Keeping Your Eyes on the Future During a Challenging Present
“I regret that I didn’t have time to write you a shorter letter.”
I’ve seen that quote attributed to everyone from Blaise Pascal to Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin. Whoever said it, the moral is that brevity is best and succinctness is sublime. I’ll do my best to heed their admonition and deny my pastoral penchant for long soliloquies, in hopes of being helpful to you today.
As brevity goes, the dialogue these days about the challenges we face as pastors has been anything but. Much digital ink has been spilled (and helpfully so) on the current difficulties facing churches and pastors. So much so that you probably don’t need me to offer another round of discourse on our cultural, political, and ecclesiological situation. But if, like me, you know you must forecast the future and lead toward a vision of what can be yet feel so consumed with the challenges of the present that you can’t see into next week much less the next decade, then perhaps some reflection on how we keep our eyes on the future while navigating the challenges of the present may be of service. Here are some things I’m learning and thinking about to that end. If you can, take time to leave a comment with your own insights. We’re all learning as we go and there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.
I Have to Prioritize Extended Time in Prayer
Anyone can generate ideas, but vision comes from the Lord. That means I need, not just my morning devotions, but extended times of prayer to seek the Lord. We ask all of our ministry staff to take one day a month for a prayer retreat, and I have to admit that over the last year and half I have failed to live up to what I have asked of them, in spite of the fact that it never fails to reenergize and refocus me. I let the constant stream of needs and moving pieces of the last year prevent me from keeping this rhythm and I am poorer for it. I am recommitting myself to this practice and I’d encourage you to consider what kind of rhythm for extended times of prayer you might put in place.
I Have to Know the Needs in my Community
Nothing kills vision quicker than being preoccupied with our own troubles. Over this last year and a half its been easy to focus only on the needs and challenges of our own congregations. Those, of course, are valid concerns but simply reacting to the needs of our own people doesn’t continually refine the outward orientation needed for vision to grow. We have worked hard over the last several years to develop relationships with our local schools and other organizations in our area so that we are aware of unmet needs in our community. We’ve had the privilege of stepping into some of those in this season and every time we do our hearts broaden with love for our neighbors in a way that makes us better able to receive vision from the Lord.
I Have to Organize Staff Meetings Well
I’ve noticed that when I am struggling with decision fatigue staff meetings become a drain rather than a joy. Rather than have a strategic agenda for our time I can look to just get through the meeting without having to make another decision. Typically, that means meetings focus on giving updates and getting feedback, but not on looking ahead. That is detrimental to any of our teams, but it especially hinders the teams who are tasked with looking to the future and establishing vision. The good news is it doesn’t take much more than a disciplined agenda and a few good questions to reinvigorate a future focus and idea generation in these spaces. I’m recommitting myself to guard space in our meetings for this purpose.
Those are just three thoughts I’ve been pondering about how to keep my eyes looking ahead without neglecting the needs of the present. I’m sure you have many more you could add. Whatever they may be, I’m praying for each of you who read this that the Lord would give you eyes set on the future He has for you and your people, put new wind in your sails, and fresh vision in your heart.
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These are some great thoughts right here.
I’m already thinking of ways to put some of this into practice, and have made some notes for my next staff meeting!
Thanks for this Trent.
Thanks, Trent! Thanks for your humility, transparency and insight on how to best navigate these challenging times! My heart was encouraged and challenged to carve out more of that time with my Lord!
Well said, Trent! Great pointers to help keep our eyes forward and upward!