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Following Jesus Today: Wine, Wineskins, and the Challenge of Leadership

July 20, 2020 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 5:36-38 (NRSV)

[Jesus] also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”

Focus

Whether you lead a church or a business, a school or a city, a factory or a family, a studio or a store, effective leadership in today’s world means change leadership. In a time of major global upheaval and societal disruption, change is required, now more than ever. It is necessary for surviving, not to mention thriving. Thus, our leadership will be inspired by “new wine” and will help our people create and embrace “new wineskins.” But wise change leadership will also acknowledge the reality of loss, helping our people grieve their “old wineskins” so they might be prepared to embrace the new thing God is doing among them.

This devotion is part of the series: Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

In the Life for Leaders devotions from Saturday and Sunday, I have been reflecting with you on Jesus’s parable about wine and wineskins. On Saturday I suggested that the new wine of the gospel challenges us in our own lives to be open to the new wineskins God might have for us, even through this requires giving up our familiar old wineskins. Yesterday, I shared a story of how this passage from Luke challenged me to give up old wineskins in order to accept the new ones God had for me. I talked about how necessary it is to trust God if we’re going to adopt his new wineskins.

Today, I’d like to reflect on how the teaching of Jesus about wine and wineskins relates to the challenge of leadership. Using Jesus’s imagery, we might say that visionary leaders bring new wine in need of new wineskins in their organizations. We who lead generally believe that our new vision is good news. It offers new ways of thinking, feeling, acting, and being. It proposes new ways of being in community together, whether in a workplace, a city, or a church. It conveys the promise of flourishing in ways we have not experienced before.

Yet the good news of a new vision from a leader isn’t the whole story. As Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky write in Leadership on the Line, “ If leadership were about giving people good news, the job would be easy” (p. 11). The news we bring may be good from our perspective, but not necessarily from those who are hearing this news. As Heifetz and Linsky observe, “You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain” (p. 12).

There’s one of the biggest challenges for any leader: I’m talking about “the losses” you are asking your people to sustain. The reality of new wine requires giving up of old wineskins, wineskins that are familiar, comfortable, traditional, perhaps even profitable and beloved. Human beings don’t like giving up such things. As Heifetz and Linsky write, “People do not resist change, per se. People resist loss” (p. 11). To use the language of Jesus, people are not necessarily resistant to new wine or even to new wineskins. They resist losing old wineskins and even prefer old wine. As Jesus said, “And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good’” (5:39).

One of the greatest leadership challenges I faced in life happened when I became senior pastor of a church in Southern California. The church I inherited had a marvelous tradition of beautiful, classical, traditional, thoughtful, choir-led worship. Many church members loved the way we worshiped and were strongly committed to preserving our forms of worship. Yet, I discovered, many others in the church found our worship to be overly intellectual, staid, too traditional, and too structured. They longed for more contemporary forms and more spontaneity.

I believed that the new wine of the gospel would require new forms of worship. But I also believed that faithfulness to the gospel meant nurturing our unity as a church and respecting the worship life of the community. I spent several years trying to help my church adopt new wineskins, grieve necessary losses, embrace traditions worth maintaining, all the while loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. I had some successes and some failures. But I know God was helping me lead my people through loss and change so that we might be an effective conduit of the gospel.

Whether you lead a church or a business, a school or a city, a factory or a family, a studio or a store, effective leadership in today’s world means change leadership. In a time of major global upheaval and societal disruption, change is required, now more than ever. It is necessary for surviving, not to mention thriving. Thus, our leadership will be inspired by the “new wine” and will help our people create and embrace the “new wineskins.” But wise change leadership will also acknowledge the reality of loss, helping our people grieve their “old wineskins” so they might be prepared to embrace the new thing God is doing among them.

Reflect

Do you agree with Heifetz and Linsky in their statement: “People do not resist change, per se. People resist loss”?

Can you personally relate to what Heifetz and Linsky have written here?

How can leaders help their people both grieve losses and embrace innovation?

Act

If you’re not familiar with the leadership writings of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, you might start with this helpful summary from Harvard Business Review: “A Survival Guide for Leaders.” For the application of Heifetz and Linsky’s leadership model to churches, be sure to read Tod Bolsinger’s book, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. Also, you might wish to pre-order a book by Scott Cormode of the De Pree Center. The Innovative Church: How Leaders and their Congregations Can Adapt in an Ever-Changing World will be out in September 2020.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the chance to share in your work in the world through our leadership. Thank you for helping us to lead effectively, with wisdom, justice, and love.

Help us, we pray, in the effort to lead change. We understand that people are attached to what is familiar, that they are not eager to change. Give us wisdom to help our people grieve. Give them the courage to embrace the “new wineskins” of change. May our organizations flourish by your grace and for your purposes. Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Warning! Read This and Your Life Might Never Be the Same! (continued)


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2 thoughts on “Following Jesus Today: Wine, Wineskins, and the Challenge of Leadership

  1. Laura Mose says:

    Sounds like great bible study for starting the day

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