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Old Wine in New Wineskins Doesn't Work

Over the last 40 years, authors and preachers have commonly used Jesus’ parable of the wineskins to argue for new ways of being and doing the church. In the early 1990s I was a part of a new wineskin, an organic/missional experimental church in Houston. Of course we did not call it organic or missional, but that’s what we were trying to be. We did not fit the normal patterns of church life as we tested new ways of forming and living in community. We saw many people embark upon a new relationship with Jesus, and we had a very strong leadership core.

We did NOT have traditional expectations of church life and if you spent any time with us this was very clear. However, we had many people join us who had had exposure to traditional church forms. Those who came to Jesus for the first time through the relationships in our church joined right into the life of the group quite well. I remember one person going on a vacation and sharing her shock at the way the traditional church she visited operated.

However, those who joined our church who had been shaped by the traditional church experience were a different story, myself included. It was not hard for us to commit to the vision. The hard part was to deal with the various hurts, fears, and expectations that we brought with us from our church experience. Even though we wanted to live on mission together, we were not prepared for it. We had the concepts right, but the church lacked a process that would form  or equip people for missional life in the way we were living as a church. So we forced “old wine” into “new wineskins.”

And let me tell you “new wineskins” don’t transform “old wine” into “new.” Most of the time it just creates “whiners” who want to complain about what the church is not doing for them.

My point: Even new churches that are solely focused on the development of missional communities need a process that will equip people who have been shaped by traditional church expectations so that they can flourish in a missional environment. New wineskins are needed for new wine. Prepare people for missoinal community. Be very clear up front, in black and white terms, about the nature of the vision and ask them to join an intense discipleship process that will re-shape their imagination and form them for mission.

This post is part of series entitled “Is Both/And Possible.” Click here for the other posts in this series. More tomorrow.

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M. Scott Boren is a Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul, MN and consultant who partners with The Missional Network (www.themissionalnetwork.com). He has written and co-written eight books, including Introducing the Missional Church, Missional Small Groups and MissioRelate. He share life with his bride, Shawna, and their four children, all under the age of eight. He can be reached at his website: www.mscottboren.com.