Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows. — Jeanie Daniel Duck
The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change (New York: Crown Business, 2001), 263.*
My Pastor Parish Relations Committee and I recently went through a study together called Pastor and Parish. It is an excellent study to help demonstrate what the PPRC is supposed to do and their purpose. In this study it talks about something called the “Sacred Bundle.” The “Sacred Bundle” is defined as “the congregational memories, taboos and traditions that define their church’s culture, but may not be readily apparent to a new pastor.”
The Sacred Bundle is filled with the little things that make the congregation who they are. Examples could be things like unwritten expectations like the Pastor always makes coffee for the Sunday School classes. Or it could be that the offering plates were the only thing left after the church caught on fire in 1963. Or the painting in the back of the church was the last one done by the matriarch before her passing. It could be even emotional ties to events like July 4th BBQs or Christmas Eve 11:00pm worship services.
The Sacred Bundle can be filled with glorious and meaningful things but it can also be filled with sacred cows. The pastor and many times the congregations really don’t know what is in the Sacred Bundle until change starts to happen. I think it takes at least two years to really start to understand what is in the Sacred Bundle, both the good and the bad. A pastor almost needs two cycles of the Christian year, two Christmases and two Easters and everything after and in between, to fully understand the congregation. For some congregations this process might take even longer.
It is only after truly understanding the Sacred Bundle that solid and lasting change can happen. When you understand what is inside the bundle you can speak to the good parts and honor them and cherish them along with the congregation. The bad sections, the sacred cows, you can speak to as well and start to discuss openly why they are there and if they need to be.
However, one needs to be careful because as change occurs the Sacred Bundle changes as well. Are you as the pastor setting things in that bundle that will build and nurture the congregation or are they simply sacred cows that will weigh them down in the future? Do we remove congregational sacred cows and toss in our own? Is the change we are offering the congregation fluid enough to go through its own change down the road? Or do our egos as pastors get in the way because we see that specific change as our little baby or possession?
Jeanie Daniel Duck is right, “Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows.” Our job as pastors is to invoke, implement and invite change that will lighten, support, and build the Sacred Bundles within our congregation. We cannot add more sacred cows. True leadership through a time of transition and change is the willingness to admit if the change we desire has turned into a sacred cow and if so, are we willing to let it go? We ask congregations to do it, but are we, as leaders, willing to do the same?
*a quote in Lovett H. Weems, Jr’s pdf called “50 Quotations to Help Lead Change in Your Church”