Every leader and organization faces the dilemma. How they did things in the past successfully got them to where they are today but will often not get them to where they need to go tomorrow. Yet the past is what they know and have experienced while the future is not known and has not been experienced. Good leaders thus live in a dynamic tension between the past and the future - knowing that their knowledge of the past is often a detriment to moving into the future.
I have seen this tension about what is known (the ways of the past) and what is unknown (the ways of the future) literally paralyze leaders from taking the necessary steps to lead their organization into the future. After all, the unknown requires measured risk while the known requires no risk at all (except, ironically, the very survival of the ministry).
Healthy leaders understand this tension and also know that while we can and should learn from both our failures and successes in the past, we must always be moving the organization we lead toward the future with all of its unknowns. This requires courage because we know what the road behind us was but we don't know what the road in front of us is. Our GPS can take us to what is but not to what will be.
Therein lies the dilemma. When I drive home from work each night I do it by habit and without any thinking about where I need to go. It is familiar, comfortable and second nature. Not so the future which requires a lot of thinking, evaluating, looking at trends, emerging opportunities, and evaluation of what is currently being done.
Churches get caught in this dilemma all the time, doing what they always did and then wondering why attendance and giving are down. Often they are simply not responding any longer to the needs of a new day. One church I know is known for its exceptional biblical exposition and preaching which is always excellent (and which I deeply believe in). But, there is no application of the Biblical truth to every day living. The pastor is living in the past when there was a general knowledge of the Bible and truth whereas today there is not and without helping people make application to their lives they are no longer meeting the needs of a different day. It should be no surprise that both the attendance and giving are down.
Leadership is about leading people somewhere and much of that has to do with leading into the unknowns of the future. That means deep thinking, careful exegesis of our context and being willing to risk new strategies and ways of thinking to respond to the needs of a new day. It is all about not allowing the past to become a threat to the future.