Written Word

What Is The Danger Of Tradition?

Tradition has its place in both society and the church and many times it has served us well. However, tradition must not become a sacred cow that cannot be touched. This is particularly true for churches that are faced with the need to change.

This point was brought home to me when I watched a programme on management. Here’s the background: A stately home and lands in England, worth almost ten million euro, faces a crisis. The estate needs to generate a substantial income if it is to survive. At present a fruit farm and golf course are both profitable, but not sufficient to maintain the estate, hence the crisis. A business expert is consulted. He quickly identifies where the problem resides. It is an established tradition within the family that the eldest son inherits the home and estate. Previous generations had done this with some success. However, the eldest son in this case does not have the business skills to manage an estate of this size. Interviews with the staff, and other employees confirm this. Though the family all get on well together, the three sisters and mother cannot endorse the future heir. It is obvious to the consultant that the eldest daughter and her husband, who have considerable business acumen, are most suited to the task. After rounds of discussion between the family and the consultant the day arrives when the father, the lord of the manor, delivers his decision. And to everyone’s amazement he entrusts the running of the estate to his son confident that he will make a success of the project though all the indicators are pointing in the opposite direction.

What has happened is this: The father really wants to believe that his son will do what he himself did when he inherited the estate and what previous generations of first born sons have done. Furthermore, the father does not want to break an ancient family tradition. The input to the discussion from the three sisters and mother, which is always conducted in a courteous manner, is ignored, as is the advice of the consultant. And so the one with the power makes a bad decision to protect a sacred cow – tradition. The immediate outcome is that the elder sister along with her husband leave to deploy their skills elsewhere.

Having watched the programme, I saw similarities with how some churches function and I wondered how many of them are also victims of bad decisions made by their leaders. Discussions take place but nothing is done. The input from those saints “on the front line” is politely ignored and an attitude of “business as usual” is adopted. As a result, good people like the elder sister and her husband leave, taking their considerable skills with them. And who can blame them? I wouldn’t.