Vol 4:19 Mission and Leading Christ’s Community – Part 15: Leading New Wineskins

I recently picked up a book I have had on my shelf for a number of years and began reading it – They Call Us Dead Men: Reflections on Life and Conscience by Daniel Berrigan, S.J. In it, among numerous other things, he talks about the church and advocates for regaining a sense of church as youthful.

He states, “Genuine youthfulness in the Church never canonizes human beings or their works. Among those in authority, there is a constant tendency not toward honors and distinctions of place but toward a spirit of service. . . . [Y]outhful minds sense that Christianity must begin its task in the world by first cleansing its own dwelling. And among the things to be cleansed are surely the detritus of dead categories, inert truths, feeble devotional symbols, curial rhetoric, fear of the world, hatred of modern life – all the dead methods and formulas that suffocate larger issues of life and process, an unhelpful inward-looking theology elaborated at the expense of a Pauline theology of the outer world” (p. 17 – 18).

In another place, Berrigan expresses that, “And the Spirit was not only the gift of Pentecost, once given and withdrawn; it was, more exactly, the Pentecostal event that was the Church herself. The Church was the single and crowning evidence of Spirit in the world. She was the breath of God living in men (sic) (Augustine)” (p. 20).

This brings to mind that as church we are to be continually new wineskins, communities and structures which are always open to the moving of the Spirit within us and among us. In order to be open and yielding to the Spirit, we cannot and must not ever become old, ossified, hard-skinned, but always remain “youthful” – pliable in the “hands” of the Spirit.

As pastoral leaders, as people of God, we may find it much easier to anticipate the moving of the Spirit amongst us in ways that were similar to last week and the week before that so that we sense we know how the Spirit will lead and guide. Leadership, often takes on similar ways – leading in ways we are familiar with, comfortable with, not rocking the boat, but finding that place of comfort where we can expect things to be the same week after week. And so we plan, set strategic goals, map out our directions in order to know ahead of time where we are headed.

But perhaps, rather than planning, setting goals, what we are called to is strategizing and planning to be open to the leading of the Spirit, the moving of the Spirit within the life of the church which keeps the church youthful. Such strategizing and planning results not so much in goals statements, but in practices that keep us sensitive to the blowing of the Spirit, prepared to make direction adjustments as the Spirit leads, engaging in ministry which challenges us to be the presence of God’s breath in the world.

Such leading involves more encouraging the community, than it does setting direction for a community. Such encouragement involves being open to God, aware of the activity of God in the world, setting free the imagination of the community to participate in what we discover God doing in the world, developing the courage to step out in participation with God in God’s mission, being free to exhibit compassion in the moment as the Spirit brings a person into our life path.

Such leading also involves encouraging the communities we serve to trust the Spirit’s leading. Rather than trusting in our plans and strategies, we practicing being open to the Spirit’s leading learn to trust the Spirit being with us in whatever situation we find ourselves as we live in response to God’s Spirit. What I am witnessing in the community I serve as pastor is that we are truly discovering what it is for us to be new wineskins – being shaped and formed by the Spirit, engaging in Spirit-directed ministry, relying upon the Spirit to lead us, because we are not so focused on how we are viewed by the world, but rather we are seeking to be the community of Christ active in the world, participating with God in God’s redemptive mission of making all things new.

Anticipating where the Spirit leads us keeps us active, keeps us youthful, keeps us from becoming hardened – and it requires a way of leading that keeps us pliable to the Spirit, and being the embodied breath of God in the world.

iMissional.org | Roland Kuhl