Leaders who take time to contemplate themselves, their
experiences, and their relationships are more apt to remain fresh
and stable. Lessons learned, failures experienced, and successes
gained can be building blocks toward wisdom, but we need to review
them to use them. As we scurry to answer e-mails, remain current in
our reading, and attend our kids’ soccer games and socials, we are
deprived of the moments necessary to ask the deeper questions of
life. Jesus and many great leaders throughout history made it a
practice to get away, to retreat. Most of us need not schedule long
retreats; weekly if not daily ponderings are sufficient to stretch
Remaining open to learning makes us better leaders during
changing times. As human beings we are always tempted to resort to
the familiar, but in changing times the familiar is apt to be
antiquated and irrelevant. “Neither do men pour new wine into old
wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out
and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new
wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:17). Leaders are in
the new-wine business. They must remain fluid and supple themselves
if they are to introduce appropriate changes to the people they
The goal is not to stack up a preset number of responses to
challenging situations; rather, it is to learn how to think
creatively and innovatively. Old wineskins tend to be inflexible,
incapable of expanding as the fermenting wine needs room to
“stretch.” Inflexible leaders provide diminishing benefits for
churches that require both greater wisdom and increased
flexibility. Farm living showed me that cows don’t always take the
shortest path to a pasture; they tend to take the well-worn one.
Humans, too, are creatures of habit more often than they are
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am
doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am
making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah
43:18-19). God has new things for us in business, ministry, and
life in general. Leaders must not allow emotional rigor mortis to
Twenty-first century leading requires more and better leaders
who possess qualities of new and old wineskins-old in that they are
seasoned and mature, and new in that they are flexible and supple.
Unless we stretch frequently, even the best of us are bound to
burst. What new lesson have you learned in the last week or
Use the following lesson with all your leaders to help them keep
New Wineskins: Why learning helps
leaders stay supple
The goal of this lesson is to remind leaders and influencers
that they need to keep learning and changing to lead well. To
remain pliable, leaders must be curious and maintain teachable
attitudes. Our natural tendency is to become set in our ways and
rely upon past experiences. Rigidity renders us incapable of
effective leadership in times of change.
- What is something new you’ve tried in the last month (such as a
restaurant, an experience, or a visit to a new town)?
- Why do we tend to avoid new experiences?
- What recent change has succeeded in our church? How did it
- Identify one rut you or our church may be in, a habitual
behavior or process that has not been confronted in recent weeks or
- Why is innovation indicative of faith? How does adherence to
the status quo require less faith?
- Sometimes innovations emerge from problems or apparent
- Form groups of three or four.
- Give everyone five minutes to think of and describe in writing
a life or leadership lesson learned from failure. Ask participants
to describe how these lessons changed how they responded to similar
- Give members of each group ten minutes to share this
information with one another.
- If you have more than two groups, you might ask each to choose
one story to share with the rest of the staff.
- Try the following activity with members of your staff to
impress upon them the importance of remaining observant and aware
of changing conditions.
- Ask everyone to find a partner, and have partners face each
other for about fifteen seconds. Then instruct partners to turn
around so that they’re back to back. While they’re turned away from
each other, tell participants to change one thing about their
appearance within thirty seconds. When time is up, tell partners to
turn around, face each other again, and try to identify what has
- Ask participants if it was easy or difficult to spot the
changes. Ask them to think about how they can cultivate the habit
of being observant. Ask how this habit could benefit the people
This article is excerpted from Children’s Ministry