“You don’t patch an old garment with new unshrunk cloth. If you do, the patch tears away and makes the rip worse than before. If you put unleaded gas into an old engine that’s made for leaded, you’ll wreck the engine. Instead, match new for new.”
Surely someone will write to say that you really can put unleaded gas in an old engine. It’s a popular myth. I know. And I’ll leave the details to the old engine and antique car enthusiasts. But since nobody uses wine-skins, it’s an apt adaptation. You can probably think of others. Geeks will say, “You don’t put Windows 7 on an old IBM PC.” Perhaps historical building restoration folks will tell you not to patch an old plaster and lathe wall with drywall (but I’m no expert about that either). You can probably think of a few others.
Whichever metaphor you choose, the point is that it’s a whole system thing. What works in one context is not necessarily workable in another. What worked for churches in 1950 will simply not work in the early 21st century. And that’s why so many congregations are languishing. And, what works today won’t work 50 years from now either. Probably not even 5 years from now.
But, Jesus wasn’t even so much concerned about languishing churches. Jesus was applying the metaphor to cultural assumptions that include the whole interwoven fabric of popular myth, religion, government, national and ethnic traditions, and economics. These are so tightly woven together that you can’t replace just one bit whole cloth without causing serious disruption to the rest.
Think about this next time you decide to change the carpet in the sanctuary. It’s why people will say, “It just doesn’t feel like my church anymore.” Because when you change the carpet, it isn’t.
Same thing will happen the next time you decide to change a habit. Give up smoking. Exercise more. Go on a healthier diet. Change your job. Have children. Retire.
Same thing will happen when you change your business model. Restructure your non-profit. Adopt a new fundraising strategy. Discontinue a service or product.
Jesus says to change one thing it all has to change. All of it. The whole thing. You can’t move from one place to another and still be where you were.