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The Church is Wine Not a Wineskin

“Your church, even if it’s one of the rare growing ones, is sitting on a ticking time bomb. The exodus of the Millennials do not look good for a church afraid to listen.”   – Thom Schulz   Why are people leaving? A key issue in the debate is the confusion between church as …
By Seth Barnes

“Your church, even if it’s one of the rare growing ones, is sitting on a ticking time bomb. The exodus of the Millennials do not look good for a church afraid to listen.”   – Thom Schulz

 

Why are people leaving? A key issue in the debate is the confusion between church as “wineskin” versus the wine that goes in it.

The Bible is full of illustrations and lessons that involve wine. It’s the blood of Jesus; it’s medicine for your stomach; it’s a key part of celebrations; it’s the focus of Jesus’ first miracle.

They didn’t use wine bottles in Jesus’ day. Instead they stored wine in urns and poured the wine from there into a goat leather pouch called a wineskin. You could use and re-use a wineskin so many times and then you had to get a new one.

Wineskins are important only insofar as they fulfill their function. They shouldn’t be confused with the wine they contain.

Buildings vs people

Church buildings are wineskins. Denominations are wineskins. Even church services are wineskins. The people inside the buildings are the wine. We mustn’t confuse the one with the other.

Just because a building contains the people who compose a church doesn’t make it the church. They could meet out in a field and they would still be the church. 

The Greek word for church, “ecclesia” was a political term before it took on religious connotations. It meant a gathering of people. The place they gathered had another name. Jesus talked about two or three “gathered in my name.” When we are gathered together, we are known as the “body of Christ.”

The problem is that we humans tend to confuse the wineskin with the wine. We tend to prefer the concrete to the abstract. When we think of First Baptist Church of Columbus, we don’t think of a group of people, we think of a building. 

It doesn’t help that we build elaborate buildings and that we put pictures of those buildings on our bulletins.

It doesn’t help that often congregations don’t interact in a coordinated way like a body does.

Why young people are leaving “church” 

The confusion has given the word “church” a bad name with many people. They may find Jesus himself winsome, but they are repelled by the idea of church.

If something represents itself as an all-inclusive community, but really is more like an exclusive club, people may be repelled.

And that’s why young people are leaving church by the millions. They intuitively understand this distinction between wine and wineskins better than many older Christians.

Seeing the importance of both wine and wineskins can set you free from the issue you may have with church. You can belong to the local body of Christ as well as a larger body wherever it gets together.

Recently I met a group of Christ-followers I know out on the Gainesville square. We talked and encouraged one another. We were the church gathered. 

Yet we need more than those kinds of random meetings. We need to gather regularly with a group where we are known and can interact in a more coordinated way.

Wine needs wineskins

And so we, who are wine, need wineskins. Without them, we operate solo and don’t get the connection we’re built for.

It’s easy to get jaded about wineskins, especially if they seem tired and old, or if they’ve gotten confused with wine. But we are social creatures built by God to gather, belong, and be known. We have to find a tribe and a place where that tribe gathers.

Wine needs wineskin. You may need to find a new one, but you’ve still got to find one. 

Are you tired of the church? Is it the wine that exhausts you, or is it the wineskin? Wouldn’t it be great to be part of a group who knew you and loved you for who you are?

More in this post on the subject. This blog is good too. 

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