As Useful As An Eight-Track Tape

“The (church planting) movement will discover that many church plants are reproducing outdated models of what is already not working. As the culture slips into the post-Christian mindset of Europe, much of what we do will no longer work and will be as useful as an eight-track tape. Some of our box church plants will be known as ‘the last of the dinosaurs’ or ‘erected monuments to a dying form of Christianity.’

Church planting is thriving, and therefore Christianity is no longer in decline. What is in decline, however, is the type of church that is ineffective in this brave new world. Churches that are attractional don’t pull in Europe. They are viewed with suspicion by those who understand the sheer amount of money being collected annually. They suspect that these churches are money-making machines, rife with corruption. As the culture shifts away from trusting the church, smaller communities that place more emphasis on personal spirituality, experiencing God and providing community will be better received.” (Peyton Jones – Outreach Magazine, January/February 2015, page 62)

As we have been discussing – there is a new wineskin needed today in the world. At one time I would have said that it was needed only in the west. But, because it is the west that has influenced the world “for Jesus” and spread it’s marketable self-centred gospel that’s not a gospel … and, with it, the organizational and structural forms that produce this western brand of ‘church’ … I would now say that almost all nations need to look at that is happening in the Kingdom and examine the wineskins they are using – and the ones they are transplanting as they plant churches. I believe we have a worldwide problem as the western church has reproduced what they have. It is no longer working. It is no longer business as usual. It is no longer relevant. Many will stay with the old wineskins and the old wine. But, for those who want to move forward with the Lord and continue their journey of faith; for those wanting to impact their neighbourhood and world – new wineskins will be needed. And, they just might look different in each and every neighbourhood and nation. The “MacDonald’s Franchise” box churches no longer work – if they ever did.

So, each location and each group of disciples of Jesus will need to pray and discover for themselves the steps they need to take locally, nationally, and internationally as they find a form that allows the life of God to grow and reproduce. No longer will we erect monuments to a dying form of Christianity or preach and export a gospel that is North American and not biblical.

I up for nit – I hope you are to. In fact, I’m already on this journey of discovery.

Relevant Today?

“The only thing the Church has to offer to our culture is Jesus. Instead of seeking to be more relevant we need to become less relevant by becoming far more meaningful – living and presenting a Jesus that transcends our culture with a message of hope for a new kind of world (the kingdom).” (Scott McKnight)

But here is the issue – in the majority of cases we are not presenting a Jesus – the Bible Jesus – who does transcend our culture. Our lifestyle and the way we live our daily lives is so similar to how the rest of our society live that most people looking at us would not be able to tell that we had a personal relationship with Jesus. Our words, actions, deeds – the way we spend money, the way we invest our spare time, the values we live by, the things we do to entertain ourselves – are not setting us apart as believers. We live in the world and are “of the world.” Of course, this is contrary to the Bible focus of living in the world but not being of the world. So, in general, we are not presenting “our culture with a message of hope for a new kind of world.” We are failing at being salt and light.

As a result our public services of worship have been designed to entertain, retain, and maintain those who are already attending. And because we are so much like the world and have the same tastes and values – we see churches with fancy coffee shops that compete with Starbucks, worship services that resemble a rock concert, and facilities that are as good as or better than some modern stadiums being built for major league sports events. The world looks at all this and see nothing but the world. So, why attend. It is not different. It is not counterculture. It is not kingdom-minded. It is not making a difference because it is not different. It is not sacrificially about others but all about comfort and “relevance.” And those we should be influencing and impacting are not fooled by all this worldly look-alike.

However, they would respond to something that was real, vital, actively engaged in world-changing activities, and that offered a different way to live. After all, they are seriously worn out by their current every day lifestyle and are looking for meaning and purpose. They may not know it but it is true. If they could just see a valid alternative to the rat race they currently live in they would gravitate towards it, in time embrace it, and become world-changers. And, Jesus has called us to be just that, world-changers.

So, it is not a time to “keep calm and stay relevant.” Relevant is not working. Real would. But then, what would “real” look like in your life, your neighbourhood, your church? And, how do you get “real” to happen in your life.

Well, from my recent journey towards “real” I have to admit it is neither easy nor comfortable. But, it is an exciting journey of first looking inside at what you believe and how those beliefs are lived out (or not) in your life. Then, having to make changes – some of them drastic and life-changing – to allow your beliefs to be lived out and seen by others who don’t know Jesus. It will cause you to pause for a season and examine who you are. This often means stepping off the merry-go-round of life (watching life pass you by for a season) as you regroup around your new or renewed values. Your friends will not be happy with you and the journey you are on. The church you attend may not be near as appealing to you personally as you move through the various stages of this journey. Your priorities will change as will the way you spend and invest your time. It will be a “complete makeover” in many cases.

The end result? You will be someone who allows the world of non-believers to see the real, biblical Jesus through the way you live. Then you will have the opportunity to share in words why you live this way. This is called Kingdom-living and we are all called to it.

Willing to risk what you have now for what could be?

New Wineskins – Part Two

There is an issue we need to face when considering being prepared for the next major move of the Holy Spirit in and through the Church that Jesus is building. An issue about new wineskins to contain the new wine of the Spirit. As Jesus states, We should not put new wine into old wineskins because then both the skin and the wine are lost. What’s the problem? Simply this: The Church in many nations around the world is manufacturing old wine skins with new names, and passing them off as new wineskins. However, God is not fooled.

Thomas Bandy writes: “The most important cultural shift is from the old Christendom attitude of “membership privilege” to the post-Christians attitude of ‘mission first.’ Yet membership privilege still dominates the thinking of most Christians who participate in established churches. Indeed, those Christians who do replace ‘membership privilege’ with ‘mission first’ are often forced to leave the church.”

I agree. It is very difficult to move an established church – no matter its size – from the ‘membership privilege’ to the ‘mission first’ stage of life. Many join churches to have their needs met and stay after their needs are met. However, the church is looked at even then as a place that ministers to “me” when I have a need. This need may go from a need to be healed from a marriage that crashed to needing to know more about the Bible – but, the focus is still the member and not the non-member who is still lost and going to hell.

How we attract a person to the church determines what we must do to keep them in the church.

Let me explain that last comment… If a person is attracted to the local church because they have a need (a hurt, an issue, a problem) then, to keep them in the church, you will need to continue to meet their ever-changing needs. This is “membership privilege.” However, if a person joins a local church for the right reason – they are a sinner saved by grace and they are looking for others like themselves so they can have fellowship in their Christian journey – then they will continue to focus on the lost who don’t know Jesus and so become seriously “mission-minded.”

Most churches are building by meeting needs and thus the church is full of this ‘attitude of privilege.’ This means the staff of the church is there to meet their needs whatever they may happen to be. And, if these needs are not met then there is turmoil, strife, and division in then local church. After all, that is what those in leadership are here for (paid for) – the meet my needs and deal with my issues.

When a church is building by attracting the lost and seeing them saved – then the people who are joining have a “mission perspective” because they know what it is like to live without hope and without the peace of God that passes all understanding. So, they reach out to those that they know and focus on seeing them come to know the Lord Jesus. This mission is and will remain their focus. In this case, the professional clergy or the leadership will see their task as equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12) and not constantly meeting the every-changing and always demanding needs of the privileged few.

So, for the new wine to have new wineskins we need to see dramatic change in heart and mind. We need to walk away from the dominate attitude today of “membership privilege” and move into the “mission first,” Kingdom-expansion mindset. This means a change in heart and a change in focus for both the people and the leaders.

Simply manufacturing old wine skins with new names, and passing them off as new wineskins simply is not working.

New Wineskins – Part One

Jesus said that new wine must be put in new wineskins. We usually focus on this aspect of His teaching stating that to contain the new thing God is doing we need new wine skins. This is true. But, Jesus also said in the same text that no one who has tasted the old will want the new. He is not saying that they cannot have the new but that the desire to leave the old and drink the new is simply not going to be there in believers.

This is, of course, an issue for the local church. To be ready to embrace the new things that God is or is about to do in His Kingdom and through His Church we need to allow Him to form and mould us; adjust and change us; remove things to so as to make room for better things and the new wine. In some cases we simply need to let go of what is before we even know what is to come. This is called a walk of faith.

But, we don’t want to let go because what we have and what we have experienced feels safe even though it isn’t because God is moving on. We don’t want to leave what we know because it is comfortable and familiar even though it is often no longer meeting needs or being productive. It is secure because we know what to expect – even though we are seriously bored at times because it is the same all the time. This is why we know what to expect. So, unless we are willing to give up what is often safe, secure, and comfortable we will continue with the old wine and miss the new wine.

This has happened in every move of the Holy Spirit throughout the history of the Church. Those who were birthed in one wine skin (revival, renewal, restoration, move of the Spirit) do not welcome the next move of the Spirit. They ride one wave in to the beach and then play in the wet sand. But, those who are wanting to move on with God paddle their surf board back out anticipating another wave is coming and hoping that this time it will be the big one.

Those who are “new wine skins” live in faith, worship in anticipation, walk in enthusiasm, and deep in their hearts they have an expectance that today just might be the day that God pours in the new wine. And, if not today, then tomorrow. I am one of those believers. I am excited to be alive and in His Kingdom working to expand the saving knowledge of the Saviour to every nation and people group in the world today. I am looking for the new wine – I am seeing serious changes in my worldview, my understanding of the Kingdom, and the life of the Church. Not always easy. Never comfortable. But, I am willing to live between what I have experienced and now live with (often boring at best) and what I sense and even know is about to come.

So, I am not sitting and waiting. I am making many changes in my lifestyle, my approach to ministry, my understanding of Scripture and how and what I am investing my time in. I can’t say I am patient but I am deeply entrenched in this season of change and forward movement. I am shedding the old skin and slowly seeing the new skin emerge as a snake does as it outgrows its current skin.

It is an exciting time to be alive and challenged by the Kingdom and the King.