In India cows are considered sacred. They are worshiped and revered and allowed to roam freely throughout the city no matter how much trouble they cause. In church life a “sacred cow” is something that is unexpected (and often unnecessarily) sacred to the church members. It is a tradition or object or place that is worshiped, revered, and occasionally allowed to run rough-shod over God’s will.
My husband spent a season filling pulpits in churches without pastors. I was always amazed at the sacred cows we ran across: “Don’t paint over the sacred mural in the nursery! It was traced by a girl who used came to our youth group one time but now lives in Florida!” or “Don’t move the sacred pulpit! It was carved by hand by Ms. Smith’s grandpa from the oldest oak tree in the county!” One church told my husband to make sure he did not refer to the platform steps as “the altar” since that had recently caused a church split. (He spent his entire sermon with the word “altar” on the tip of his tongue.)
I made the mistake at one church of suggesting we use a particular Sunday school room as space for a VBS class. The room belonged to the Lovely Little Ladies class and they were appalled that I would consider using their sacred room to teach the wild children of the community! Sometimes the “sacred cow” is an object or part of the building and sometimes its an event or tradition. “We always have Women’s Day/Youth Day/Kid’s Day/Lord’s Supper/Mission Day/Senior Day on the third Sunday after the second Tuesday of every month that ends in “Y”…I can’t believe the pastor didn’t care enough to keep up with that!”
Early on in our ministry, my husband and I not only sacrificed many a sacred cow, we had an out-right barbecue! So many of us young and forward-thinking ministers can’t see why such insignificant things are allowed to reign supreme in a church that is supposed to be about reaching others and worshiping God. So often we make sweeping changes and while telling the members to “get over it.” But that tends to breed resentment and bitterness in the more “established” members. On the other hand, many ministers let the sacred cows roam free for years on end because they don’t want to offend anyone or rock the boat too much. That leads to stagnant ministries and frustrated ministers.
So, we are learning to identify the sacred cows among us. Some we barbecue (mmm- steak!) so God’s will is not hindered, some of them we name and make into pets because we love the people who love them, and some we hope & pray wander off and get hit by a church van full of teenagers…(but that’s another story altogether…)
Have you ever run into any “sacred cows” in ministry? What did you do with them?