“That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It”: The Wrong Answer for Moving Forward

Established institutions worry about those who ‘rock the boat.’  So when newcomers express interest in an organization or become fully involved, they begin to look at their organization with new eyes.  Suddenly, the questions start to arise:  “How come we do this?”  “Why do we do it this way?”  “Has anyone ever tried this this way?” 

In too many instances, the splash of cold water comes along:  “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  If this is where the conversation stops, and one is satisfied with that answer as ending the issue, then a problem exists. 

If I had the power, I would outlaw this phrase.  Why?  It’s lazy and unproductive.  By giving this answer (and being satisfied with it) does one the disservice of not analyzing and exploring the issue to see if it could be accomplished better, or if it needs to change, or if it needs to stop. 

So what is the right answer for inquiring minds?

  • Find out how it began.  The reason why this event or program began may have served its purpose for a time.  But that time may have passed.  But it’s always good to go to the source. 
  • Think like a church planter.  Church planters examine Scripture and examine their culture and go from there.  Many times, we as established churches simply think within the paradigm of our traditions and what ‘worked’ in the past.  It’s good to start with a blank sheet of paper and the Word of God and go from there.
  • Be willing to cut bait or re-calibrate.  If a program or event’s only pull is that it’s something we’ve always done but does little to advance the gospel or strengthen the church, we need to evaluate as to whether to cut bait (phase it out) or re-calibrate and reorient something good into something great for the glory of God. 
  • Examine Scripture to see what is non-negotiable (such as in Acts 2:42-47; Matthew 22:37-40; Acts 4:32-37, etc.), and what is personal preference.  Churches cannot do everything!   Each week, we get mail and ideas from those inside and outside the church that we should do or must do.  Sometimes we can, other times we are able to do so with the resources we have.  Most of the time, we are able to visioneer and strategize to put things forward with the people and resources we have.  But everyone has a bias, Christian or non-Christian.  The secret that many have not realized is recognizing that which is a personal bias and preference, and that which serves as an absolute truth in regards to what Scripture outlines.
  • Keep in mind there are actual people in the church.  So we see a ministry may need re-calibrating or phased out.  Headstrong people would be ready to say, “Let’s do it!  It’s the right thing to do—let’s move!”  As someone once told me, “Easy there, big fella.”  You have another component—people!  People who are involved and invested in these ministries, if for no other reason than a comfort factor.  If those folks are not involved in the process of evaluating this area, you will lose whatever influence you may think you have or hope to have.   True leaders don’t just walk in front of their people, but walk with them.  Some change will be obvious to make and can be done quickly—other change will take time.  It’s better to bring them along by making the case and letting it simmer.  Whatever short-term gain you may have in the quick change will be a long-term loss in your influence because you are communicating that programs mean more than people.  That’s a bad day!

So the right answer?  Let’s take a look at it and see if this helps or hinders the vision God has given for us.   Paul told Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-2, ESV).  Patience is a lost commodity on leaders, but patience is what is commanded.  Everything worth doing takes time, love, and teaching! 

May God help us as leaders to help our people ask the right questions!

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