Leading From a Future-Focused Perspective by Pastor Dave Kraft

solar power panel barcelonaTrue leaders might be known for lots of things, but living in the past “ain’t one of them.”

It was the infamous baseball manager Sparky Anderson who said, “ I have my faults, but living in the past ain’t one of them…there ain’t no future in it.” Sounds like something that other baseball philosopher Yoggi Berra might have said.

Leadership is primarily future oriented, not past or present oriented. A leader, in one sense, needs to live in the present, but needs to operate with a future oriented mindset and focus.

A true leader preoccupies himself with the future.

Leaders are mesmerized by the future…they think about it, dream about and live in it (as opposed to living too much in the present…and certainly not the past.)

As I read my Bible, I see over and over again how God plants a vision of a preferred future in a leader’s heart (a God-given vision, not just a good vision) and sends him/her out to gather people to move toward that vision~ Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua; and so as not to forget the ladies, Debra, Ruth and Esther.

With the possibility of being overly simplistic (which I have been accused of before) I will go out on a limb and say that Managers / administrators are concerned about the present and how to make what is, better. Leaders are concerned about the future and how to bring into existence what is not.

“Most organizations are over managed and under led.” –Warren Bennis (a professor at USC, and acclaimed author on the subject of leadership)

As a leader you are never happy with what is, because in your head and heart you see what isn’t …what could be and must be. You do this because you can’t help it, because you see the “not yet” of the future as if it already IS …you can’t get it out of your head and out of your heart, and you need managers/administrators to help you go hard after this vision and make it a reality.

So here is the big question…what happens to leaders and their followers when they don’t pursue the future? What happens when they get so consumed with taking care of the present that they have no bandwidth and energy to dream about what could be?

They become bogged down in the present with no energy to act on dreams of a God-pleasing and better future. It’s what one pastor called administrivia. This happens to lots of visionary leaders.  They should delegate more and let manager types handle lots of the details, but they don’t due to the fact that they have never asked or trained anyone else to take care of these things, so they can focus on the bigger picture of the future.

Here are two things that happen when a leader does not own, live in and operate with the future in mind:

1. People lose hope in the present because they can’t see a positive and
engaging future.

People working on various tasks that are not intentionally connected to a bigger, inspirational future can, over time, not only loose hope, but lose motivation and a solid work ethic. It can get boring, hum drum, same old thing day after day. Two brick layers were laying bricks for a new multi-million dollar church facility. A passer by asked them what they were doing. One responded, “I ‘m laying bricks.” The other responding, “I am helping build a magnificent building for the glory of God. One had the visionary big picture in mind, whereas the other was focused on doing routine tasks.

2. A leader with God-given genes and gifting to be future oriented, but who is focused too much on the here and now, will get tired a lot quicker…tired emotionally, physically and emotionally.

If you are a leader and the Lord has gifted and equipped you to lead futuristically, but you are not doing so because you are overly occupied with the details of the present, you will wear yourself out. People operating from inside their “Wheel House” are energized and strengthened; those operating outside are weakened and de-energized over time. There is a reason for the fact that, according to Author Richard Swenson, there are 22 separate organizations in the USA that exist to deal exclusively with pre or post Pastoral Burnout. And it is not limited to pastors, but leaders across the board. By God’s grace you will want to live out of your gifting to prevent exhaustion and potential burnout.

In closing, let me say that many leaders are traveling too fast and trying to do too much.

My experience has led me to believe that it is unrealistic to try to clear the brush in the jungle for a new path, and at the same time be up in the trees looking ahead to where the path is heading.

You can’t effectively lead the orchestra and at the same time, be in the pit playing one of the instruments.

“I may have my faults, but living in the past ain’t one of them. There ain’t no future in it.”

Pastor Dave KraftPastor Dave Kraft is currently one of the pastors at the downtown campus of Mars Hill Church, and is the Director of Leadership Develpment and Coaching in The Resurgence, a ministry of Mars Hill Church. Dave is also a professional coach with Ministry Coaching International, coaching pastors around the country.

You can check out Dave’s site which includes many articles and resources for ministry leaders here: http://davekraft.squarespace.com/

In February 2010, Dave’s book “Leaders Who Last” was published by Crossway. When he is not investing in the next generation of leaders, which he loves doing, Dave reads, works out, watches movies, plays the piano, and listens to music.

  • http://twitter.com/brianbarela Brian Barela

    hey everyone this is Brian the Blogference founder. After you type your comments, please click “Post as…” and login with Facebook or Twitter. that way if others want to connect with you beyond this event they can add you as a friend easily. Thanks!

  • Joe Schlie

    While there are certainly things from this article that I can agree with, overall I was disappointed to read about this persons focus on the future without an equal rootedness in the past – “Leaders are concerned about the future and how to bring into existence what is not.” I think a true leader needs to be fully rooted in the past! Understanding what has shaped our history and thinking – inside and outside of the Church. History and tradition have so much from which leaders should learn. Knowing from where we come helps to guide us as we lead towards the future. The Scriptures are the story God’s work in history, and point us first and foremost to what God has done – creation, incarnation and redemption. Our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In my mind, we can only then lead towards the future.

    • http://twitter.com/jrheimbigner Jack Heimbigner

      I like your thoughts on being rooted in the past, though I think what he is getting at, or at least my takeaway is that leaders are giving vision for what could be and then moving toward making what could be happen.

      I completely agree that we should keep in mind what has happened in the past and it also helps us draw on some grounding principles. But we can’t be thinking of the past hundred years of ministry leadership and do the same things over again. We need to build on those ideas and practical steps to move forward.

      • Anonymous

        I find myself agreeing with Joe in the sense that there are very important lessons to be learned from the past. I think this is one of the main reasons God gave us the Bible… and didn’t include in it stories about what the Israelites were doing right/well… but also what they were not doing/well. I think God want’s us to learn from, and present, as God informs our future.

        I like Dave’s image of being up in a tree… but I think from that vantage point we can easily take the time to look behind us, from where we’ve been, around us to better understand where we currently are, to then better identify with where God is leading/calling us.

        I can also really appreciate Joe’s image of trying to both conduct, and play in, the orchestra at the same time. It makes thinking futuristically difficult. But how do you get around this if your position, and ministry, necessitates you playing an “instrument”? Is the answer here to cut back so that it’s not necessary?

        Thanks, Dave, for a thought-provoking post!

    • http://twitter.com/brianbarela Brian Barela

      hey Joe i think a look back is helpful but often times leaders seek to mimic past actions, rather than discerning the principles of those actions and coming up with new steps of faith.

    • http://twitter.com/BVirtue Brian Virtue

      A question of mine, and maybe Barela below answers some of this, but it’s the assumption that leaders need to be equally rooted in the past as in the future. I am a history junkie so I’m always mindful of the past and its significance, but perhaps the past and the future play different roles in how we approach leadership so saying we should be grounded equally in both may not be super helpful without clarifying what roles they actually do play on our current leadership action.

      I didn’t take Dave’s post to be an effort to give a comprehensive paradigm of leadership and time, but practical wisdom for leaders who need to make choices to get out from under the weight of bureaucracy and admin to dream and create. I would agree with Dave that much of problem with today’s management is focused on preserving what has been done in the past versus leading into a new future.

      I too wonder about the semantics about leadership being “primarily future”, but I agree with the indispensable role of being vision driven. This discussion has really raised my interest in that idea of leadership and time (past, present, & future). Very motivating to think about.

      Your comment did a great job arguing for the value of the past in general terms. I’m curious, what would you say about how futuristic leaders should practically think about the past besides just recognizing it as the anchor of the over-arching meta-narrative of history?

      How can the past help leaders lead futuristically without just hindering it through the inevitable attempts to maintain the status quo?


  • http://twitter.com/BVirtue Brian Virtue

    Love it. I along with many appreciate history and the contributions and learning moments of the past (History major!), but a major albatross to today’s spiritual leadership is a tendency towards being a slave to present focused activity (management/administration) – maintaining and securing what currently is or maybe preserving the perceived best from the past. The future should shape our present, but it takes a lot of courage to think and make decisions in light of the future when so many like the present. But if leaders can’t do that, they’ll lose their connection to their creative energy and motivation and burn out is inevitable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/josh.otto Josh Otto

    Wow, thank you Dave for an incredibly convicting and motivating post. I am one who is constantly fighting against spending my time as a manager and loved your line of “Managers / administrators are concerned about the present and how to make what is, better. Leaders are concerned about the future and how to bring into existence what is not.” I often struggle with being willing to sacrifice what I currently have for a better future.

    Something I’ve found helpful for myself in trying to do a better job in leading futuristically is not so much the quantity of time question (how much time should I spend being future oriented vs. managing the current monkeys) but asking myself, am I spending the best part of my day, the best of my energy toward the future and what is not yet?

    I also loved your part from your post of “Leaders are mesmerized by the future…” This is something I wish I had that I do not know how to get. Most of the time when I am thinking and planning about the future or trying to get vision, it does not come quickly or easily. Do you Dave, or anyone else have any thoughts on how to grow in being “mesmerized by the future?”

    • http://twitter.com/brianbarela Brian Barela

      i will say that i’ve seen tremendous growth in your leadership josh in this area!

      i always played the “what if” game at chico–what if that person took _____ step of faith in ______area? what would that lead to? who else might be mobilized/empowered that isn’t yet if ________happened? many of my dreams at chico were rooted in current people.

      i’m personally motivated by the abstract and the future, but what really transformed our ministry at chico was people in the present taking future-oriented and faith filled action.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500065394 Rich Street

    Great discussion here and I understand my good friend Joe Schlie’s comments here, (who will always remember where he was when Keith Smart hit that jumper from the baseline in ’87!) We do need be rooted in the past and remember the DNA of not only where God has brought us as an organization and personally as well as throughout church history and the Scriptures most assuredly; however, with all that in mind we must be thinking more about the future. My biggest concern in CCC is that we do what has traditionally worked in the past and our own successes in lieu (nice French word there Joe!) of seeing where students’ are today and where future trends are taking students. More and more these students live and breathe on the internet and we still refuse to recognize that medium as legitimate and insist on knocking on dorm rooms and handing out fliers on the quad simply because that is the way we have alwayd done it.

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