I had a frustrating conversation with a fellow pastor the other day. Not frustrating because of him, but because of the politics and dynamics in his church keeping progress from happening. I see it too often in Baptist churches in the South: churches want to grow and reach young families, and they say they’re willing to change, but there are a few golden calves (Exodus 32) they’re unwilling to part with.
So they bring in a new pastor, demand progress, and get angry when the church isn’t growing. Yet all the while they’re unwilling to change the two or three things absolutely necessary to reach new families. Here are six common golden calves that I’ve seen churches struggle with:
1. Sunday School – I know, my soul is in danger of condemnation for even mentioning this golden calf. Sunday School has been the hallmark of Baptist churches for decades. But when Sunday School becomes more about information than transformation, then it’s time for a change. (Here’s a longer post I wrote on Sunday School).
2. Schedule – 2 Opinions 4:16 says there must be Sunday morning church, Sunday night church, and Wednesday night church. But we can’t forget choir practice, training union, committee meetings, visitation, and church socials. When our schedule is a golden calf, then we’re dead in the water. Positive change happens when we take things off the calendar, not add more to it.
3. Legacy Programs – There are programs in our churches that just don’t work, but we’re unwilling to kill them. They have too much of a history and there’s still a small cadre of folks invested in it. Now mind you, that program hasn’t reached a new family in years, but if you feel like you can’t kill it because of who will get mad, then you’ve got yourself a golden calf.
4. Style of music – Yes, worship wars. Your style of music can be an overwhelming golden calf. If your aim in music is more about tradition and keeping certain people happy than worshipping in a style that engages the outside world, then your music is a golden calf. If you didn’t condemn me for Sunday School, then you probably have by now.
5. Facilities – Many church facilities are a living museum of how America looked back in the 1950s. If your church foyer could double as a set piece for Downton Abbey, if you’ve got donated paintings and furniture (or chandeliers and pews) that can’t be moved because of who donated them, then you’ve got a golden calf.
6. Preaching Style – I say this lovingly and with as much respect as I can muster, but much of the preaching today is out of touch and out dated. In our defense, we’re preaching how we were trained. “Preach the Bible!” (as if we would preach anything else). For preachers like me, an outdated style of preaching can be a golden calf. When preaching is merely about information transfer rather than engaging, relevant biblical truth that calls for life change, then our (sometimes outdated) seminary training becomes a golden calf.
My prayer? That more pastors and churches would be willing to stand up with the courage of Moses and live out Exodus 32:20: “And Moses took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder.”
QUESTION: What other golden calfs do churches struggle with?