At my church, we have a new members’ class for people who want to join the church. Often, when I visit this class, I ask everyone in attendance: “How many of you want to join this church because you like it?” Obviously, I get a unanimous show of hands. After all, why would they join it if they don’t like the church!
Then I surprise them with this promise: “ Because you like this church the way it is, my promise to you is that I will change it.”
The room gets real quiet and I see some confused faces staring back at me. I can tell what everyone is thinking: Huh? We just said we like this church. Why are you promising to change what we already like?
Up to now, no one has ever raised a hand—no one today wants to join a church that hasn’t changed in over 30 years! I then point out the obvious, “you like it the way it is today, because we changed it yesterday.” Change for the better is a sign of life and health, so expect change and embrace it.
This doesn’t mean we change everything. God is still our ultimate priority, along with the clear and relevant proclamation of His Word. Our commitment to Christ, the mission of the church, and the core values of His Kingdom, should never change.
But while the message and mission of the church should never change, the methods must indeed continue to change if we hope to be around and relevant for the long haul.
Jesus gives us two great analogies in Matthew 5:
No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. (verses 36-37)
In other words, when you use a new piece of cloth on an old garment, it won’t work as a patch. The new cloth will flex and shrink, while the old cloth has lost its ability to adapt and shrink. The next time the garment is washed, the patch will shrink, rip away from the older garment and ruin both the patch and the garment. Jesus was saying, “some lives are like an old garment that has lost its ability to flex!”
And when you pour new wine into a wineskin, the wine is still fermenting and “growing”—that is, it is still expanding. A new wineskin is supple enough to expand along with the fermenting wine. But if you pour new wine into an old wineskin, which has become brittle, hardened and dry, it will burst because it can no longer expand to accommodate the fermentation of the new wine.
In this passage, Jesus was talking about the new wine of the gospel, the new wine of what God was doing through Jesus Christ, the new life that Christ was offering. God was about to do things in the midst of the Jewish people that would require them to stretch. Jesus was telling the Pharisees, “You’re like old wineskins. You are too rigid to receive the blessings God wants to pour into your life.”
When it comes to the life of the church, to the methods we use in our ministries, we need to stay flexible. People change. Our culture constantly changes. Our churches need to change too in order to embrace new opportunities to reach out and share the Good News with creativity. Our message and mission should never change, but our methods must continually change for the church to stay relevant and effective with the next generation. That’s flexibility.
So it is with your individual life too. If you are growing, you better be changing. If you don’t want to break, you better learn to stretch and bend and learn flexibility. In ministry as in life, change is a necessary part of any growing venture.
As new needs and problems arise, they frequently call for new solutions. So change is a part of staying healthy and relevant.
For God to pour new life, new wine, into our lives, we can’t be like old wineskins – rigid and refusing to change.
Question for reflection:
As I always say, the best change begins when you first decide what must never change. Ask yourself and ask God what are the core values of your own life that you should never change or give up regardless of changes in your culture? Then pray and ask God to show you one area of your life in which you need to embrace change this month.