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Future-Proof Your Life

by Jay Gary, Feb 15, 2000

interlitHere are five steps you can take to develop a forward view your life and ministry:

Even though the Y2K computer scare has come and gone, the time is right for Tribulation, at least for Hollywood. The promoters of Left Behind, the End-Times Christian series, have now made their way to the big screen. A glut of T-shirts, posters, and marketing appeals have accompanied the theater release.

In contrast to the fears and paranoia of End-Time religion, most people are upbeat on the new century. In April ’99, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll on people’s expectations. They found four out of five people say “hopeful” describes how they feel about the start of the 21st century. Eighty percent felt a cure to cancer would be found over the next 50 years. Close to 60 percent felt the U.S. would avoid a nuclear war and democracy would continue to spread worldwide.

Until we start to give thought to what the 21st century will actually bring, the church could very well be “left behind” in terms of its mission. How can leaders plan for the next 10, 20 or 30 years? Here are five ways to future-proof your life and ministry.

1. Approach the new century in faith.

Contrary to widespread millennial fear, cultural pessimism is not necessary. After the collapse of Rome, Augustine could have lost hope. By faith he refused to believe that God was finished with the church or society.

Although the sun did set on the classical age, Augustine proclaimed, “Christ came when all things were growing old. He made them new.”

Like Augustine, we live at the end of an age. It is the end of the modern age, not the end of the world. The church has walked a hard road through the 20th century wastelands of unchecked nationalism and secularism. We need faith to follow the Lord of the new day, who stands in the midst of the nations (Psalm 110:3).

The start of the third millennium, the year 2001, ought to be much more than just another year. God invites us to turn away from the deserts of yesteryear and toward the Promised Land. Any step you take ought to be a step in faith affirming that God is leading the church into a new season, and that the new century is God’s century. [ icon-topTop of Page ]

2. Track the trends that will shape the next three decades.

Until you are able to sift the wheat from the chaff, separate the junk news or fads from the real emerging issues, you will not be able to weigh the risk or opportunity trends bring.

As people of faith, we should track two kinds of trends. The first deals with whole cultures or societies, particularly in light of changing technology and economy. For example, you can ask, How is a growing media culture changing the way people relate to ‘third spaces,’ other than work or home?

As the Internet becomes part of our everyday lives, you might ask, How is cyber commerce changing the way people shop, exchange ideas or build faith? Or in reference to your city you might ask, What quality of life issues will our community need to tackle in the near future, which we presently are ignoring?

In tracking societal trends, both secular and Christian trade publications can help, but finding time to research and read is not easy. To help you monitor change, turn to Internet search engines or web logs, combined with monthly print scanning services like The Navigators’ Current Thoughts and Trends, which abstracts more than 75 secular and religious periodicals.

A second set of trends to keep in sight has less to do with society as a whole and more to do with the church. These often can be identified two to five years in advance. Looking back, it is easy to see how the computer revolution changed the way we do ministry since 1980. Looking forward, how about the coming revolutions in genetic engineering or in nanotechnology? How should congregations anticipate the effect of these innovations, ethically or practically?

Or, How will advances in health care extend the lifespan of seniors and their impact on the church and Christian concerns in the next 20 years? Or How will growing pluralism break down sectarian barriers, allowing people to create their own spirituality and spiritual community? [ icon-topTop of Page ]

3. Identify alternative scenarios facing your region.

We do not know the course of the church in the 21st century. As always, the future will depend on God’s sovereignty, but God’s people should seek to “understand the times” and know what to do in adverse circumstances.

As a leader you should consider what alternative scenarios or contexts your business or congregation might face over the next generation. Scenarios are not predictions. Instead they are a range of composite pictures you sketch, suggesting how you think the world might turn out, short of “Waterworld.”

One study on the next quarter century worth reading is entitled 2025 (1997). Futurist Joseph Coates offers 15 well-researched scenarios dealing with households, communications, energy, the environment, lifestyles, etc. He charts the likely critical developments in each of these fields as well as the unrealized hopes and fears in that sector.

Coates’ scenario, like that of Peter Schwartz in his recent book, The Long Boom (1999), might well be called “Market World.” They both envision an age of prosperity, fueled by a ‘long boom’ based on technological and scientific innovation.

But what if “Market World” fails? In Which World: Global Destinies, Regional Choices (1998), Allen Hammond asks “What if global markets and rapid economic growth do not lift the bulk of humanity out of poverty–might civilization itself unravel to some degree?” The scenario then, according to Hammond, would be “Fortress World,” where widening gaps between rich and poor segments of society, between rich and poor nations, preclude any hope of cooperation.

Hammond envisions a third scenario, beyond the singular pursuit of prosperity or a descent into instability and violence. He calls this “Transformed World,” where the power of the civic square, culture, religion and volunteerism temper the power of financial markets and governments. No doubt this third scenario could come about only through profound revival and social reform. [ icon-topTop of Page ]

4. Envision all that the church could be in your society.

Concerts of Prayer leader David Bryant asks, “Is there more of Christ that God is ready to reveal in and through His church than we have yet seen or experienced?” What would the church in your nation look like if, upon seeing the future, it truly experienced biblical renewal?

Six years ago I wrote an inspirational book entitled The Star of 2000 that envisioned what the church could be from 1999 to 2001. Beyond apocalyptic spirituality or evangelism deadlines, I envisioned the church awakening to the Lordship of Christ and marking his 2,000th birthday as a season of jubilee. The trumpet I blew calling the church to experience the year 2000 in a Christ-centered way found a great hearing in Europe and the Holy Land.

This aspect of charting a prayerful and preferable future for the church with respect to our calling, is a function of a team’s creativity, vision and leadership. We usually express this vision programmatically in our ministry’s mission statement. But another way to conceive it is through asking, What is your vision for ministry by 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation? Or for the year 2033, when the church marks the bi-millennial of the Cross and the Resurrection? [ icon-topTop of Page ]

5. Develop your capacity as a team to gather a fuller harvest.

The fifth “future-proofing” skill is strategic planning. It consists of several elements, including program evaluation, mission definition, setting goals or implementation.

Planning is step number five, rather than number two, because we often plan to reach our culture for Christ with a new program, but by the time it rolls out 24 months later, the culture has moved. This is why our plans should always be framed in the wider context of forecasting (points 2-4 above).

The church stands at the doorway of her third millennium. How she walks through that door will depend to a great degree on how well we forecast and plan our ministry. May God have grace on us so “that a people not yet created may praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18). [ icon-topTop of Page ]

This article appeared in the February 2000 issue of InterLit, the international bi-monthly magazine of Christian publishing put out by Cook Communications Ministries International.

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