Why You Need to Kill Your Traditions (Before They Kill Your Church)

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

traditions

When 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.

Seriously.

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 a 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.

Karl Vaters
Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of NewSmallChurch.com, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.