It was just over a year ago that Pastor Michael wrote an article entitled “New Wine? New Wineskins” (Encounter January 2016), wineskins being a metaphor for leadership. We had commenced a process of beginning to make changes to our leadership and overall structure.
Wineskins, as the word implies, are containers made of animal hide for keeping wine. The term is prominent in Jesus’ maxim in Mark 2:22 that new wine cannot be put in old wineskins but must be put in new wineskins because the new wine, when it ferments and expands, will break the old wineskins and spill out. New wine must be put into new wineskins so that both can be preserved. Jesus is indicating, through this image, that His new teachings and new kind of spiritual life could not be put into old Judaism. They required a new container, namely, the living church.
In the same way we see that as God gives us direction as a church family, we need to address the container; how we structure, how we facilitate and allow for growth.
We had long since recognised that our way of doing things – our structure – was fit for a church of perhaps 70-100 but with over 1000 people coming through our doors each month our old way is no longer fit for purpose. So, over the last year we have been making changes: an administrator to centralise and co-ordinate the communication and workload; in November we re-purposed the Hub for a church office with 'hot desks' to enable staff to work together; and more recently at the AGM, we proposed and brought on several new Elders.
Change is never for change's sake – all of this is to help us fulfil what we believe God has called us to, as our part of His church here in Huddersfield.
So, in the aftermath of all the above I found myself in a conversation with Stuart Blount, one of Elim’s National Leadership team. He had recently been to visit Israel for a conference and on the last day had been taken on an excursion and sightseeing trip. As part of the trip there was a visit to a vineyard. As he tells it, for centuries no crop could be grown on this land, but a resettled Russian Jew had a vision to use the land for a vineyard. He flew in an expert from France who knew all about growing vines who, at the end of looking around and testing the soil, stated that no vines could be grown on this land. Rather than be disheartened the farmer started a quest to find a vine that could not only survive in the soil but thrive. Years later, and after a lot of perseverance, the farmer is now a multi-award winning winemaker.
The ‘New wine? New wineskins’ has already been part of our vernacular for well over a year so there was already a few points I could happily pull just from that part of the story, but it was when I was told the latter part of the tale my ears really pricked up.
I already knew from making wine in my teenage years that part of the process of making wine is transferring it from one container to another (normally by carefully siphoning from the top down, leaving the sediment at the bottom). This removes any 'bits' at the bottom, clarifies the wine and ultimately deals with the dead yeast, preventing fermentation. What Stuart had previously heard, which he wanted to check with the winemaker, was that this process of transferring the wine from one container to another helps the wine take on more fragrance and more flavour.
The winemaker confirmed this, however, he added a little more; not only can this process add more fragrance and more flavour, if handled incorrectly the wine deteriorates (many of you will know that vinegar, with its sour flavour, is deteriorated wine).
This process of change is delicate. Some people are excited about change – they love it, positively thrive on it and will head towards it at any opportunity. Others find it daunting, difficult, anxiety-inducing and will do all they can to steer clear of it. I am sure within our church we have both extremes and a spectrum inbetween. It is helpful to be self-aware, and 'others-aware' so that we may help each other and spur each other along on the journey God has for us as individuals and as a church.
As we metamorphose 'wine' in the form of the adjustments in leadership and structure, we aim to be delicate; it is a delicate process. Our hope as a community is that we will take on more flavour and more fragrance – the fragrance of Jesus. It is, however, easy at times to be unaware that we have started on the process of becoming sour and vinegary tasting.
As we change (and as God’s people we should always be in a process of transformation) it is worthwhile asking the question, are we expecting, positioning ourselves, looking to display a better fuller flavour and fragrance?
"And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins." Mark 2:22