Had a good time at my first visit to New Wine yesterday. I’d been asked to go and speak about the book, which I duly did, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Speaking at Greenbelt you’re pretty much already in a place where people are critiquing the forms and structures of faith, so it was very interesting to be in a far more conservative place – and find that people really began to open up on those issues too.
If I had a penny for every time someone has asked ‘how do I start my local church on a path to something more relevant’ I’d… well, be able to buy a pint I expect. It is the major question, and one that it so difficult to answer. To put it into the context there: there seems to be plenty of new wine around, but so much of it is being wasted in old wineskins.
I liked what John Peters had to say yesterday: ‘you be you, and dangerously free.‘ I mentioned in my talk yesterday that this is what we need to think of our faith too. To let God be dangerously free. But in the context of beginning to critique a ‘normal’ church structure, that can be frightening, like leaving a cruise-liner to join a small yacht is how Alan Jamieson once put it. You feel the waves and are buffeted by the wind far more. The boat needs you to take responsibility, and carries more risk.
However, leaving shouldn’t be a first move. My take on ‘you be you, and dangerously free’ would be to reaffirm Jesus’ message that we do not need a priest – we do not need anyone to mediate us to God. In practice? Don’t pedestal the leadership and be patronised or afraid. They are normal people trying to do the best job they can, often in difficult circumstances.
So if you’re feeling that new wine needs some new wineskins in your context, talk to them, be confident and not cowed, but empathetic and engaging and encouraging. See if there are any others thinking the same way, and talk about some positive, simple things that you can do together. It doesn’t need to be secretive or covert, though you may need to be sensitive and discreet.
That’s probably enough for now… I’ll try to follow this up with a few more thoughts about beginning to challenge and change institutions and forms tomorrow.