Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

Archive for the tag “Forms”

Forms and Functions

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”     Mark 2:22  ESV

As Kingdom leaders seek to advance the gospel, they take new initiatives and seek the Lord’s guidance as they pioneer.  For many, one of their greatest challenges is their own success.  What?  How can that be?

When we are trying something new and different, we are sensing a real need for the Lord to help us – to intervene on our behalf as we try new ways and means.  And, when the Lord does answer and intervene on our behalf, we rejoice and continue seeking to ‘push’ the advance further and further forward, enjoying the Lord’s favor.  But, after a period of some ‘success’ a new, more insidious challenge appears.

Our ‘success’ can cause us to focus on efficiencies and methodology.  We double down on economies of scale, leverage points, and look to maximize opportunities.  Now, in and of themselves these things are not wrong, but we can drift from our initial dependency upon the Lord and our focus now moves to our own abilities instead of seeking the Lord’s blessing and help.

When our tried and true ‘methods’ no longer seem to yield the same results, instead of seeking the Lord’s guidance for new ideas – new ‘wineskins’ – we simply put our heads down and try harder.  We think, “Well, it worked in the past, certainly it will work now; we just have to try harder.”

What we don’t understand is that we have entered into a new reality that will require a new way of serving.  It’s a new day that needs new forms for this new context.  The ‘new wine’ must find new forms for connecting with our new context.  Given the rapidity of change today, if we are not continually evaluating our ‘forms’ we are doomed to be marginalized and irrelevant very quickly.

Functions (truths anchored in the Scriptures) remain true, but the forms they take are constantly in need of updating, improving, or at times, being discontinued or replaced by more contextually relevant ‘wineskins.’  It’s not a matter of working harder or more efficiently.  It’s just that our audience is constantly changing and needing to be reached with new ways and means.

Wise Kingdom leaders will understand this process and lead out in discerning forms from functions, continually updating the former and staying focused on the latter.

Changing Old Forms and Traditions

On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.  After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.  And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed.  They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.   Act 21:18-21 ESV

Recently, while doing a study through the book of Acts on the ministry forms, I was struck by the above passage.  Paul had just completed his third missionary tour and was now back in Jerusalem.  He was updating the leadership about his ministry among the Gentiles.  The leaders affirmed Paul’s work among the Gentiles and also testified to God’s amazing work among the Jews, having seen thousands put their trust in Christ as their Messiah.

But then the elders make an interesting request.  They asked Paul to join in a vow along with four others as proof that he still lives in observance to the law of Moses (see Acts 21:22-24).  And Paul submits himself to this request, joins the four in their purification rights and presents himself in the temple accordingly.

Some observations:

  1. This incident occurs at least 20 years after Paul’s conversion.  Note that the testimony of the elders is that the Jewish converts are ‘very zealous for the law.’  That is, the Jewish background believers were still following OT Jewish customs and forms.  They had become even more zealous of their Jewish traditions and the OT ceremonial law.
  2. Secondly, the elders concern was that Paul’s appearance among these zealous Jewish believers would be cause for a possible conflict.  Note that it was not the unbelieving Jews who were their concern, but rather the Jewish believers.
  3. It was accepted that Gentile converts were not to follow OT Jewish forms and traditions in their new-found faith, other than the few requests established by the leaders mentioned in Acts 15:22ff after Paul’s first missionary tour.
  4. The elders also assumed that Paul was teaching the Jewish background converts who lived among the Gentiles to leave their Jewish customs and traditions and embrace new forms of worship and lifestyle (Acts 10:21).  He did not refute this claim.

It seems that the emergent Church took many years to leave behind their Jewish forms, traditions, and customs and fully establish ‘new wine in new wineskins’ (see Matthew 9:17).  As more and more Gentile believers emerged, new forms also emerged with them.  Gradually, Jewish forms and customs were left behind.  But it was a long process with many challenges.

Bringing significant change to long-held forms or traditions can be arduous and require much perseverance.  Don’t be discouraged by the length of the change process.  “Mile by mile, it’s a trial; but inch by inch, it’s a cinch!”

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