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Is our language confused or are we confusing 'wineskins' with 'the wine'?

WARNING - this article may bring life or death…

If you have an intense desire, above all else!- to see the Kingdom extend, you will experience life.
If you have vested your understanding of the Kingdom as synonymous with the ‘local church’ or 'organized church', you will have to experience death to get to the life. Sorry, that is just the way it works.

John 12: 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. - Jesus

I was having a dialog with a person on twitter… he lamented that churches were closing and shared why he thought they were closing.

I replied this way:
“I'd see it differently: church=people. No church can close, because people cannot 'close'. Our language is confused.”

Our language, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, makes it difficult to understand and convey concepts. Indeed, I think there is confusion in our minds regarding what we actually mean by our words. As believers, what are we building? The Kingdom or the local church? Do we think that they are the same? Are they? If we don’t understand what we are building, if we can’t talk about it and think about it clearly ~ we may build the wrong thing OR we may build in the wrong way.

If we look at scripture, there are not ANY ‘growth plans’ for building the ‘local church’. However, today there are many ‘growth plans’ for building the local church. Charles Fuller Institute for Church Growth and Evangelism made great strides in developing and distributing plans for building the local church. They taught Pastors and church leaders how to break the 100 barrier, the 200 barrier, the 400 barrier, etc. Interestingly, breaking each barrier requires changing the approach to doing ministry. As the church grows, the understanding passed on by the Charles Fuller Institute and now by many others helps leaders take a different approach to all aspects of ministry. People can now learn, for the various size their congregation is things like this: what roles leadership should take, how training is done, how accountability is administered. Supporting growth requires a deliberate approach to facilities: establishing quality standards, building adequate parking, signage to restrooms, and trained staff who help and direct people to what they need. Keeping things lined up for growth involves fundamentally impacting administration, requiring different and deliberate approaches to communication between the upper leader(s), the mid-level leaders, and those who fill the seats. It requires defining and developing specific roles with high level training, accountability and feedback. Without these break throughts in understanding and approach, we would not see in community after community churches of 300, 500, 1000 and 1000’s. The common language for learning and applying these approaches is ‘organizational development.’ And, organizational development works to help ministries grow and expand.

The scripture does not have any such ‘formula’ for building ‘church’. Indeed, the model that we are given for ‘growing church’ is the ‘family model’.

Let’s pause so you, the reader, can do a ‘heart check’. If your heart is racing in fear… if you feel ‘threatened’ that the ministry of the ‘local church’ is being threatened, this is a message of death. FEAR NOT. Dying is not ‘the end’, it just feels like it. Check the verse above again. Back to the family thought…


Think of how families grow… Suppose Mom and Dad have 5 kids. These young people leave home and attend various colleges or maybe work at McDonalds in the local area. On Sundays they all come home to share Sunday dinner. Then they all find that special person God has for them; they marry. They still come home for Sunday dinner. It is a little tight, but with some extra leaves in the table, they can accommodate 12 people. Mom gets a little tired making dinner for 12, but it’s the family and a joy. Fast forward. The kids loved their big family and each has had 5 children. Mom and Dad have been fruitful and multiplied – there are now 37 of them! What about family dinners? It is out of the question unless Mom and Dad build a bigger house! At 12, they were ‘packed in’, hosting a sit down, turkey dinner for 37 every Sunday is out of the question. Of course, we know what normally happens – life takes some children and their families to establish themselves in other communities, each family becomes busy with their own needs. Getting everyone together moves to holidays and then, as the family further grows, that even drops off. Mom and Dad are older and tired, they are delighted if everyone gets together for a family reunion, maybe planned as a special celebration to honor Dad turning 80!

In scripture we see two types of ministry. One type doesn’t make another type ‘invalid.’ In Acts we see the ministry of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, the ministry of preaching the word of God. The Apostles were leading this work. We also see benevolent ministry – the distribution of food, especially to widows. Check out the first part of Acts 6. The apostles were busy with the word of God and prayer, but were getting interrupted by the distribution of food. BOTH were important! Their solution was to formally organize to do the work of distributing food. This was the first Christian organization. Now, local churches are also organizations ~ one of their key charters IS to distribute food, spiritual food! However, if the Apostles had vested in that first organization, the organization to distribute food the whole ‘identity’ of the church, the current body of Christ would be separated into ‘food distributors’, ‘food consumers’ and ‘preachers’. Perhaps, to some extent, that has actually happened.

Lets try to think this though clearly, also keeping in mind the title, “No church can close…” In order to think this through, we want to create a new word. We will use the word “Deacone” to illustrate a deliberate, organized approach to serving in the Kingdom. Scripture notes various deacons and deaconesses, most likely they were often involved in deliberate, organized efforts to serve the body, such as the case in Acts. However, if they confused their thinking to think that these efforts WERE church… this could have been the outcome: If they decided to reduce one Deacone ministry and add focus on another, they would feel that the church was ‘losing ground’ instead of seeing it that they were simply changing focus. And, think about what would happen if the worse case scenario occurred. Suppose that they decided to actually ‘close’ one Deacone ministry to focus on another. If they thought that the Deacone ministry was ‘church’, people could feel that the church was ‘closing’. They did not make these types of errors in their thinking. Why?

They understood that the Kingdom was within them – adding to their number, multiplies where the Kingdom ‘is’. Luke 17: 20-21
They understood that worship was no longer centered in a place, that people would worship God anywhere. John 4: 1-24.
They knew the difference between the wine and the wineskins. They knew that wineskins age and are not able to accommodate new wine. Unfortunately, many of our ‘local churches’ fall into this description, they cannot accommodate ‘new wine’, they have grown ‘old’ as wineskins do. This is expected and should not cause alarm, there are solutions.
They knew that those who are part of the old wineskin might not recognize the need to change – ‘the old/current ways are good enough. They knew that Jesus called them to continually build new wineskins. (Luke 5: 37-39) For clarity’s sake, I am calling the ‘wineskins’, the organizations we create to hold the wine, Deacone ministries.

They CLEARLY identified those involved in the acts of serving, and those who led in that type of service and further identified those who provided general spiritual leadership. Look at the passages in Timothy and Titus regarding elders and deacons. PLEASE BE AWARE. The Elders they are writing about are elders not of a congregation that met in a building, but they were elders of whole geographical communities. Typically, in today’s approach, we don’t even think of Elders in this way.

And, typically we think of Deacone ministries, such as the ministry of the ‘local church’ as ‘church’. We do not see clearly the difference between the ‘wineskin’ and the ‘wine’, we have combined them in our understanding. When we think of things this way ~ we can confuse our language, our thoughts, our purposes and our approaches.
We can think that ‘churches close’. But, since church IS the body of Christ, it IS the people.. (1 Cor. 12: 27-28) Therefore, churches cannot ‘close’. Deacone ministries can close, change focus, etc. But, not the ‘church’.

Back to the warning at the beginning. This speaks deeply to what we are building. I can be a major ‘stakeholder’ in a Deacone. Indeed, I can refer to it as ‘my ministry’, or my Deacone. (Romans 11: 13) Indeed, all of us should have a ministry, or specific places of service. However, we ought not confuse our language or our thoughts to think that my specific Deacone ministry IS the church! If we do, we can find ourselves feeling like ‘owners’ rather than ‘stewards.’ We cannot ‘own’ the body of Christ; though we can serve and steward the gifts, talents and resources God has given us to use on his behalf.

We can only build one Kingdom, we have to make sure we are building his Kingdom, being flexible to consider different approaches. And, if he calls us to use a different approach to the Deacone ministry, thought it may feel like a ‘death sentence’ at times, it’s not.

Jesus would say to us… “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. I’ve ‘got this’.” He is encouraging us to ‘get it’, too. 

Post Script:  

In the above post, I tried to help clarify our language and our thoughts so that we can clearly see the difference between wineskins and wine… “how” we approach Christian service… this can range from koinonia based approaches to approaches based on organized structures. To describe the second type, I introduced a new word: deacone. This is from the Greek word we translate deacon.

Now, here is a point that I want to be clear in communicating… there are different approaches to doing work in the Kingdom. The question is NOT, ‘which approach is right?” The question is ‘what approach is right for THIS NEED? Is everyone CLEAR on this? These writings are to CLARIFY language and approaches, NOT to invalidate one part or another part of the body. ;-)

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Blessed Easter.  Yes the Church is the body of Christ.  Not buildings and not denominations.  We can trust the Head (Jesus Christ).  We can trust his Spirit (the Holy Spirit).   We cannot be watchmen for  the local churches but we can be watchmen and workers in His Kingdom.  For those who have accepted God's gift of His Son who paid for our sins and trust in Him,  Happy Easter.

Thanks for weighing in!   I think my point was that the local church is a ministry within the body of Christ...   But, we won't see 'First Baptist Church' on the corner of Gold and Ruby Street in heaven ~ what we will see are the people we impact.  We need organizations to function, but we ought to be always aware ~ organization are only the 'containers' - the wineskins, the 'wine' is the people.  :-)

Dr. Bill Smith said:

Blessed Easter.  Yes the Church is the body of Christ.  Not buildings and not denominations.  We can trust the Head (Jesus Christ).  We can trust his Spirit (the Holy Spirit).   We cannot be watchmen for  the local churches but we can be watchmen and workers in His Kingdom.  For those who have accepted God's gift of His Son who paid for our sins and trust in Him,  Happy Easter.

In the above post, I tried to help clarify our language and our thoughts so that we can clearly see the difference between wineskins and wine… “how” we approach Christian service… this can range from koinonia based approaches to approaches based on organized structures. To describe the second type, I introduced a new word: deacone. This is from the Greek word we translate deacon.

Now, here is a point that I want to be clear in communicating… there are different approaches to doing work in the Kingdom. The question is NOT, ‘which approach is right?” The question is ‘what approach is right for THIS NEED? Is everyone CLEAR on this? These writings are to CLARIFY language and approaches, NOT to invalidate one part or another part of the body. ;-)

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