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Churches and Futurists: An interview with Dr. Jay Gary

Churches in a technological age
An interview with Dr. Jay Gary by IMPACT magazine of Singapore,
published April-May 2020, volume 44, no. 2,

You heard right – there is an organisation of professional futurists. And they are global, and sought-after by governments and businesses. But who are they really? What do they do? And what do they have to do with the Church? For these and other questions, IMPACT turned to Dr. Jay Gary, head of the Association of Professional Futurists.

IMPACT: Dr. Gary, tell us more about professional futurists.
DR GARY: Professional Futurists are consultants that help organisations, communities, and congregations frame, anticipate and create the future. We make no claim to divine foreknowledge. We work between the edge of today and tomorrow, sometimes analysing the past to bring back insights for today. We do it to get better insight for a better today, better care for others and to create a better tomorrow. So an active foresight is caring for future generations and communities.

In conjunction with Singapore’s 54th Nation-building occasion, two of our members were invited to Singapore on 25-26 July to the Prime Minister’s Conference sponsored by the Centre for Strategic Futures, led by Peter Ho. This Centre is responsible for generating new ideas, creating a future for the communities that will remain with an edge.

IMPACT: Is there any resistance from the churches to this kind of work?
DR GARY: I have not found any resistance from churches. I am the chair of the APF, not a pastor or a chaplain. But I do have a network I created 20 years ago that shares a number of works through­ One of them, Dr. Todd Johnson, the editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, is a brilliant futurist. So there is a strong tradition within the church that takes stock of where we came from and where we could go. How do we renew and renovate, not just the church but society at the dawn of the third millennium? Ezra built the temple, but it was Nehemiah who rebuilt the walls. So, there are millions of people helping to build a better world for tomorrow, for all of God’s people.

IMPACT: So how are you helping churches develop futurists?
DR GARY: It’s rather mundane – but I am helping churches by empowering professionals–one degree at a time. I am an educator. I am the Assistant Dean of Oral Robert University (ORU), overseeing thousands of students learning online. I equip them by providing quality faculty six terms every year. I am also the Associate Professor of Leadership. I have 300 graduates from a foresight programme over the last 15 years and they are now in various professional fields. One of my graduates, Frank Spencer, created a “Wicked Opportunities” game. He and his team travel 200 days a year to train corporate clients like Disney. He has established a futures school. We have a strong culture within the church in fulfilling the Great Commission. That’s forward-looking. Like Nehemiah who built the wall, we also have Jesus’ Great Work in our time. Not just equipping the church, but saving the society through civilisation. The church can look back at traditions, but we must also look forward with anticipation and imagination.

IMPACT: Can you sum up what you consider to be Jesus’ model of foresight and it’s application today?
DR GARY: Jesus, in his day, saw a push of the past from Moses, from Caesar, from Alexander the Great. That secular push clashed with the sacred tradition in his day. He died on the Cross to break the power of that polarized old order, and through that, he created a new future. He created an alternative path, from the inside out, where a one-nation Covenant became a many-nation Covenant. The transformation Jesus brought continues today, through new discoveries in science, technology, and through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Hence, we need to take care of tomorrow anyway we can, so our kids and grandkids will have a world to live in.

At the recent Lausanne Global Workplace Forum in Manila, Philippines, I spoke about entering into the Great Work of Jesus in our time. David served the purpose of God in his generation. Similarly, we must serve the purpose of our age–to create safety, health, wealth, using technology to facilitate creativity.

Our push factor today is a Market world. But what if big businesses can’t solve all our problems? What if the middle ­class begins to shrink, and a Fortress world, marked by fear and lack of opportunity, emerges? When Market world clashes with Fortress world, we will need a moral awakening for sustainability. That’s where the church can come in. They can break the power of consumerism, overconsumption, violence, and corruption. They can introduce conflict transformation, introduce people to Jesus. That same Covenant transformation we call the Kingdom can be realized through non-violence.

IMPACT: Are churches generally too inward-looking for this great task? How can we overcome the challenge?
DR GARY: I agree that many churches are still inward-looking. I agree it’s a weakness. But we are at the beginning of something new. Jesus and his first followers saw themselves at the end of a generation, the end of the Jewish temple era, but they also saw themselves as the beginning of a new society. As the Apostle Paul said, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:7). We may be at the end of industrialisation, but we stand at the beginning of a digital age.

We need to focus on the first things, not just the last things. We need to fire up the next generation, get them excited about what may come. I envision a world of possibility if we respond to issues with good choices. We can change the world because God changes our minds. The world will become a tripolar world, not just an Atlantic world, or Pacific world or African-Indian wor1d. It will take hard work, spiritual work, sustainable businesses. It will take the whole church to serve the whole wor1d, in order to see a transformed world. It can happen if we call forth leaders who are whole, who can fire up a new generation. We have a milestone in front of us, Pentecost 2033.

What pastors can do is simple – raise up the younger generation, encourage them in ministries, create a future network, pass the baton. Churches should look after the health of individuals. With aging members, we must develop new types of ministries for the elderly…We must be like Nehemiah, who rebuilt the walls, equally concerned about the city. Church members need to learn to care for people, lobby for good policies and for justice, to bringing healing to the nations. In this regard. we need to be like Jesus, to be culturally creative, care for culture, not as cultural warriors. Go beyond: create health and wealth, responsibility, charity, and serve. The church must be on the cutting edge of every generation.

To do that we need to be aware of the great work of the 21st century. It’s the calling of the workplace. It is not just the calling of the 1% or the pastors, but 99% of all God’s people—to build people, to create teams… I am not a fool. I am cautiously optimistic about the 21st century. I have hope, but I am also aware of the dangers before us. We do not just look at and be overwhelmed by the problems as futurists. We also look for possibilities and opportunities in the midst of challenges. While on earth God’s work must be our own, on behalf of our children and grandchildren. We must enable them to go far beyond us.

IMPACT: Can you tell us your favourite science fiction movie and why?
DR GARY: In our day Science fiction is generating the most popular stories of the future. My favourite movie is Black Panther. It showed a diverse world, a hidden society that kept the faith, and rose to the challenge. They had to think about how to relate to the rest of the world. The future is a diversity of power, not unity of power. After the dark, the light comes.

Dr. Gary and his wife live in Tulsa and have two grown children. They enjoy Cuban food, great books, and science fiction movies. He is one of America’s leading foresight educators. He serves as ORU’s Assistant Dean of Online and Lifelong Learning, responsible for online adjunct faculty and online degree program development.

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