Will We Accept the New Wineskins?

CGGC Executive Director Lance Finley

So much to think about these days. I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all, I’m sure some of you are as well.

This morning, a friend posted the following:

Think about how these numbers are going to change post-Covid.

“Missiologist Alan Roxburgh notes that if you were born between 1925 and 1945 there’s a 60 percent chance you’re in a church today. If you were born between 1946 and 1964 there’s a 40 percent chance you’re in a church today. If you were born between 1965 and 1983 there’s a 20 percent chance you’re in a church today. If you were born after 1984 there is less than a 10 percent chance you’re in a church today.”

~ From “Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World” by Alan Roxburgh, as quoted by Alan Hirsch in “The Forgotten Ways, 2nd edition.” (BTW, read both of these books!)

I find it interesting that Roxburgh’s observations are from five years ago!

Have you been to a worship gathering recently? Barna Research released new data last month that revealed that one-third of practicing Christians have “dropped out” of church during the pandemic. The same report also notes that 50% of practicing millennial Christians had revealed not engaging in online services over the past month.

Most of the congregations I’ve talked with report “in-person” attendance at levels ranging from 30% to 80% of pre-Covid numbers. A friend was reflecting on their worship experience since returning from the shut-down and the lack of people present and summed it up with “it’s been kind of depressing.”

In three places in the Gospels, Jesus has a discussion around the importance of fasting where he answers questions with the example of pouring new wine into old wine skins. (Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5). The following is Matthew’s take found in Matthew 9:14-17.

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’

“Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

‘No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.’”

There’s a lot that could be said about the shift we’re currently traversing as well as all that’s involved in Matthew 9…certainly too much for one blog post! Fasting in Jesus’ day was generally connected to the idea of repentance – that was probably part of the concern of John the Baptist’s disciples. Fasting was also connected to the idea of piety and righteous living – that’s certainly where the Pharisee’s and their followers were drawing their motivation for fasting: “we fast to demonstrate our faithfulness to God.” Jesus clearly demonstrates that what He is ushering in, the kingdom of God, can’t contained by mere religious ritual or activity. What Jesus was bringing about couldn’t be experienced in empty ritual or heartless devotion. In Matthew 9:13 (right before this passage) Jesus offers as much when he says, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

I grew up in a culture in which I was taught to demonstrate my commitment to Jesus through my attendance at church: every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. I know I have many friends in ministry today who are fretting over the fact that so many are missing from our weekly gatherings. I just have to wonder if God isn’t moving in a way that’s going to require new wineskins because our old wineskins are too brittle and insufficient for the work that God wants to do right now?

One more insight from Barna’s recent research: amongst those who have recently check out of church, there is still a strong desire (or need) for prayer and emotional support, a Bible-centered message of hope and encouragement, and connection and community! Here’s my hunch: Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. probably doesn’t have the ability to deliver all this or at least as much of it as we think.

What are the new wineskins God is calling us to take up? We may feel good about our acts of piety and they certainly aren’t all bad, but perhaps the Lord is working in ways that will require us to adapt to new ways of gathering and being the church?

Christ’s Peace,

CGGC eNews—Vol. 14, No. 33

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