How Leaders Affect the Future

I once served on a church planting committee for a large denomination. As a group, we were responsible for interviewing potential planters and gauging whether they would be able to successfully start a new congregation.

We had a myriad of assessment tools that we used but one in particular stood out. It dealt specifically with measuring the visioning capacity of the person. It would evaluate the person’s ability to not only formulate a vision, but execute it as well.

The exercise rated particularly high on the predictive scale as to whether the person would succeed or fail as a church planter. What was equally intriguing about the test, was for every twenty-five applicants only one would qualify as having the ability to cast vision and execute it.

That was the ratio; 25 to 1. At first I found it hard to believe the statistics, but over time it became impossible to argue against them. One of the key factors was decision making. It wasn’t just the way they made decisions but the how and the why behind them.

I’ve often wondered why the test wasn’t standard requirement for every church leader. Time and again, the candidates who demonstrated keen visioning capacity were the ones who framed the bulk of their decisions in a particular way. There are two foundations in the church world for making decisions. They are:

  1. Pacify the Past
  2. Fuel the Future

There is technically a third, which is the present. But a focus on the present is nothing more than navel-gazing. Not only that, it likely means that you are doing nothing more than putting out proverbial fires while you yourself burn out from all the activity and little progress.

Decisions that we make as leaders tend to either pacify the past, or fuel the future. Because the way we make decisions, demonstrates what we guard the most. We either guard the past, or guard the future. Guarding the past will lead to making decisions shaped more towards keeping people happy and content. Over time, this becomes a certain recipe for irrelevance.

Now, I’m not talking about valid tradition or the continuity of the people of God over history, but I am talking about perpetuating modes and methods whose time has long expired. Which leads to the best option, fuel the future. Invariably, the candidates who scored high in the assessments, and who were considered the one out of twenty-five, were the ones who framed their decisions with the future in mind.

It is virtually impossible to create a compelling vision, one that will capture people’s imagination and energy, if you’re basing decisions on putting out present fires or pacifying the past.

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” — Warren Bennis