Four questions loom before leaders today—What? Why? How? and When?—and leaders have to answer each of them. Furthermore, they need to know which one to answer first and in what order to answer the others. Too many leaders respond to the wrong questions and in the wrong order. In so doing, they come up with ineffective answers.
Effective leaders know that two of the four questions take priority. The question leaders choose to answer first tells us much about their attitudes and methods. I use the term futuring leaders to refer to leaders who are able to discern the times and possess a firm vision of where they want to go in the future. Consequently, futuring leaders first answer What? Then they ask Why?
By answering these two questions first, they begin to define the direction in which their organization should go and to form a process to get them headed in that direction. Since their search for answers has a direct relationship to the mission and vision of the institution, they need to define their problem areas. The question What? does exactly that.
“What is the challenge before us?” futuring leaders must first ask. Their question may take various forms, but it will lead them to ask and answer others. Once they discover the solution, they will seek options to implement the what. Once they have decided on what, they are ready to move on to the second question: Why? They need to understand the reason they are taking a particular step. Thus they ask, “Why are we doing this?”
When I asked one pastor why his congregation had chosen to underwrite a particular program, he stared at me for several seconds.
“Everyone knows why,” he said. “The answer is obvious even to people who don’t know the message of salvation.” He spoke to me as if I were a child.
I just smiled. But what if I had answered, “I don’t know why.” Would he have explained? Or would he have sneered at my stupidity?
Or wasn’t I really stupid?
This leads me to ask, Do we have the right to assume that everyone in our organization knows why leadership chooses to do a certain thing? I doubt it. For instance, a pastor makes a big push for increased evangelism. From his perspective some of the answers to why would be:
We can win more people to Jesus Christ.
We’ll have more people in the church.
We’ll have more money to expand our church programs.
We’ll have a greater influence in the community.
His list of why answers may not be the same as that of the congregation he’s trying to lead.
By thinking of others’ reasons, fears, and needs, futuring leaders can understand the resistance and either rethink their own purposes or find ways to get into others’ frames of reference. They also avoid inevitable conflict because they have already prepared for and overcome most of the hindrances.
Once leaders have asked and answered What? and Why? they’re ready to move on to the next two questions: How? and When? This second set of questions implies action. It’s as if we’re saying, “We’ve made the decision to act. Now we need to figure out how to go about accomplishing our goal and determine when we can implement our plan.”
Again, here is where many leaders miss out. They need to be aware that implementing the how and when means change. I like to think of it this way: If we think differently, we’ll see differently. How we think shapes the actions we choose.
The greatest challenge facing leaders is making executive decisions from a variety of different viewpoints. Sometimes we make decisions from the perspective of management or maintenance. At other times we have operated from a fix-it point of view. Rarely have we pulled in all those who will be involved by the changes and said, “You are part of this change in procedure. Your job may be to answer the telephone, but even that is a vital ingredient in this program.”
Here’s another way to look at the same issue. Let’s compare the difference between old leadership styles and new leadership styles, or “futurefaith” thinking. In the old style—and I refer primarily to the methods used prior to the end of the twentieth century—leaders studied the past and understood the way things operated in 1959 or 1989. When they moved into 2000, they made a few changes—that is, they adapted to what was going on—but mainly they replicated what they and others had done in the past. Because they made a few adaptations, they called that progress.
“What did they do back then?” was the primary question used to help them cope in the present. In contrast to the old style, the new leadership peers into the future, pauses, thinks about the present and asks:
What’s going to happen in the future?
How can we position ourselves in the present to be ready to move into the future?
How can we design a program for what lies ahead?
Futurefaith leaders get their answers by looking at such factors as demographics and economic growth. They use those answers to shape the present and guide them toward the future.
Preserving the Past or Shaping the Future?
Too often, however, leaders still caught up in preserving the attitudes and traditions that prevailed thirty years ago don’t know how to look at the future. For too long, those in every level of leadership have taken a reactive posture, resulting in attitudes and vision usually lagging about ten years behind industry and technology. Church leaders could move ahead by simply asking: “As a local congregation and as witnesses of Jesus Christ, what are our needs? What are the needs we see around us that we can help to meet? What kinds of needs will we need to meet in the years ahead?”
As we form answers, we need to remind ourselves that most of our constituents live in a highly technological world six days a week. Even in 1997, how many people would have envisioned having their own website? Yet today a website is a necessity—whether you lead a business, organization or church.
Futurefaith leaders should know this: We need to use technology.
I like to think of the present situation in the church as being much like the use of a remote control. These days most families have that little battery-operated mechanism for running TVs, DVRs and DVD players. People have become so accustomed to remotes that even when they leave home, they take mental remotes with them. They’re still using those remotes even when they attend church. They stare at the strange building that doesn’t look like anything except a church. It has stained-glass windows on the outside, perhaps a bell, and certainly a steeple. Suddenly and unconsciously, “click-click” goes the remote, and they say to themselves, “How does this relate to me? Why should I listen? Is this real life?”
Perhaps they do come inside and sit in a pew—an uncomfortable piece of furniture used nowhere else today except in church buildings. They sit down and listen to pastors who preach the same sermons in content and length that they preached ten years ago.
“This is the answer!” the preachers cry out. “This is the way to [salvation, growth, healing, prosperity, or peace].” They have a number of specific answers to handle each problem that confronts the local congregation, the church at large, and society in general. Unfortunately for those preachers, they haven’t figured out that some of those problems aren’t so answerable and directions aren’t as clear as they once were.
“Click-click” and the remote switches to another mental channel.
From the Absolute to the Ambiguous
We have moved from a world of the absolute to the ambiguous. We’re asking ethical questions that people haven’t asked before; for example:
Fifty years ago, how many committed Christians married outside their denomination? Who worries about that today?
Twenty years ago, how many churches acknowledged that some marriages between believers didn’t last until parted by death?
In Mama’s church, how many members seriously debated issues such as euthanasia or sexual reassignment?
A generation ago, how many Christians expressed concern about the environment, practiced recycling, or questioned whether we would have enough fossil fuels for our grandchildren’s generation?
When I was a boy, I heard Christians scream out against cremation, but who fights that issue today?
Futurefaith leaders have moved from answering questions that nobody asks anymore to discussing the nittygritty issues of life that concern and confuse people. Society has changed; we have lost the stability our parents and grandparents enjoyed and took for granted.
Futuring pastors no longer preach forty-five-minute sermons, because they know the remotes are clicking away, and they would be tuned out before they had preached even thirty minutes. In fact, maybe sermons need to be done in snippets—points interspersed with songs, Bible readings, dramas, and video clips. Someone said we need to think of the modern sermon as “Karaoke preaching,” in which the preacher stands in the middle of the congregation like an interactive television talk show host. The futuring church must find new ways of presenting the gospel before they’re tuned out by the ever-present mental remotes.
Thinking in New Ways
To move into the futurefaith mentality, church leaders have to accept one important reality: Most worship services are patterned after practices of a century ago, and those methods no longer attract people to the faith.
Futuring leaders must move into a thinking-leading style of leadership in which they see relationships and possibilities that still elude others. This is the idea I had in mind once when I spoke to a group of pastors. “The greatest challenge is not your location. It is not your finances, and it is not your staff,” I said. “The greatest challenge is your thinking. If you can change your way of thinking, you can change everything.” I reminded them that we’re in a thinking era and we have to question everything. In the past, we continued to do things a certain way because that was the way the leaders before us operated. That plan no longer works.
Futuring leaders question everything.
“Why are we doing this?”
“Are we still doing that?”
“Is that the best way to use our resources?”
“Is there a better way to do this?”
“Why is she still doing that?”
“Is he competent to do this?”
1 Chronicles 12:32 describes men from the tribe of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” The church and the world need more leaders like these, who are aware of the present, look to the future and combine discernment with action.
Learn more about Dr. Chand here: Bio