By Mike Hess

I write this article on the eve of the NFL draft. It amazes me how popular this event has become. Consider for a moment the thousands of human hours and millions of dollars that are spent before a prospective player even signs on the dotted line. Planning and scheming for countless hours, NFL executives, coaches, and scouts will exhaust themselves trying to find the right players to lead them to a Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Isn’t it something—how much intentional planning professional sports franchises put into preparing for their future? Meanwhile, few churches, if we’re honest and humble enough to admit it, take an intentional, prayerful, and aggressive approach to preparing for their future.

No matter how much a church is flourishing in the present, if it’s not forward thinking and preparing for future spiritual health, it’s neglecting a key component of healthy disciple-making. Let’s consider three ways to be forward-thinking to set your church up well for the future.

Honor the Past, but Don’t Live in It

As sinners we tend to exaggerate and even sanitize the past. Here’s a thought that should help maintain your perspective and keep you from idolizing the past: God, in His infinite wisdom, has sovereignly ordained that you live at this time, be part of this church, and live for Him today—not in a time that you may have idealized.

One mark of wisdom is that we echo the words of Ecclesiastes 7:10, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (ESV).

Let’s be intentional about honoring the past, including key individuals God used, and about praising God for seasons of fruitfulness. But wisdom teaches us not to attempt to resurrect a romanticized time. Grow where God has planted you and press forward to a prize that awaits those who passionately follow Christ (Phil. 3:13–14).

Live in the Present, but Prepare for the Future

Living in the present but preparing for the future is a constant theme in Scripture. Consider the examples of God raising up Joshua to replace Moses. Solomon to replace David. Jesus investing over three years of His life to train the apostles to be leaders of the church. The apostles then training the following generation, with examples such as Timothy, Titus, and James.

Forward thinkers think to the future. They invest in the future by strategically and intentionally investing in people who hunger for the Scriptures, have a passion for souls, demonstrate sincere growth in Christ, love others, and demonstrate a growing competency to lead others. Chances are that as you read those descriptions, people in your own local church came to mind.

We often hear politicians ask questions like this, “What kind of country will you be leaving to your grandchildren?” That’s a good question to be asking about our churches. What kind of church do you want to leave to your children and grandchildren? Then consider what steps your church can take to ensure vibrant, Biblical health for generations to come as the Lord tarries.

I don’t think anyone reading this article would just love to see his or her church die someday. But if we’re not intentionally discipling the next generation, we can unintentionally set our churches up for failure.

Hold Your Message Firmly but Methodologies Loosely

Scripture must always drive our mission. That’s why the GARBC is dogmatic about our doctrinal positions. Likewise, Scripture must always drive and regulate our methodologies. This keeps us from using questionable methods that do not honor the Lord and that make an idol of numbers and “results.”

With that said, Scripture gives us a lot of latitude with the methods we might choose to use. For example, whether we acknowledge this fact or not, the shifting sands of technology and culture will have profound implications on what methods churches implement.

While most of our debates about methods are about styles, it’s important that we let Scripture be the engine that drives the car. But, I’m afraid, at times we tend to be more dogmatic about the methods that are given a lot of latitude in Scripture than we are about our mission, which is clearly defined in Scripture.

Forward-thinking Christians are those who recognize the imperative of discipling the next generation. They also realize that the following generation might implement some different methodologies while remaining ardently faithful to the Scriptures.

Let me share with you a personal account of a man I had the privilege of pastoring who modeled this well. Pastor Ed Davis and his wife, Mary Lou, were faithful members of the last church I pastored, Calvary Baptist Church in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

Pastor Ed is now with the Lord, but I think about him often. He graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in the mid-1950s. Every church he pastored grew rapidly. He was a deeply respected and gifted evangelist and a model of a Christian gentleman. He never gave me unsolicited advice or tried to express how much he disagreed with the direction I was taking the church. And, undoubtedly, he disagreed with some of the things I said and did.

But every Sunday he would say something encouraging about my message. He would often write me kind and encouraging notes. Ed and Mary Lou would randomly invite Christina and me over for lunch just to fellowship and talk about life. Never to “straighten me out” or to unload on me about what he thought I was doing wrong. We became good friends. I’ll always be grateful for that.

One day while I was visiting them, Ed brought me into his office, which held piles and shelves full of books. I’ll never forget him telling me, “Mike, any book you want in here is yours. Take what you want. I want this all going to the next generation of pastors.” It was then that I understood his desire to invest in future leaders.

His example has always stuck with me. I believe that’s the example Paul laid out in 2 Timothy 2:2; it’s a multigenerational approach to discipleship that thinks forward to the next generation of leaders.

Let’s think back to the NFL draft for a moment—all the planning and investment in future teams in order to hoist a temporary trophy. May we as local churches pour our hearts, strengths, and resources into investing in the next generation of leaders for something far more valuable—eternal souls and healthy churches that bring great delight to our amazing Savior.

Mike Hess serves as national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.