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He says leaders know whether it’s yesterday, today, tomorrow

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (BP)–“What time is it?”
Effective leaders must know the answer to that question, Gary Fenton, pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala., told state student directors and local Baptist Student Union directors attending Student Week ’97 Aug. 10-15 at Lake Junaluska (N.C.) Assembly.
Fenton, referring to concepts developed by church growth expert Lyle Schaller, said there are three possible answers.
1) “It is yesterday.” People who answer the question this way remember what used to work and try it again.
2) “It’s not yesterday, it’s today.” People who answer the question like this work at becoming more efficient at what they’re doing now.
3) “It is already tomorrow.” People who provide this answer have the uncertainty toward today that others have toward tomorrow.
The correct answer, Fenton said, is #3.
“I was living for today, living on the assumption that the world I was living in would continue. It won’t.
“Tomorrow is the world we have to live in if we want to be leaders. It may only be 1997, but the 21st century has already started. Almost all of the projections for the next century have already happened.”
To be a “tomorrow thinking” person, Fenton said leaders must continually focus on the next generation, asking questions such as: “Who are they?” “What Do They Want?” and “What Do They Need?”
How can leaders know what tomorrow will be like? Fenton gave several suggestions:
1) Look at the basic demographics of your area or region. He told the story of a Baptist campus ministry in Texas that is developing plans to use senior adults in its program because of the population explosion in the latter group forecast for their region.
2) Look for significant generational changes.
Quoting studies by the U.S. Navy, Fenton said he’s convinced Americans are moving from a society of linear, rational thinkers to one composed of non-linear thinking people.
“To find the evidence of it, all you have to do is turn on MTV. It doesn’t just tell a story from the beginning to end; it’s all over the place. It works on the assumption that the viewer uses the images and information to tell his or her own story.
“The gospel of Mark is non-sequential; it doesn’t tell the story from beginning to end in a linear order. It has become one of my favorite gospels because it really attaches itself to this generation.”
Noting another change, Fenton said he believes today’s society honors religion more than ever before. But it does not honor religious authority. The authority in the new religious movement, he added, is “feeling.”
“Previous generations asked, ‘What do you believe about God?’ Today, people are asking, ‘What is your experience of God?’
“In sharing the gospel, we’re going to have to speak more out of our experiences, but we have to make sure our experiences are consistent with Scripture.”
3) Try to interpret the impact of technological changes.
“The automobile changed America,” Fenton said. “It changed us geographically because we could move around more quickly.
“The computer has changed us, too, but communications is just a part of it. Another significant change that has resulted from the computer is speed.
“People expect immediate response, and that desire for speed doesn’t stop when they leave their computer. We’re going to have to be quicker with our minds and quicker on our feet in our ministry. More than ever before, we’re going to have to be ready to give an answer about our beliefs. We need to be anticipating the questions people are going to ask.”
Using the book of Titus as his biblical text, Fenton also told the student workers effective leaders are men and women of character. They are above reproach (not sinless, but without a sin that defines them; righteous), have a good family life and do not have a rebellious spirit.
He also shared three “myths” about leadership and three related realities:
1) Myth: No one in our organization has a vision for our ministry. Reality: Almost everyone in the organization has a vision. The problem is, these visions are competing against each other.
2) Myth: It takes a strong personality to be a good leader. Reality: It takes a strong faith to be a good leader. Personality is irrelevant.
3) Myth: It is exciting to be a leader. Reality: It is often boring to be a leader. Fenton said doing about 90 percent of his work that is less than exciting allows him to do the 10 percent that is.
Student Week ’97, which included separate events at Lake Junaluska, N.C., and Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center Aug. 9-15, attracted more than 2,000 college students and student leaders from across the country. It was sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s national student ministry.

    About the Author

  • Chip Alford