Changing Of The Wineskins, Part One

“Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins will break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine in new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17).

What does it really mean to “do” church differently?

What does “change” really mean?

What does “new” really mean?

Four Possibilities From New From Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus The Editors of the American Heritage® Dictionary.

Main Entry: new
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: Not the same as what was previously known or done.
Synonyms: different, fresh, innovative, inventive, newfangled, novel, original, unfamiliar, experimental

Main Entry: additional
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: Being an addition.
Synonyms: added, extra, fresh, further, more, other, new

Main Entry: fresh
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: Not previously used.
Synonyms: brand-new, new

Main Entry: present
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: In existence now.
Synonyms: contemporary, current, existent, existing, now, present-day, new

Change remains vague until it is defined. With “change” being one of the driving themes of an entire shift in world politics, everyone is crying out for more clarity, more specificity, more steps, more exact actions.

What do we mean by change? And when it comes to the church what are we actually changing, and how are we seeing wineskins renewed?

Unfortunately, “church change” sounds way to similar to the nebulous eco-political jargon of today. So we don’t want to offend anyone in the church so we couch our nomenclature in ambiguous terms, or even religious ones.  Like, we just need “renewal,” we just need “revival,” we just need “reformation.”

But without specificity most people read that as we just need a new “program,” we just need a new “vision,” we just need a new “pastor,” or at least newer “buildings,” and new, softer “pews.”

So, we find ourselves adjusting the lighting, laying down new carpet. Trading in the old pews for theater seats, buying the hottest new flesh tone wireless microphones, firing an old preacher, hiring a new preacher. We work at doing fresh demographic studies and change the order of service, or if all else fails add a new service on a new night.

But this time, in 2012, in the time cycle of the church, that will not be enough, it will not work, anymore. This is merely patching the wineskins.

Patching the Wineskins!

Patching the Wineskins!

Patching the Wineskins!

We paint the old wineskin, we put new carpet in the old wineskin, we rearrange the seating in the old wineskin. Or, we add a second wineskin to the old wineskin, maybe even a Saturday night wineskin for the younger set.

Of course none of these changes make a difference over the long haul. Sure, we may get a few kudos about some of these subtle shifts and slight changes we have engineered. But has anything really changed for real and for the long run?

We even brag about the little changes we have made at the Annual Wineskin Convention, maybe even write a new book about our new wineskin, and start an association around this new way of wineskinning.

“Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins will break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine in new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17).

With all the decorative aesthetic adjustments nothing really changes, all we do is end up diluted the wine, weakening the wine, create more distraction for people’s hunger and thirst for the “true new wine,” forgetting all along that the purpose of the church is to accommodate what God is doing, not asking God to cooperate with what we are doing.

Because these church growth adaptations too will fade; this time we need something more. Right now, like no other time in history, we need a completely “new” way of doing church, a “new” way of being the church: a new way, not an additional way, or even just a fresh way, and definitely not the present way.

In fact, everything we currently call “church” needs to change, not from the outside in, but the inside out, these issues are so systemic, these issues are so broken they need to be replaced. We must begin by actually accepting a complete ‘funeral’ mentality on how we have done everything, or do church, and need to let it die, and then let God shape in us an entirely new winekskin that will adequately handle His potent “new wine.”

A ‘Paradigm Funeral’

All of this requires first a definitive ‘paradigm funeral.’ A deep willingness to let things die and start all over. First of all call the highly missional, highly participatory band of believers who you regularly gather with, those who radically care for one another and make themselves readily accessible to the lost.

Then return to “simple church” with a common meal and a common cup, not another lecture-driven “meeting” with more of the “sit, soak and sour,” as some professional ‘talking head’ does all of the ministry. But start some gatherings that are a highly prophetic with the released Holy Spirit called upon to lead through the people at His bidding, relying on His leadership, not the scripted program that we followed last week.

Refuse to sit in silence one more time and leaving the meeting with one one more “we simply don’t understand and definitely can’t apply to our lives.”

Begin to think 24/7 missional church rather than another weekend where we drive to a campus, struggle through a twenty minute search for a parking space, an athletic sprint to drop of the children at the Christian babysitters, another mad dash to the coffee kiosk, and then a press to find a decent seat before the performance begins. Only to look around for the first twenty minutes trying to find the family you want to go to lunch and spend the afternoon with after the meeting.

And No More Crying Over Spilled Wine

“Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins will break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine in new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17).

OK? No more crying over spilled wine. Enough is enough, don’t look back, no more excuses, it is now time for a “new” way of doing and being church, not a “renewed,” or “refreshed,” or “repainted,” or “redecorated,” or a “refurbished,” or “re-patched” one.

No more “patching” of the old wineskins, we have already polluted and diluted way too much of the good wine, we already know that the old wineskin won’t handle the radical lifestyle of the next generation, or the passionate missional movement that is in front of us, it will not embrace the press for the level of intimacy with the Father that is coming, and it will literally explode or implode with the new spontaneous worship of the new wine that is coming.  It is time for a totally new wineskin.

So, where do we start? First, we must confront the current church system head on.

1. The current church system is designed to produce dependency on the system.

2. The two major obstacles to removing people from dependency of the current church system are the church building and paid professionals. We need to find a way to create a new organizational system that doesn’t rely on either. Jesus didn’t.

3. We need to find a way to redeem people’s generosity by removing the obstacles (such as buildings and paid staff) and thus releasing people’s resources directly into missional opportunities.

4. Dependency is ultimately dysfunctional because we’re not designed to be dependent forever. We’re designed for self-government and personal responsibility to become interdependent mature sons and daughters of God who can risk loving and risk living.

5. The problem is, that in today’s system we know how to do 500 people really well, just leading them like cattle into another building for another meeting. But we don’t know how to do 12 people really well. Jesus modeled the latter.

6. And we face the primary concern and fear by the current church system that if we actually release people to become the priesthood of believers they will sure fall into heresy. Funny, heresy exists regardless, always has, always will. Example: We have 30,000 denominations. Some of them are wrong. But Jesus risked leaving His followers, and released His Holy Spirit to lead ordinary people. Even if they go through a season of heresy, they will eventually be led into truth. Can we do the same?

7. Exponential growth happens when people participate in what God was already doing. Not through prayer events that call down God to bless our latest agreed upon program we picked up at the latest conference or ministry fair.

Yes, all of these are specific challenges for today’s church to face? You will have to decide if you will face them, or conform and run from them. You also will have to decide what approach to any remedies you are going to risk. If you are really serious about change and not just a “repatch of the wineskin,” you will have to ask God what He wants you to do and then address what is holding you back.

It could mean completely rethinking your views on the church as it relates to the land (properties, facilities) learning (training systems, learning dynamics) and leadership (styles: both old and new) and then address those models you insist on perpetuating that continue to weaken today’s legacy church.

Are you desperate enough for the true new wine?

Gary Goodell is a former evangelist, pastor, college dean and instructor involved in ministry stuff for almost 50 years. He and his wife Jane live in San Diego, California USA and he is a father of two and grandfather of seven. As an author and consultant he is an itinerant mentor working with the international church planting movement known as Third Day, that he and some friends founded in 2001. Third Day International now involves leadership and ministries in over 20 nations.

His two books, “Permission Granted To Do Church Differently in the 21st Century,” and “Where Would Jesus Lead?” are both available online.