“Los Angeles de Jesus”
[And Jesus said to them] “No one puts new wine into old wine skins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:22
Sofía started a dialogue with the new Los Angeles de Jesus leadership team the other day by saying, “Welcome Charlie’s Angels! Wait. No. That’s not right… Welcome Jesus’ Angels!” Everyone had a good laugh, and the meeting commenced. Los Angeles de Jesus / The Angels of Jesus is a new fellowship group for women here at FPCSA.
The purpose of this fellowship group is stated below:
Create a community of all women that includes single, married, with or without children, adolescents, and without distinctions of languages. To empower each other and share experiences, knowledge, skills, talents, recommendations, and learnings that culturally enrich us. To uplift and help each other to grow in all areas of our lives and become a strong support group for the church and for the community in general.
Many of the women who are serving on the leadership team are very excited about this new adventure. It certainly fits our Vision Statement to connect people with Jesus Christ and with one another. But I worry a bit…
I’ve had conversations with pastors recently who talk about people starting new programs at their churches, but the new groups have met so much resistance and experienced so many roadblocks from longtime church members or staff that the leaders of these new groups threw their hands up in the air and gave up. Often these leaders end up leaving the church. And, in fact, I can think of examples where this has happened here at FPCSA.
This fact begs the question: Why does this happen?
I believe there are several reasons people with new ideas meet resistance in the local church. First, I think fear plays a part in the minds of longstanding church members. Fear that a new group won’t accurately represent the traditions of the church; fear that there might be ulterior motives on the part of the leaders (for example, selling products); fear of losing people from the existing fellowship groups to this new fellowship group; and, fear of the unknown. Fear is one of the worst reasons to make decisions. We should make decisions based on a sense of call and fulfilling our sense of vision and mission, not based on fear.
This fear can be subtly couched in two oft-heard comments: 1) we’ve never done it that way before; or, 2) we tried that before and it didn’t work. Comments like this can take the wind out of the sails of those who are proposing new ideas.
Secondly, I think people resent new ideas; they almost feel insulted. It’s as if the person with the new idea is saying, “What you’ve been doing isn’t good.” At least, that’s the way it can come across to longtime leaders. When someone has been doing something for a while and someone new shows up suggesting something similar but different, the first person asks, “What’s wrong with what we’ve already been doing?” It’s that feeling of, “What am I, chopped liver?” And long-time members and staff can think, “Who do you think you are?”
Finally, there’s a sense of envy. When long-time members see excitement and energy going to this new fellowship group, they feel envy. They ask, “Why aren’t more people excited about what we’ve been doing for so long?” People who feel this way may even come across as angry and can be downright mean to those who are starting the new thing.
Perhaps you can think of more reasons people who bring new ideas meet resistance in the local congregation. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. When Jesus arrived on the scene 2,000 years ago, the religious leaders felt all these feelings: they were afraid of Jesus, they were insulted by Him and they envied His popularity. What was wrong with the way they were doing things? They were, in fact, seeking to fulfill the Law handed down to them by Moses! Jesus responded, “No one puts new wine into old skins…” The lesson for us is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is always new and fresh, and we should seek new and fresh ways to present that gospel to the world.
In his book, The Fly in the Ointment, Russell Crabtree says this resistance to innovation is one of the primary reasons for decline in mainline denominations. Crabtree goes on to say, if we don’t make substantial changes in the very near future, those denominations will go the way of Blockbuster, Pier 1 and Toys R Us.
Crabtree relates the story of the burning oil platform. An oil worker was on an offshore platform that caught fire. He ran to the edge, looked at the fire, then jumped 150 feet into the ocean. Rescuers pulled the man out of the ocean and exclaimed, “Why did you jump? You could have killed yourself!” The man said, “If I stayed on the platform, I knew I would die for sure. But if I jumped, I might die, but I might live. It really wasn’t much of a choice.” Crabtree goes on to say mainline denomination congregations are quietly ignoring the burning platform behind them. If they don’t jump into innovation, they will be consumed. If they don’t put the new wine into fresh skins, they will burst.
So what can we do in light of this new fellowship group – Los Angeles de Jesus / Angels of Jesus – and innovative ideas like it?
First, we can avoid putting up roadblocks. If we feel a need to question or tell them they can’t do this or that, perhaps we should ask ourselves why do we feel the need to make these comments? What is it in us that causes us to resist this new idea? I confess, I need to ask myself this question!
If Los Angeles de Jesus sounds like a good option for you, please join in. Talk to one of the leaders: Alice Stauffer, Sofía Allen, Paula Rodriguez, Sandra Escoto, Donnette Alexander-Jeffers, and/or Denisse Valera. Ask how you can get involved. Ask how you can support the fellowship group. Show up and enjoy!
I like a phrase that Betty Thompson coined a few years ago: “Let’s go where the energy is.” In other words, when we see the Spirit of God working, let’s focus our attention on that! As Paul instructed Timothy, “fan to flame the spiritual gift of God in you.” If the Spirit is at work in our midst, let’s focus our attention and energy there. Let’s fan it to flame!
Also, we can all be a little more flexible. I know that’s a tall order for Presbyterians. Sometimes there’s an attitude among church members that if we have an activity set for a particular day and time, then it is set in stone. But sometimes those activities connect only for a few people, who could easily change their time, giving way for a new activity to thrive and flourish. So, let’s all try to be flexible, seeking God’s best for our congregation.
Finally, we can pray. Pray that the Los Angeles de Jesus / the Angels of Jesus connects people to Jesus Christ and to one another, builds the kingdom of God, and helps the church to grow. But also, let us pray that the Spirit of God inspires us to consider new innovations and new ways to build the kingdom of God. I don’t know, but if we have a women’s group called Los Angeles de Jesus / the Angels of Jesus, perhaps we should consider a men’s group called Los Dodgers de Jesus / the Dodgers of Jesus. Kidding!
I remain yours in Christ’s Love and Service,