Does your church have a ritual, event or program that it regularly performs that is outdated and ineffective? Do you do some things, certain ways, all the time, just because, “that’s the way they have always been done”? We all would answer “yes” to many of these questions, but if you have too many “yes’s” your ministry is in trouble! Here are a few ideas to help you conquer a church ritual.
First, determine if it is a biblical mandate, a Bible-oriented tool, or just someone’s good idea. Here’s a quick guide:
- Biblical Mandate- Required by scripture explicitly, probably in multiple places. Included in this list would be things like: Bible reading, prayer, wise counsel, proclamation of truth, teaching children truth, believer’s baptism, assembly of saints, etc… (Hint: these are all found in other cultures and centuries.)
- Bible-oriented Tools- Demonstrated, described, or alluded to in scriptures and often used effectively in church work. This list includes: Sunday schools, song services, hymns and Gospel songs, visitation, end-of-service invitations, clothing choices, midweek services or Bible study groups. (Hint: Many of these don’t go across cultures or the centuries as easily, and are largely North American in origin.)
- Good Ideas– Work well (or have worked well in the past), can often be supported by Bible verses, are usually the expression of a personal preference, leadership workflow, talent or area of giftedness. Here are a few that can work well, but might need examination. Use of children’s curriculums, rigid order of public services, scheduled service times (like 10:30 a.m. vs. 11:00 a.m.), musical specials, communion tables, church pews, hymn books, choir robes, ladies in hats, pulpits, neck ties on men, visitation, etc… (Hint: These are usually abandoned in cross cultural, pioneer and missionary works. Many of them did not exist in other centuries.)
Quick note: A ritual itself is not a bad thing. It is really based in a habit. If the habit is a mandate like prayer or Bible reading, you have a good ritual. If is is found further down the list and has lost some of it original meaning or purpose, It is time to evaluate it and maybe look at replacing it.
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The last two categories (Bible-Orented Tools and Good Ideas) are usually where an ineffective ritual can reside. Please remember, you don’t just throw everything away for the sake of being new and trendy. We need to use other’s ideas, if they are good, and we certainly need our tools to be biblically oriented. Rituals and habits are comforting to people and help to keep things flowing smoothly. For example, if you have your Sunday morning service at 10:30, it would be wise to keep it there until it is seriously evaluated and needs an adjustment.
What I am writing about here are the ones that are desperately needing replacement. They are nagging you as a leader and are ripe for a facelift and repurposing. Removing or replacing a ritual may be difficult and may be opposed by good people. Here are three tips to help as you take on this difficult task.
- Number One: Lead Away a Ritual. People follow leaders and their ideas. Read about leadership. Listen to leadership messages. Read leadership blogs. But most importantly, lead! Start in little areas and lead well. David behaved himself wisely in all his ways. In First Samuel 18 he was given some authority and he handled it well. Don’t get all fired up about your authority. Get all fired up about your leadership. When needing to revamp an old practice or ritual, a leader will get much further, faster, than an authoritarian.
- Number Two: Replace Away a Ritual. Good ideas always have competitors. They are called great ideas! Great ideas that have a biblical core are the best. Thorough analysis and a well thought out solution is hard to resist when presented wisely by a good leader. Conduct extensive thought time, prayer time and counsel in these areas. It is always helpful to analyze why the event or habit (that is now a nagging ritual) was created in the first place. Work together and get wise counsel. Read and listen to others who have been down this path. Don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution. Don’t react, act. Humbly and thoroughly present your solution in a professional manner. Explain all of the features and benefits of replacing the old with the new.
- Number Three: Schedule Away a Ritual. Your calendar is your friend. Make plans to implement your solution out in the future and get it scheduled. Many times short bursts of a new idea are accepted better. Remember just because God never changes doesn’t mean we never change. Often short term and periodic events generate much enthusiasm and are managed better. Many churches change out their children’s programs during the summer and revamp for the fall. The results are better focus, higher participation rates and a much needed rest for the workers. (Click here for a list of 20 Ministry Ideas to Replace a Ritual). For years, churches have run special meetings, weeks of youth camps and concentrated evangelistic efforts. These have all been used to stimulate and break up the hard ground of rituals. Scheduling a short burst of the “new” may be just what it takes to help people see the declining value of the “old”.
Obviously, our Biblical Mandates need to stay strong and firm. What we need to remember is that our Bible-oriented Tools and Good Ideas should support the mandate. In fact, they must support the mandate. This is why a non-supporting ritual must be removed! Many times rituals actually distract and diminish from the important stuff. Truth needs to march on. Is something in the way that needs to be replaced or rescheduled? If so, Lead on!
Maybe you are being hindered and hamstrung by an old practice that was once a good idea? Maybe you have recognized it is time to lead? It is no mistake you are reading this today. Perhaps now is the time, and you are the person to conquer a church ritual.
What are the most common obstacles or rituals that seem to be holding back our churches? Please comment.
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