The biggest challenge for Christians today may be figuring out how to adapt to a changing society. Some will say, “The gospel is the same now and as it always was.” Yes…but Paul also said, “I will be all things to all people so that I can save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22)
Adapting to changing circumstances is not giving up your principles. It’s not selling out. It’s acknowledging that the situation has changed and so must our approach.
Ronald Heifitz defined the difference between an adaptive challenge and a technical problem nearly 20 years ago in his book Leadership without Easy Answers. A technical problem can be solved with expertise and good management. It’s mostly about execution. An adaptive challenge means that something has changed, so we need to change, as well. It requires innovation and learning.
An individual example of an adaptive challenge would be to find out you had Type II diabetes or high cholesterol. Ideally, you’d change diet and exercise habits.
He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:36-39)
When Jesus talked about new wineskins He was pointing out the obvious. Everyone knew a wineskin couldn’t be re-used or it would burst. Leather only stretches once. Use a wineskin a second time and the fermentation will create enough pressure to blow it apart. Nothing worse than seeing your new wine all over the floor.
What’s most surprising to me is that Jesus says at the end of the passage that everyone likes old wine better. You might think that he’s saying that people just don’t want to change, which is true. But old wine IS better. Wine that is aged properly tastes better than new wine. That’s a fact.
The problem is, if you keep old wine around too long, it goes bad. That’s the adaptive challenge we face in speaking into our modern culture. We might need to try a different approach in sharing the gospel with our friends and colleagues than we experienced ourselves. We need to first get a read for where they are and start there.
To wrap this up, here are two things that Christians in today’s marketplace can take from this passage:
First, if you want to have old wine (think properly aged), you have to make new wine.
If you’re looking to meet TODAY’s challenge, you better be willing to try something new. It’s going to take some time to figure out, to get it right, to age properly. It doesn’t happen overnight, so you have to start crushing grapes now.
Second, to have good wine, you need to make lots of wine.
Winemakers know this. They experiment with different blends, batches of grapes, barrels, aging periods, etc., to come up with a combination that works. Not every one will and that’s okay. Jim Walker, pastor of Hot Metal Bridge in Pittsburgh calls this rapid prototyping. Try something new. If it works, build on it. If it doesn’t, it’s not a failure, it’s a learning experience.
Think and Pray
What do you think God can use better, us doing nothing or us trying something? Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the right approach and timing, and let Him be responsible for the results.
Spirit, I ask that You would give me eyes to see those around me who need the hope of the gospel. Give me the courage to share with them and create the right opportunity for me to do so. Go before me in that conversation and even now begin working in their heart to make them receptive to the good news of Christ. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
Jack Shitama is an author, teacher, speaker and coach. He is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church and currently serves as the Executive Director at Pecometh Camp & Retreat Ministries in Centreville, MD. He is also the minister-in-residence for the Center for Clergy Excellence at Pecometh. He is the author of Anxious Church, Anxious People: How to Lead Change in an Age of Anxiety and One New Habit, One Big Goal: Change Your Life in 10 Weeks. This article first appeared on his blog http://thenonanxiousleader.com/blog