Matthew 9.16-17 contains these familiar yet disconcerting words of Christ: “no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear remains. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (NASB) It comes in the context of John’s disciples questioning the practices of Jesus’ disciples (v.15), the Pharisees questioning the same (vs. 10-13), Jesus calling His disciples (v. 9), and healing in a manner unknown to the crowds (vs. 1-8). What is the Lord telling us here that is applicable to our situation today?
In March I traveled to Alpharetta, GA to attend a North American Mission Board conference along with 270+ of my associational counterparts from across five time zones. The subject was church revitalization. I believe this conference was a watershed event for our denomination because it indicated a quantum shift in emphasis. For decades NAMB has emphasized church planting, to start new works, mainly because a) new works baptize more people per capita than established ones and b) the demographics of our country were changing faster than our churches. This scripture passage was often quoted as rationale for creating new works. I agreed with it and still agree with the practice of starting new works to meet the needs of a changing societal landscape. For the first time in the history of mankind more people live in the cities than the countryside, telecommunications have radically changed how we relate to one another, Millennials are as of 2015 the largest sector age wise of the workforce, and ministry vehicles to transmit and incarnate truth to this generation needed substantive change.
The significance of this conference was that NAMB admitted there has been an imbalance, that existing churches need assistance not dismissal. 900-1000 SBC churches close every year, and the general wisdom was, ‘they don’t want to change, so concentrate on creation rather than preservation.’ This new emphasis is not an abandonment of church planting nor is it just a temporary acknowledgement of the existing churches. It is not an either/or, but a both/and scenario where existing churches receive help in tackling the present ministry challenges as well as church plants. The key is in the underlined phrase in the passage above, ‘both are preserved,’ wine and wineskin. Wait a minute, you say, that passage says the only thing that can contain the new wine is a fresh wineskin. Correct; why can’t that fresh wineskin be a revitalized existing church and not necessarily a new work? The key is the word revitalized, given new life. Whatever you want to call it (redirection, recalibrate, revitalization) they are all synonyms for change. The wineskin is not an end unto itself, but its purpose is to hold the new wine.
One of my mantras to our churches is: the Message is non-negotiable (Jesus is Lord and man is in need of Him for salvation); but our Methods of ministry are negotiable as long as they don’t compromise the Word of God. Sat. April 21, we will host a Strengthen & Send workshop with one of the premier church revitalization authorities, WVCSB Ex. Dir. Dr. Bill Henard, as he gives us a handle on this vital topic. It will be at Providence Bible Church, our newest MSBA member (655 Dry Hill Rd, Beckley). Times are 11am-5pm with lunch provided. Please urge your church leaders to attend and register online beforehand at wvcsb.org/SSI Henard, as he gives us a handle on this vital topic. It will be at Providence Bible Church, our newest MSBA member (655 Dry Hill Rd, Beckley). Times are 11am-5pm with lunch provided. Please urge your church leaders to attend and register online beforehand at wvcsb.org/SSI