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Foresight: for Mission Leaders

by Renée N. Hale, Jan 24, 2007

The face of Christianity and its mission to reach the lost world is changing rapidly as the 21st century unfolds. Globalization, new technologies, and the growing Christian church in the third world create missiological challenges for the near and far future (Escobar, 2003).

Many missionaries are taking the Gospel to unreached peoples through new strategies that reflect understanding of these realities. Exploring future scenarios coupled with commitment to advancing the Kingdom of God enhances missionary effectiveness. Therefore, the responsibility of Christian mission leaders is clear: with the future in mind, lead colleagues to plan for maximum impact for advancing the Kingdom.

Slaughter (1995) defines foresight as “…opening to the future with every means at our disposal, developing views of future options, and then choosing between them” (1). Using the skill of foresight, one can evaluate possible consequences of various scenarios, anticipate possible stumbling blocks-and best of all, envision a preferable future for fulfilling the Great Commission. This article presents a case study of foresight training that illustrates foresight as an indispensable skill for mission leaders. In conclusion, biblical support under girds a call for mission leaders to gain this essential skill.

Case Study

In 1996, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention experienced a massive paradigm shift in mission strategy resulting in refreshing, future oriented approaches to advancing the Kingdom. The organization’s focus shifted from a geographical approach in grouping missionaries and their evangelistic work to a people-group specific approach (Hale, 2004). Missionaries began to work in people-group teams rather than country specific mission entities. The people-group teams functioned without the confines of geopolitical boundaries.

The suddenly new organizational structure facilitated heretofore unheard of approaches to strategic planning-most notably, team based strategic foresight activities. Employing foresight catalyzed innovative strategies for getting the Gospel to many unreached peoples of the world. Church Planting Movements occurred across the globe, and missionaries witnessed God move in amazing ways as they yielded to His leading in mission strategy. Garrison (2004) chronicles this redeeming work of God in his book, Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World.

How did mission leaders learn the skill of foresight? They participated in Strategy Coordinator Training events, which equipped them to see, understand, and process their people group’s evangelism status from the perspectives of past, present, and future. Emphasis on the future state of evangelism within their people groups offered freedom to explore future scenarios in mission strategy. They considered questions such as: “What will my people group face economically/ politically/ socially in the future? In 5, 10, 20 years? How will these scenarios impact the delivery of the Gospel?”

Constructing worldview descriptions, people group profiles, and country profiles helped missionaries grasp past influences, present realities, and perceive trends with potential future implications. Participants also brainstormed, dreamed, and imagined what the ideal scenario would be for their people group as a community of believers. In culmination, this end-vision of the Gospel manifest among their people group emerged as an imagined “continuation” of the Book of Acts.

Working with the end in mind, participants planned their strategies in reverse order, always asking, “What will it take to arrive at the next stage?” Marsh et al (2002) call this process “backcasting” (7). This is the essence of strategic foresight: “…planning from the future back to the present” (7).

Call to Action

The example of the IMB’s Strategy Coordinator Training illustrates foresight’s essential role in mission strategy. Should all mission leaders, therefore, train for competency in foresight? Greenleaf (2002) would respond affirmatively, as he proposes that a leader’s capacity in foresight is an ethical responsibility. He asserts that “Foresight is the ‘lead’ that the leader has” (40). Without it, “…events start to force their hand, [and leaders] are leaders in name only” (40).

The best leaders foresee well, taking necessary actions today for future success. God demonstrated to the Apostle John the importance of foresight as He revealed a vision of the end: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9 NIV).

God shared this end-vision of the fulfillment of the Great Commission so that all believers can know His future. It is the ethical responsibility of mission leaders to demonstrate foresight in planning strategies to move towards this point.

Mission leaders can stay on the cutting edge of God’s timeline to the future through gaining the skill of foresight and employing it in developing mission strategy.

Author Note: Renée N. Hale served as an international missionary from 1991-2005 with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in West Africa. She participated in Strategy Coordinator Training in Singapore in October, 1999. From 2003-2005, she served as a trainer of Strategy Coordinators.


Escobar, Samuel. 2003. The new global mission: The gospel from everywhere to everyone. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Garrison, David. 2004. Church planting movements: How god is redeeming a lost world. Bangalore, India: WIGTake Resources.

Greenleaf, Robert K. 2002. Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Hale, R. 2004. Analysis and proposal for enhancement of the virtual environment of the International Board, West Africa. Consulting Report.

Holy Bible, NIV.

Marsh, Nick, Mike Mcallum, and Dominique Purcell. 2002. Strategic foresight: The power of standing in the future. Melbourne: Crown Content.

Slaughter, Richard. 1995. The foresight principle: Cultural recovery in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

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