FROM THE WELL
Matthew 9:17 (NRSV)
17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved."
HARDENING OF THE OPPORTUNITIES
Years ago, my dad had an Associate Pastor who drove a worn out Chevy Truck. It burned so much oil that instead of changing the oil he just continued to add oil daily. Instead of new oil, he used old oil that other people saved from their oil changes. My dad always gave him our used oil after we changed the oil in our cars.
Jesus said there was no use putting fresh wine into old skins because the old stiff, brittle skins would burst. Putting new wine in old skins would be like putting new oil in a worn out motor. New oil in a worn out truck motor wouldn't do the truck any good and, worse, the new oil would be wasted.
Jesus was trying to do something new but the Pharisees and others were blocking him at every turn. Jesus knew that love of neighbor, compassion for the least, last, and lost was going to break the old barriers of the law like fermenting wine bursting old wineskins. While Jesus had a great respect for tradition as the "Living faith of the dead, He was troubled that the Pharisee's laws and rules had become, "the dead faith of the living." Their legalism was more important than the love of God and neighbor. Their faith was inflexible and hard.
I'll never forget trying to implement a Long Range Planning Committee in a previous appointment. The chairperson of the Administrative Board came to my office after the Board approved the committee. He laid a sheet of paper on my desk and informed me that it was his list of names for the committee. I picked up the paper and was shocked at the list of names. I looked at the Board Chairman and said, "Your list contains nothing but white males over 60 years of age!" His reply left me speechless, "That's exactly as it should be and more importantly, that's the way I want it."
My friend Steve James calls this kind of attitude "Hardening of the opportunities." He writes,
I'm increasingly convinced that one consistent phenomenon has had a huge impact in the loss of emerging generations to the church. I call that phenomenon "Hardening of the opportunities." . . . To try and understand this phenomenon, I began interviewing younger adults about ten years ago about their experience of entering the church. What I heard again and again gets at the heart of why churches stop growing . . . In a nutshell, this is what I heard from young people who had tried church and then dropped away: "There was no place for me."
Now clearly, they weren't talking about physical space. They were talking about a space to "be the church." Our church structures are highly ordered. We have officers, committees, teams, groups, and staff each with defined roles and responsibilities. When those positions are filled, the local church leadership team breathes a sigh of relief and lays aside its burden until next annual conference meeting. This hardening of the opportunities closes the door for new people to fulfill Christ's call on their lives. This is particularly problematic for churches that want to reach younger people. The task of leadership in the church was never to fill a discrete set of offices with names, but to participate with the Holy Spirit in calling and developing the spiritual gifts entrusted to every individual.
. . . Last week I asked a young musician what the best advice he could offer to churches about how to reach people from his generation. "To be open," he said "because I've been in a lot of situations where the worship team (choir) was a very close-knit group and they didn't really want to include anybody else and or give anyone else a chance to serve or express their talents. I would just encourage them to be open and willing to work with new talent [gifted people] and to allow them to shine and encourage them, to be there to help them up in their faith to enable them to harness their talent to the best of their ability for God."
Jesus said, "You can't put new wine in old wineskins." New wineskins, new discipleship opportunities, new music groups, new Sunday school classes, new worship services, new missions, new people sharing their gifts, new covenant groups, and new spiritual sensitivities to the giftedness of all people is the cure for hardening of opportunities. It's a process and new way of living that is a threat to some but an opportunity for many who want to follow Jesus. Will we continue to hold up and use old wineskins or will we find new wineskins ready to receive new wine? Think about it.