When people feel free to be honest, there appears to be a lot of disappointment expressed today about Christianity, about Christian institutions and-at least by implication, about the Christian faith. Most of the disappointment comes from Christians themselves, who find that what they profess “just isn’t working” – not for themselves and as far as they can see not for those around them.
One of the biggest problems is that leadership doesn’t pause to consider the reasons for the Church’s existence. Our focus is on the pragmatic and missional factors. Using the “wine” and “wineskin” imagery from Scripture, churches in the West tend to focus almost exclusively on the “wineskin”, the form or model of church, without giving much thought to the “wine” – the stuff of life that is contained in the wineskin. It is not that churches ignore the “wine.” All too often we simply presume its quality and then spend the bulk of our time and energy on the container.
There is little doubt that there is a problem, but why do we continue to do what we have always done?
Years ago the famous zoo in Heidelberg Germany purchased a great brown bear from a travelling circus. All of his life this big creature had been locked up in a cage 4 metres long. And every hour of the day with its head swaying from side to side it would pace out the dimensions of that cage. It drank water from an iron basin and the food it ate was terrible. The people who came to see it would toss rocks into its path to break up the march. But the brown bear kept marching 4 metres forward and 4 metres back.
The day came when they were going to transfer it from captivity to the freedom of the beautiful Heidelberg zoo. Now life at the Heidelberg Zoo was altogether a different proposition. Their bears lived on acres of green grass with sparkling pools of crystal clear water to splash in. There were and other bears all around and they were fed three meals a day. Let’s put it this way if you were a bear and you made it to the Heidelberg Zoo you had made it to the top.
So they wheeled the big iron cage out on to the compound and they opened the door and the dramatic moment of freedom came. But the big brown bear ignored the open door and the invitation to a very different and better life and just kept on marching 4 metres forward and 4 metres back. They called to it and it wouldn’t respond. They offered it food but nothing would entice it to come out of captivity. Finally, the only way they could break the shuffle was to put fire on the end of a pole and prod it through the bars.
Frightened, the bear slowly moved out of the cage into its new surroundings. The cage was removed and for a long time the bear stood there looking around. Then it dropped its head and started swaying from side to side and again paced out the dimensions of its previous captivity. 4 metres forward and 4 metres back.
For all those around it was obvious that the problem with the bear wasn’t metal it was mental. The bars of the cage could have been made of straw and it wouldn’t have made any difference. (Source Unknown)
Is it possible that the focus on the wineskin is what causes some of the disillusionment that Christians express? Just because you have a lot of people it doesn’t mean you have a church. It only means you have a lot of people. At the end of Jesus’ ministry he had a small church of about 120. But that Church had walked with Jesus as He showed them the way, showed them the truth, and showed them the life. As we look at Jesus’ life and ministry, it appears He wasn’t as concerned about the things that so often concern us when it comes to the Church: money, marketing, hip services, cool people, etc. Such concerns just didn’t seem to register on Jesus’ radar as significant.
Jesus was not looking for attendees or believers. He was, and is, looking for disciples – those who want to know what He knows, do what He does, and be like Him. That is precisely how He sent His original band from Mt. Olivet with a commission, a Great Commission: make more disciples.
The 120 people in Jesus’ Church were not your average members. They had discovered that Christianity does work and so they were radically and totally committed to the gospel and gave their lives for it. They changed the course of human history as a result.
The mission of the church “to make disciples” was a foundational, intentional practice for the early church. This relational style of discipleship continued for 300 years after Jesus, until the conversion of Constantine and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion. From this point on, the church lost its relational foundation. Discipleship moved to classrooms, a book with stories of people who lived long ago, and attendance at a weekly gathering of strangers. Today, with the death of Constantinian Christendom and the emergence of a Post-Christendom pagan culture, the Church needs to recover its relational and missional status through discipleship.