“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).
Christian Schwartz, a German-born, church-growth researcher suggests that we are in the era of a third reformation. The first reformation took place in the 16th century when Martin Luther fought for the rediscovery of salvation by faith, the centrality of grace and of the authority of Scripture. It was recognized as a reformation of theology. The second reformation, according to Schwartz, occurred in the 18th century when personal intimacy with God was rediscovered. He calls this a reformation of spirituality. And now, says Schwartz, is a third reformation of structure, or how we actually “do” church.
The first reformation brought us a reform in theology, yet failed to affect the major practices of the church. This new reformation however, will be a complete overhaul and upheaval of how we have been “doing” church for the past seventeen hundred years.
This third reformation promises to be more like a revolution in its passion to alter how the church functions, both in life and mission. This time it means no more subtle nuances, no more lofty ideas, no more hyperboles, but real, tangible, measureable, visual church.
Not just a renewal, not just a revival, not just a reformation, a total revolution in how we “think” church and how we “do“ church. This time, so that we don’t just modify, redecorate, adjust and patch the current wineskins, we are going to have to “rethink” everything we do, anything shy of that will simply be a new “paint job” or cosmetic adjustment to the present skin.
So, we must ask the question again, are you desperate enough for the new wine? If you are, then get ready to “rethink” everything.
1. Rethinking the Land Skin
O.K. I don’t know what everyone is going to do with their buildings and/or their addictions to them, and I am definitely not a real estate agent. But one thing is sure, we must rethink the price and priority we pay for what was once considered, at least in America, our greatest asset.
We are infatuated by our facilities, many times not realizing that the edifice addiction totally and completely impacts how we think and do church in every way.
In a day when church campuses experience bankruptcy (both physically and spiritually) as well foreclosure, we can no longer feed this Constantinian edifice complex that harnesses our souls to the lending brokers of our day and prevents us from fulfilling our mission.
1. Do we give away our buildings to our local civic governments who will turn them into Boys and Girls Clubs? With, perhaps, a clause in the contracts that we have priority use for off times (weekends) for events or celebrations?
2. Do we remodel our facilities to use them every day as feeding and training centers for the uneducated and underdeveloped? And maybe rent them back for our larger celebrations?
3. Do we redevelop and redesign our entire property to be turned into low cost housing for the poor and homeless? Set up ministry offices and ministry bases for those missionary units to live and work among the poor?
4. Whatever we do, we no longer have luxury to treat the church as a piece of real estate, but as a people, a people highly empowered, highly emboldened, and fully released from the excess weight of mortgage and maintenance to fulfill their mission.
We simply can no longer be a people who “go” to a building for “church.” We must become the church wherever we “go.”
Having long contended for both the “gathered” paradigm of the church as well as the “scattered” paradigm. And long believed you learn more one-on-one, in small groups, in book groups, small accountability groups, even through “webinar-type” interaction on the internet.
And must shout that I also love those larger parties the Father gets to throw for us where healings, miracles, signs and wonders, prophecy, sending, and all kinds of innovative and creative worship is released can happen.
Sure, these larger meetings need larger places. So when called by God to do them rent the meeting halls, the restaurants, the civic centers, the school auditoriums, and the stadiums. And if the climate supports, move them outside so the whole world can see.
Having just recently participated in a series of larger, open healing meetings, I really do enjoy the fact that we live in a nation that gives us many options on reserving and/or renting existing larger facilities in our communities on an as needed basis for these larger God-parties.
But as long as the people of God keep making their weekly pilgrimage to the “Church Building,” that address on the corner of Main Street will remain iconic. The church is a reality, and not an activity or an address.
The Spirit of God is a guide, not a map. And church is the spontaneous intersection of the journeys of all of those who are led by the Spirit. Those moments in time where those journeys meet and it is authentic and real…man, now that is church!
People are the church, so I don’t ask people anymore, “What church do you go to?” Or, “Where do you go to church?” But rather, if I am curious, I might ask, “Who they are walking with?” or, “Who are you hanging out with these days?” or even, “Who do you enjoy authentic fellowship with?”
Jesus did not call us to “Go to church.” He does say connect often and build each other up whenever you can. Body life is where a local group of people choose to walk together for a bit of the journey by cultivating close friendships and learning how to listen to God together (Wayne Jacobsen).
Buildings don’t meet, people do.
2. Rethinking the Learning Skin
Dr. Joseph Umidi, President of Lifeforming Leadership Coaching states it as simple as it gets.
“Jesus defines “success” as the bottom line of whether or not we are making disciples. Discipleship is almost entirely relational in a combination of small group and one on one culture, outside of church meetings, and especially through the influence of healthy conversations from healthy families around the table. Until spiritual fathers and mothers are discipled themselves transformationally, they are dependent on programs and methods that are information transactions more than life transfer.”
Life transformation or information transactions? It is pretty easy to see that tweaking a meeting in which the genesis of that meeting is and always has been to create a setting where one man teaches all, simple doesn’t work anymore, in fact never has, at least in the arena of disciple-making.
We adjust the length of the meeting, the length of the sermon, the mood in the sanctuary, the acoustics of the sound system, the training of the child care workers. We make the coffee stronger, or weaker, we create signs so there are special places for the visitors to park. We make sure the ushers and greeters are perky, and use breath mints.
And when all else fails we offer a new service time and change the name of the church.
Sorry, this time, no cigar! People need transformation and not just a cooler meeting room in which to receive the sound bites of the latest pop-theology. We must be about the business of making disciples, not collecting people and then trading them like the newest fad of trading cards.
Even Bill Hybels of the Willow Creek Association authentically announced that his “seeker-friendly” congregations did not produce transformational change in the lives of its members; meaning they were not discipled. And George Barna’s extensive research states we live with a discipleship deficit in the American church.
3. Rethinking the Leadership Skin
The local church was never meant to be led by the Lone Pastor, there is no “one-man-teaches-all” working model in the NT. The local church was meant to be fathered by an Elder, a local person of wisdom and reality, who relates to an Apostolic Team.
So one of the first things we do release natural groupings of people who now meet in our poorly stewarded weekend buildings to meet in the places we already have, i.e., houses, apartments, offices, recreation centers, even public sites such as beaches, restaurants, public parks, hotels and pubs.
Yes, these will be much smaller groups, But also far more manageable so a father or mother can lead can lead them transformationally, rather than the masses that gather is our theater style lecture halls each weekend that require that they be adequately stimulated informationally and satisfied intellectually.
When the people of God get unleashed and we actually begin to mobilize masses of people, we create a new synergy for effective leadership, and now no longer require the heavy investment of time, energy and money to invest in Christian CEO mass production and management training in our administrative factories called Bible colleges and seminaries.
And this whole shift? Is cheaper, more efficient, and definitely more biblical all the way around.
When the local house churches and smaller ministries get networked into regional movements rather than competitive fortresses, the Elders and the members of the Ephesians 4 team, (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Pastors who teach) can circulate “from house to house,” or call together larger apostolic regional gatherings for conferences, seminars, workshops, open worship nights, celebrations and parties with lots of sounds, expressions, and participation with the whole body ministering.
We can enjoy these larger Christian meetings, celebrations and parties that our culture enjoys, but they are not the life-transforming times for intentional discipleship and mutual mentoring that we live in in our weekly smaller groups.
A Pastor (or shepherd) is a very necessary part of this whole team. But because he/she cannot fulfill more than just a part of the whole task of “equipping the saints for the ministry,” he/she has to be complemented synergistically by the other Ephesians 4 ministries in order to function properly.
A Pastor is a part of that apostolic team, not the sole leader of a local church. That is done by elders who have been released into their vision, their ministry, and equipped by the Apostolic Teams.
The New Wineskin: Everything Looks Different
Everything starts to look different because it is different, from the top down. People are rightly related to each other now, entering into self-government and personal responsible for their own Christian walk and uniquely placed within a group of people who will help do the rest by mutual, intentional relationship.
The mutual mentoring of these groups led by the Elders, surface any ongoing needs that must be addressed at different times by the Apostolic Team, and can either be met by the Apostolic Team meeting with the Elders of the house church network in a given area, or even a planned house-to-house rotation of equipping so that everyone gets both nurture and empowerment on a regular basis.
The natural fathers, the elders, are in the best place to assess and assist in assimilating the lifetransforming process no matter how long it takes, or how many tracks it goes down.
This kind of leading and growth does not come through the routine, predictable sermonizing of non-strategic sermons and one endless series of messages. This type of fathering comes from specifically designed truths that deal with real life issues within the lives of the believers in house groups in real time.
The groups now experience the benefit of extended times of chewing and re-chewing in the full application and learning of what is being taught. Very unlike the average Pastor’s Reader’s Digest generic 45-minute microwave PowerPoint versions meant to be the “one-size-fits-all” diatribe during the weekend meeting.
It is a Christian life we are called to, not a series of Christian meetings. Who are you living your life with, sharing your life with, who helps carry your burdens and you theirs? Who are you growing together with, who knows what is your current process of walking out certain applied truths in your own life, in your family and in your community?
Sorry, we can no longer try to patch a sinking ship with bubble gum or duct tape, we no longer can cure the sickness of today’s church with a band aid or some new translation or paraphrase of the text. It requires drastic measures this time.
Whatever we have been doing, whatever we have been perpetuating, and whatever we have been paying for is not and has not been working.
We must demand a full refund and must start all over. From a full court biblical advantage, full court biblical worldview and a complete New Testament perspective.
is time we must give the old system a timely burial, a final “adieu,” a complete “buh bye.” And step up to the bar, as the best wine has been preserved to the last (John 2:9, 10).
This time we have been given permission to do church differently in the 21st century, and with brand new wineskins.
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.