New Wine, Old Wineskins and the Fear of Change

by | May 2, 2012 | Blogs, Fire in My Bones

The Lord wants to unleash a gushing
river of new wine into the church today, but we must leave some
things behind.

A
woman from Orlando, Fla., was in the news last month because she
decided to retire from driving her 1964 Mercury Comet. Rachel Veitch,
who is 93, bought the car new for $3,300 when gasoline cost 29 cents
a gallon. Today the light yellow car, which Veitch calls “Chariot,”
has 567,000 miles on it.

That’s
great news for Veitch—who will probably get $44,000 for the antique
car because she took such good care of it. But whoever buys it will
either store it in a fancy garage or display it at an auto show.
There are not too many miles left on this relic of the past.

 “We cannot rely on church
growth gurus, popular books or rock-star preachers to lead us into
genuine innovation. Copying spiritual trends is just a form of
carnality.”

Cars
have a life expectancy. Most 1964 Mercury Comets have long been
doomed to the junkyard. Engines die, carburetors rust and models go
out of style, so we trade them in for newer vehicles. In our
fast-paced world, Apple debuts a new iPhone every few years and the
most popular apps have almost monthly updates. We’ve come to expect
frequent upgrades.

Yet
for those of us involved in ministry, we tend to think the church
needs no remodeling or renovation. We expect congregations to hum
along perpetually for years and years, thinking the world will want
to pile into our 1964 yellow Mercury Comet and enjoy the retro ride.
But that is a faulty assumption.

While
the message of the gospel itself is both timeless and flawless, the
packaging we wrap it in must adapt with the times or we will quickly
lose relevance. Pipe organs, steeples and choir robes were never
wrong, but they won’t help us reach today’s generation. Nor do
stale religious systems, tired terminology or worn-out denominational
programs that should have been mothballed long ago. (The same can be
said for telethons on Christian TV that have the look and feel of a
1978 game show.)

Jesus
told John the Baptist’s disciples that people don’t put new wine
in old wineskins because the skins will burst and the wine will be
wasted. “Put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are
preserved,” Jesus said (Matt. 9:17, NASB). But many churches and
ministries today insist on pouring their new wine in the old models,
again and again. We resist innovation and we fight progress.

I’m
willing to guess that 90 percent of what we are doing in church today
needs a total makeover. We are facing the most daunting renovation
project in the history of the church. But the task is not impossible.
It will require us to take these painful steps:

1.
We must break free from the fear of change.
God
is always on the move. He might lead us to camp in one spot for a
while, but we can never get too comfortable in one place. His trumpet
will eventually blow and the cloud of His presence will shift. Don’t
park when God is calling you forward. Stay open to His fresh
directives, and expect Him to stretch your faith. He is adventurous!

2.
We must be willing to defy tradition.
People
who are married to the past cannot embrace the future. Sacred cows do
not belong in the pulpit; they must be sacrificed on the altar. “The
way we’ve always done it” will not work in God’s new season.
The crowd chooses the comfortable pews of nostalgia, but God is with
the courageous few who are willing to blaze a new path into unreached
territory.

3.
We must ask the Spirit to reveal His new strategies.
We
cannot rely on church growth gurus, popular books or rock-star
preachers to lead us into genuine change. Copying spiritual trends is
just a form of carnality—and it is a sad substitute for real
innovation. If the work of transforming the church is not totally led
by the Holy Ghost, then our changes will be shallow and our impact
will be pitiful. The last thing we need is a superficial upgrade.

I
believe the Lord wants to unleash a gushing river of new wine into
the church today, but He is directing us to prepare our wineskins.
What is old must be renewed by the Spirit, what is outdated must be
remodeled, and what is ineffective must be replaced. God wants to do
a new thing. Don’t resist it.

J. LEE GRADY is the former editor
of
Charisma and the director of The
Mordecai Project
. You can follow him on Twitter
at leegrady. He is the author of several books including
10 Lies the Church
Tells Women
, 10 Lies Men Believe and The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale.

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