“Every wise teacher trained in the kingdom is like the homeowner who brings out of his storeroom new and old things” (Matt 13:52).
Jesus warned against trying to pour new wine into old wineskins—a constant warning to Christians and church leaders down through the ages not to get too attached to our ministry models (“skins”), but instead keep focusing on better ways to contain and deliver the life changing power of the gospel (“wine”).
I agree with those who see the church in the West facing a major cultural shift. In her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle wrote about a major “Rummage Sales” or tectonic shifts in the church about every 500 years. These are moments when the church has grappled with what to dispose of and what to keep, making room for new things.
(The “500-Year Rummage Sales” in order are “Great Transformation” (1st C) when Christ came to give us a new understanding of God; “The Collapse of Roman Empire & Dark Ages” (500AD) when the church was preserved in monasteries and abbeys; “The Great Schism” (1054) when the Church split into Eastern Orthodox & Western Roman Catholic; and “The Reformation” (1500s) when new branches formed and more personal ways to relate to God were encouraged.)
So, it’s been 500 years since the Reformation. Is the church ready for its next giant rummage sale? I think it’s already begun. Our 2020 Vision is one attempt to address the fact that the old skins are no longer getting the job done in our rapidly changing culture.
I am proud MainStreet wants to be a church that is not sitting back complaining about the church’s decline, but proactively exploring new ministry approaches to engage a culture that is spiritually thirsty but not as interested in old institutional forms of Christianity. We have tasted of the healing power and grace of Jesus, and we want so badly to find ways for others to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8).
Let’s continue the metaphor as I share my burden for MainStreet and Christians everywhere in 2020. Jesus told a parable about a man who prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. “But they all began making excuses” (Luke 14:16-20). When the servant reported all their reasons for not showing up, “His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame … so that the house will be full.’ For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’” (Lk 14:21-24).
Did you know our first MainStreet youth ministry launched back in 2011 was called “The Alley” and was based on this Scripture? We wanted to instill the same heart for the weak and wounded in our youth that we were instilling in our grown-ups. Here’s the hard truth that we just need to accept: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do,” Jesus said. “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Jesus told the parable of the banquet above to warn us that self-made, well-to-do people chasing the American Dream and busy with ‘worldly pursuits’ are less likely to show up for the spiritual feasts a church is offering each week. Jesus laments that such people, by their own choosing, will deprive themselves of “even the smallest taste of my banquet.” Meanwhile, those who are hitting bottom, who have train wrecked their lives, who have come to the end of themselves, who have tried drinking from the world’s wells and left thirstier, and who are desperate for God’s help are the ones who might just drag themselves to the feast with hungry hearts and open hands.
Friends, I am wary of trying to lure busy disinterested people to Jesus using new toys and shiny trinkets, offering door prizes and religious entertainment in ways that are most convenient and least costly. Why? Because Jesus himself said His Way to ‘the good life’ is narrow and difficult and few find it (Matt 7:14). While the Narrow Way to Life certainly has one eye on eternal life, I think Jesus is also referring to the narrow and less popular Kingdom lifestyle characterized by self-denial and commitment to character formation in this life here and now.
While many want to keep the church relevant, I want to keep it revolutionary and countercultural! Many want to believe we can mass market a Way of life that calls for daily self-denial and self-sacrifice. I am convinced most people just aren’t interested in becoming real apprentices of Jesus and counting the cost of becoming whole in heart, soul, mind and body. Yet, this is precisely what MainStreet feels called to do.
So, our 2020 Vision will be cooking up regular feasts of Bible teaching and discipleship opportunities for those who want to dig in and “be transformed by the renewing of [their] minds” (Rom 12:2). Come and get it while it’s hot, or make excuses. We’re all in that parable somewhere: Which character do you want to be? We will also be providing many pools of healing water (e.g., workshops, yoga, etc.) for people who want to pursue more holistic spiritual healing and deeper soul care. Jesus’ question for us today is the same as his question for the paralytic standing near healing waters 2,000 years ago: “Do you want to get well” (John 5:6)? Really?
In the coming days we will be sharing a fresh new “menu” of discipleship goodies to feast on individually on-the-go and together in community. See all the great things being cooked up already below!
Now “whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matt 11:15) and “let anyone who is thirsty come” (Rev. 22:17). “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). The feast begins even now — so come and get it! And bring your friends.
This is adapted from my letter to our church at our congregational meeting this past Sunday.