may encounter in trying to deal with issues of “tradition” is defining actually what is a “tradition”.

    Yes, the litmus test of things that matter (Jesus, The Bible, and people) is a great place to start. But even in those categories there is some widely divergent ideas to argue and wrestle with.

    A great example in the life of the stream of Churches that I come from is Communion: We do it every week. We believe that the Bible teaches that you should do it every week. For others, their interpretation differs and they would see our stance as “tradition”.

    I’m not trying to pick a fight, but I think we have to be honest in the reality that some things that are tradition to us may in fact be…Jesus, The Bible, and people…to others. So truly determining what is tradition and worth killing is a lot harder work than I think it seems.

  4. The ones that hold on to traditions the hardest are the loudest and contribute $$$$$. How do you move them forward?

  5. Pingback: Monday, April 13th | public theology

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