One of our neighbor's kids learned how to ride the bike at an early age and that was great, but the only problem was he didn't know how to stop. He was always in a panic looking for a bush to crash into so he could stop. Life is difficult when you can't stop. The end result is usually a wreck, and you and many others could be injured severely. To be successful in life it is just as crucial to be able to stop as well as start. When is the last time you stopped doing something?

I can't even get out of my neighborhood without stopping twice. Why is it so much more difficult to stop in life, or even in my church, than it is in a car? Think about it: When is the last time you or your church just stopped? Sometimes it is hard to stop because we have had the inertia of success. Our strengths can become our weaknesses. Remember Borden Milk and its beloved Elsie the Cow? The founder of the company who invented condensed milk even had his tomb built in the shape of a condensed milk can (speaking of morbid traditions!). Borden saw no reason to change its successful Wise Potato Chips when the new Frito-Lay and Doritos came along. They also saw no need to update their successful Lady Borden ice cream when new premium brands came along like Hagan-Daas. Poor Elsie paid a heavy price to learn a valuable lesson. We may not have any Elsie's in our church, but we do have a lot of sacred cows.

As a psychologist I know that half of the battle in overcoming a dysfunction is to identify it. You have to face it to fix it. Every company or church has sacred cows. These things prevent us from doing something or changing something that would allow us to be more effective. Sometimes it is a group of people with more control than they should have or simply a habitual tradition that now continues without a biblical purpose.

Traditions are easy to start but hard to stop. The seventh inning stretch was started by President Taft, unintentionally. He stood up to take the kinks out of his knees during a game in Washington, D.C. Thinking that he was leaving, the fans respectfully rose with him and emptied the stadium. Taft sat back down, but the tradition endured.

I consulted with a church in which the ushers wore red roses on their lapels. Newcomers were put off by the tradition and even said they thought they were going to a funeral. I consulted with the ushers and suggested they discontinue the rose tradition, and the next few weeks were mass hysteria. You would have thought I had suggested we relocate the church. We discovered why this was so difficult. A member of the church was making a tidy profit on the selling of the roses each Sunday. If you have trouble stopping a sacred cow, you might want to check the price of hamburger.

One church in which I consulted had the tradition of holding hands and singing at the end of each service. Church people loved it, especially the singles that could sit by the right person and get to hold their hand. The pastor obtained feedback that some wives were unable to get unchurched husbands to stay because of the hand holding part of the service. To them holding hands with people you don't know and singing just didn't seem normal. The pastor stopped what was now a sacred tradition. The wives of the unchurched husbands told him that they were proud to be a part of a church that would change traditions so their husbands would hear the truth. The pastor is no longer at the church. (Helpful hint: The longer the tradition has been held, the shorter the time to plan an exit strategy.)

Why is stopping so important? Because many times you have to stop one thing before you start another. If you want to be a morning person, let me give some good advice. Stop being a night person. Do you know how a child becomes a walker? He stops crawling. He doesn't crawl faster to become a walker. They just get tired of crawling and decide to walk.

I learned how to swim late in life. The reason I became a swimmer is I got sick and tired of wading. The reason I want you to stop something that is ineffective is to start something that is effective. We all get into ruts. We eat at the same restaurants and go home the same way. Let's stop something. I'll keep it simple this week — stop going home from church the same old way. Don't do it. Now you are forced to go home a new way. It may be better or it may not, but you are now on your way to discovering the best way home. In our zeal to become conservative, we have become preservative. We have done a good job of holding onto the truth, but a bad job at letting go of tradition.

You have to know when to hold them and when to fold them. That is not in Proverbs. The great theologian Kenny Rogers sang that song. It is one of the keys to life. What are you holding that you need to fold? This week, go out there and stop something. It's Easter. We celebrate that Jesus stopped death. Surely, you or your church can stop something that is slowly killing you. You might just experience some resurrection power in the process.

    About the Author

  • Charles Lowery