The difference between our churches reaching new believers and seeing a decline in membership might just be our mindsets as leaders. You are a pastor, yes, but you are also a leader if you plan to use your influence to help people in your church community work together towards a common goal (like the Great Commission, or the Great Commandments, or…fill in the blank with the vision God put on your heart). When it comes to reaching new people with the Good News of Jesus, our efforts might be falling short if we think we can reach people the same way we did 10 years ago. Our mindset, what we believe to be true about today or the future, is critical to our leadership efforts as pastors.
Going from thinking "the future will be the same as today" to "the future is uncertain and we should plan and pray accordingly" requires that we change our mindset. In the Wharton School’s article "Eyes wide open," the point is made that it takes courage to admit ignorance about the future, "because it conflicts with our common notion of leadership, which prizes omniscience.” Just because we are Christian leaders and profess a belief that only God is omniscience does not mean we are immune to believing we are omniscience as well. And if we are honest, not all of us are ready to admit that we aren’t sure what the future holds.
Accepting that the future might be uncertain, or different that we imagine, means we need to be open to innovation and creativity. In his book, Thomas Chermack suggested that there are three barriers to creative thinking and innovation that must be managed: perception, fear, and social intelligence. In order for our churches to thrive in turbulent and uncertain futures, we must be ready and willing to deal with our perceptions, fears, and social intelligence.
In order to move from strictly linear strategic planning to envision a variety of different futures (because we can’t actually predict the future!), a mindset shift has to happen. Our imaginations of 'what could be' are grounded in our past experiences -- what we can perceive. By changing our perceptions we can change our mindsets. Fortunately, there are many tools that we can use to do so: prayer, imagery, the use of narratives, and immersion experiences. Another way that we as leaders can do this is through scenario planning. Scenario planning, as Chermack has pointed out, provides learning environments such that behavioral changes take place, novel strategic insights emerge, as do new perspectives …aka mindset changes!
If we hope to continue reaching new generations with the Gospel of Christ, we need to accept that the future is uncertain and filled with limitless opportunities. It requires that many of us undergo mindset changes in order to envision a variety of possibilities and thus enable our churches to become more agile and responsive to the world in which God has placed us.