In a recent article on "Futuring" in The Wall Street Journal, Christopher Mims observes: "The art and science of futuring is fast becoming a necessary skill, where we read signals, see trends and ruthlessly test our own assumptions." "' It's clear,' he notes, relying on the work of Scott Smith, that "we're not going to make it through [our complex environment] as passengers.'"
Futuring, Mims, notes is not about predicting the future. That task is one that amateurs undertake. Experienced "futurers" explore possible scenarios with an eye to building a capacity for adaptive and flexible thinking.
The connection of futuring to the world of technology and job building is obvious, and, as Mims observes, futuring isn't about predicting the future, it's about remaining alive to the variables around us in a way that cultivates flexibility. No one could have anticipated by decades the demise of film and photography as we knew it, the impact of the media on the music industry, or the growing importance of cyber-security, for example.
But futuring has other applications.
What we never discussed in seminary and, as far as I know, rarely receives any attention even today, is the task of futuring the church. The church is treated as a static and fixed entity, in spite of widespread data to the contrary. Were the decline of mainline Protestantism any less public, most seminarians would probably assume what we were all assuming years ago - i.e., that the church is a well-oiled machine that can be counted on to sustain itself.
That is plainly not the case, but far too few seminaries grapple with the implications of that truth or prepare clergy to navigate that challenge. There is also little evidence that current denominational leaders are engaged in the kind of futuring that will see the North American church into the future - apart, that is, from blessing the diminished status quo as the new normal and selling off church property at a dizzying pace. Were it not for the truth that the church is far bigger than North American mainline Protestantism, the current state of affairs would be depressing.
So, without falling into the trap of thinking that futuring for the church is about predicting what will happen, as Mims observes, what are some of the questions and scenarios that might engender creative, flexible thinking?
Here are four questions and scenarios to consider:
One: How might the church respond to a fiscal environment in which paying for denominational leadership became untenable?
Two: With the rise of political affiliation as a religious commitment, how can the church define its mission in a fashion that claims the kind of primacy normally associated with religious commitments?
Three: In a globalized world where our interdependence and differences are on constant display what role does unity play in the life of the church?
Four: In a shrinking ecology of church and seminary, what are the mechanisms for reintegrating the life of the church and the preparation of its clergy?
There are no doubt other questions and scenarios worth considering. What kind of futuring would keep you more attentive and flexible?