Luke 5:36-39 36 He told them this parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'"
We often struggle to keep or to balance with tradition and doing new things. When you want to do new things, older people would worry that their tradition will be lost. And if you keep the tradition, younger people would find it irrelevant. And sadly and mostly, most established organization – churches, schools, companies or even government, would rather choose to keep the tradition in order to please their current people. With this decision, many younger generations are left out and eventually leave the church (coming from my context). We certainly cannot please everyone. But can each generation tolerate with one another?
Jesus teaches a very familiar parable which we often use if we want to do new things. He says that “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.” This is really a familiar passage to many Christians. But one day, as I was doing my devotion and was reading this passage, one interesting thought in the form of question came to my mind – “Can you put old wine into new wineskin?”
If we cannot put new wine into old wineskins because it will burst the skins, can we put old wine into new wineskins? I have the great conviction that we certainly can put old wine into new wineskin. Look at the wine shops nowadays, how many of them using wineskins? Most of them are using bottles! You could transfer the old wine from the wine barrel into the bottle. Of course you would argue that the taste would be different so on and so forth. But the question is that will you lose both wine and the wineskins? The change in taste is perhaps what I call toleration. Older generation should tolerate with the new wineskins, the new method of storing wine.
When this came to my mind, the first illustration came to me is about smartphones. I was asking how many older people are using smartphones. I believe many older people (over 60 years old) are using smartphones so that they can continue to communicate with their children. If they can tolerate with the change of method of communication, they should be able to tolerate with changes in church so that younger people can continue be in church and find that we are still relevant.
If we choose tradition over next generation, we are putting the new wine (new generation) into tradition (old wineskins). In the end, we lose both younger people and no one would continue the tradition. And perhaps we often preserve the wrong tradition – the manmade tradition rather that God’s commission.
As church leader, this is ultimately important to us because we are losing the younger generation – children, youth and even the young adults! When our preference is to keep the tradition so that people could remain, we are losing the next generation. We are not reaching out to them. I am inspired by Carey Nieuwhof saying, “Focus on who you want to reach, not on who you want to keep.”
Inasmuch as I am saying all these, I don’t mean that the older people are not important that we should ignore them. Remember that Jesus said in Luke 5:39 that the old is better. I think inasmuch as the next generation is important, we should educate and work with the older generation to reach out to these generation. If they can tolerate with changes in smartphones, why can’t they tolerate in tradition to accommodate the new generation?
No doubt that my mind was thinking also how Steve Jobs presented the first iPhone. If you have watched the presentation, I personally like the part when he dismissed the QWERTY keypad in traditional phones. In fact, he did not really dismiss the QWERTY keypad on a phone. He just changed it a different method to type messages. This is one of the things that make iPhone iPhone. Can you imagine if Jobs listened to criticism by consumers to put back the physical QWERTY keypad because without it, it would not be a phone? I think the phone would lose its identity.
It is the same with the church, we have heard too much criticism about the next generation without even trying to understand them and going into their lives and world.
So, can you put old wine into new wineskin?