by Tom Sine

Most of us are used to planning our lives, helping Gen Next launch their lives and operating our churches as though the future will pretty much be an extension of the world we have grown up in. None of us were ready for this new global coronavirus pandemic.

In the last ten years, the rate of change seems to be accelerating in a broad range of areas from a surprising and a rapidly expanding array of new tech that is changing all of our lives in some positive ways and concerning ways as well.

For example, teens these days are reportedly watching their screens for six to twelve hours a day and being exposed to a surprising array of sources…including some that are very concerning. I suspect that both families and churches are going to discover, as we raise our young in this environment, that we will witness our young experiencing an increasing crisis of formation.

Since that first Earth Day 50 years ago, the concern for the well being of the earth has not only kept growing, it has also accelerated. In fact, a growing number of scientists are urging us to wake up to the new reality that the 2020s could very well be the make or break decade. If we don’t significantly reduce carbon emissions and clean up our polluted oceans, there is a real possibility, environmental scientists tell us, that we could pass the point of being able to reverse the environmental crisis.

I find myself struggling to understand how some evangelical Christians can claim to be “pro-life” when they are not joining those who are working aggressively to restore God’s good creation for their children and grandchildren.

COMING SOON! Dwight Friesen and I have just published a book with Fortress Press that attempts to outline how we can get ready to live in this new world of accelerating change in our own lives, neighborhoods and churches. We outline how we can join those that are anticipating, reflecting & innovating.

In these times of accelerating change, it is more important than ever that Christian leaders learn from leaders in other fields how to become more foresightful, reflective and innovative. This can enable Christian leaders, and those they work with, to join those that are creating innovative ways to both be a difference and make a difference in time like these.

Leading with Foresight

In ordinary times, when we all experienced a much slower rate of change, leaders in churches, schools and many other institutions never felt a need to do forecasting before they planned in their congregations, schools or even in their family lives. They counted on their social context being relatively static.

Assuming the world in which we lived was static, we simply started our planning by listing the goals we hoped to accomplish in our church programs, schools or the lives of our families. However, since we find ourselves now living in a world of accelerating change, it makes much more sense to learn from environmental planners, urban planners or business innovators how it is essential to start our planning with forecasting before we set a single goal.

For example, in recent years, churches and the families they work with, helped enable their young to launch their lives assuming that it would be a similar dance to the lifestyles their parents experienced…only a bit nicer. Now, many recent grads are surprised to discover those dreams are no longer possible.

First, the cost of both private and public higher education has accelerated dramatically in the past ten years. Many in Gen Y and Z with high college debt are finding it difficult to buy their first homes, which we describe in our new book.

Clearly, wouldn’t it be a good idea in these times of rapid change in costs of higher education to anticipate how the context is changing now and after this crisis? It might also be a good idea to identify new, less expensive options from online learning to new housing options; from co-housing and inter-generational living to reduce costs and increase community.

The Coronavirus Pandemic also provides a very immediate opportunity for leaders of Christian non-profits and lay leaders to do what Dwight Friesen and I call the “three-step dance”.

  1. Anticipate: Identiying those in your congregation and neighborhood who are likely to be impacted not only by the deadly pandemic, but also a new economic recession that is already underway in the coming months. One helpful  resource is by the Wheaton Disaster Institute.
  2. Reflect: Discuss and reflect on our biblical responsibility towards our neighbors in both good times and tough times. Jesus reminds us in his teaching on the Great Commandment that we are to “love God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.” Then Jesus added, “The second commandment is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mathew 37:39). For those of us in the middle and upper-middle class, we need to reflect on how we might alter how we steward both our time and our resources to join those that are choosing to increase the amount of time and resources to empower our most vulnerable neighbors as we head into a daunting recession.
  3. Innovate: Join groups like Circlewood in creating innovative ways to empower your neighbors by inviting them to join you in planting fruit trees in their yards and parking strips as well as creating a community garden on church properties. Your church might also collaborate with other churches in your community to enlist the expertise of business innovators to create new social enterprises that offer jobs to the unemployed in your community.

These daunting times are clearly times of opportunity for followers of Jesus to give rich expression to the love of God in our communities in the turbulent 2020s.

For more creative possibilities check out: 2020s Foresight: Three Vital Practices for Thriving in a Decade of Accelerating Change, Tom Sine & Dwight J. Friesen, Fortress Press, September 2020.