New Wineskins?

January 19th, 2012
This article is featured in the Call to Action (Feb/Mar/Apr 2012) issue of Circuit Rider

I’ve been searching for a Bible reference or metaphor that vividly captures the feeling of our experience. Most United Methodist leaders obviously want to combine faithful recommitment to core values (walk humbly, love God, do justice) with a sense of urgency about our mission (making disciples, transforming the world) by adopting needed cultural and organizational changes (in processes, structures and outcomes).

The only things that appear to stand in our way are:

  • conflicting views on which outcomes are most desirable/possible
  • who we will trust to help lead us
  • competing claims about what’s currently working and what changes would be potentially constructive
  • arguments about why our predecessors fashioned our current structure and polity, the degree of its ongoing relevance, and
  • whose interpretation of Mr. Wesley’s imperatives are most authentic.

The experience of gridlock comes to mind: where mutual cooperation among drivers leads to maximum benefits but doesn’t happen because individuals doubt that the other drivers can be trusted and decide to look out for their self-interests which compounds the problem.

What are the competing interests that have us tied in knots? Most affirm the call for assuring “intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations.” (from the Call to Action report)

But when any group posits specific ways to reorder priorities, assign leadership responsibility, redirect how we use time, talent, and money or describe how to measure progress and accountability, we see the equivalent of people slowing the flow with fearful hesitation, erratic lane changing and the refusal to let others get ahead, which causes gridlock on the highway. Even more disheartening is evidence of wariness about the others’ motives, dismissal of their judgment, and doubts about their sincerity.

Lest we act like self-defeating motorists who opt for shortterm gains that increase the dangers and diminish the quality of life for all, might we instead stop to kneel and pray for guidance and for each other, and repeatedly ask with an open spirit: what sort of new wineskins are needed for the transformative “new thing” God is doing with us?

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