In a recent faculty senate meeting at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, President Molly Marshall referred to Matthew 9:17 in her devotional:
“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
If we are sensitive enough to perceive it, we will see new wine flowing today.
Our culture provides unique opportunities and challenges. Men and women perceive the leadership of God’s spirit to undertake new ministries.
Doors are opening up for ministry across ethnic and national barriers. The spirit of God is at work.
How sad, then, to see attempts to force this “new wine” of ministry into old wineskins that attempt to constrain it and will ultimately produce only damage and waste. What we need are new wineskins for new wine.
Many of us grew up with 20th century organizations that were based on an industrial mindset.
Even if one did not work in a factory or a large corporation, other entities, including churches, adopted hierarchical, specialized organizational models that were perceived as efficient as well as effective.
Much good was done by such organizations, but there were negative aspects, as well.
Decisions were made at the top of the pyramid and filtered down to those at the bottom.
People were often seen as interchangeable parts that could be moved from one position to another with little thought of emotional or relational compatibility.
A “silo” mentality grew up around certain activities within organizations so that there was very little interaction between the various divisions (an appropriate word) or departments.
Many in 21st century organizations have adopted more organic models that are modeled around networks or webs – people interact not only one to one but in multiple relationships and at several levels.
Such organizations have given birth to matrix models with people working across departmental barriers or teams brought together from different parts of an organization to do a project.
Planning, designing and implementing are seen as collaborative exercises.
Most churches and faith-based organizations are still following 20th century models. Ministries operate within their own silos and rarely interact.
There is little communication let alone cooperation between various programs or activities of the church.
This approach produces comments like, “That’s not my job,” “I can’t make that decision” or “That’s beyond my pay grade” and leads to indifference, lack of motivation, confusion and poor quality work.
There is hope on the horizon. Some churches are planning around the “big idea” approach with the goal of aligning every part of the life of the church around a common vision.
Others are reducing the number of committees and replacing them with teams that actually do ministry rather than serve as gatekeepers.
Administrative structures are being streamlined to encourage rather than control creativity.
These new wineskins recognize the way that the spirit desires to work among God’s people. When we allow space for the spirit to work, anything is possible.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is associate professor of ministry praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, BarnabasFile, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ircel.