Leaky Bottles (and Cracked Wineskins)

Dr. Phil – The greatest surprise of my trip to China was the impression I received from many leaders that the “revival” of the 80s and 90s was by and large over. They explained how the revival, which saw tens of millions become believers, had been primarily a rural phenomena. With greater urbanization and massive changes in Chinese society, the context of the Chinese church is changing.

As was very evident in Shanghai (a city of 25 million), China is becoming urban and this is being driven by the 20-30 year old generation. This Millennial generation is no longer responding to the Gospel as did the previous one. The reality around the world is that the Millennials have different values and are looking at leadership and the church with a distinct global, urban, and post-modern view (a phenomena I wrote about in Mentoring Intelligence in 2011).

One illustration that seemed to connect with these leaders was the one I use with two bottles of water. I pour water from the top one into the bottom one, but the bottom one has a hole in the bottom (granted it is a bit of a messy illustration). As long as water is being poured into the leaky bottle, the level stays the same. It is only as I stop pouring in water that the level in the receiving bottle goes down as the liquid drains out the bottom. This reflects what happens in a region which is experiencing incredible church growth. Everything “looks” fine in the church (the bottle) as long as new believers (water) are being added. This reflects the volume of inflow rather than vessel quality.

As Alexey and Tatiana shared, this was the case in Russia in the early 1990s. Many were becoming believers, however, the existing models of ministry and church were actually “leaky.” They didn’t know how to handle the growth. It was only after the influx of new believers stopped that this really became evident. Unfortunately, the evangelical church in Russia is still affected by that lack of preparedness in the early 1990s (we from the West were complicit in this) and many churches still struggle with how to be relevant within the context of a post-western-leaning Russia.

While often not spoken about outside of China, the leaders we interacted with shared how many of the churches in their country were actually unhealthy. There has been much numerical growth, but this has often obscured the real state of the health of the church when it comes to passing on leadership to the next generation and releasing them to reach their generation with new models.

Jesus put it this way: You don’t put new wine in old wineskins. The vessel, or wineskin, needs to remain flexible in order to deliver the unchanging message of the Gospel in appropriate ways so that it is not lost for the generation within a different context. We know the “wine” is good, so it is clearly more of an issue of keeping the “wineskins” flexible. That is the challenge.

As a ministry, we come alongside of leaders and ministry teams and help them identify those unhealthy attitudes and practices that are inhibiting them from sustaining and multiplying the new growth (renewing wineskins). As with our other regions of service, our goal is to help the church in China engage in a transformational process on a personal and organizational level. If this does not occur, it is likely that they will share the fate of those throughout history with solidified wineskins.

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