The Visionary Family
by Carl Caton and Dena Dyer
During World War II, Britain had a difficult time keeping laborers in the coal mines. Many wanted to join the military, since the servicemen garnered much public praise. Yet the mines were critical to the success of the war. So the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, faced thousands of coal miners one day and told them how their role could make or break England’s goal of freedom.
Churchill painted a picture of a post-war grand parade. First would march the Navy sailors. Next would come the Royal Air Force pilots. Following them would be the soldiers who had fought at Dunkirk. Finally, men in miners’ caps would march. Churchill indicated that someone from the crowd might say, “And where were you during the critical days of the struggle?” And the voices of ten thousand men would respond, ‘We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal.”
It’s said that tears appeared in the eyes of those hardened men, and they returned to their inglorious work with steely resolve.
It’s amazing how a visionary leader can mobilize and motivate thousands with a single word picture. Understandably, if you ask the “man on the street” to name a visionary leader, he’ll respond with the name of a politician or businessman. Isn’t it interesting that we never think of visionary leadership in the context of the family…the one place where our leadership is most important?
Visionary principles abound in business because they’re a simple way to create goals and measure results. But while visionary leadership is more difficult in our family lives, the payoff is far more profound…and can last for generations.
Vision is simply a mental image that helps people pursue something of divine significance. A person who has vision is able to rise above his circumstances, envision his final destination, and understand the pathway to his goal.
Our ultimate role model, Jesus Christ, did just that. In Transforming Leadership, author Leighton Ford says, "Jesus had a way of seeing, a way of perceiving reality. . .A visionary may see extraordinary things that no human eye has ever seen or may bring new perspectives to commonplace things that the rest of us have seen all along, but taken for granted."
In contrast, as modern men, we're often too busy following the culture’s godless prescription for our lives. In Family Man, Family Leader, author Phillip Lancaster writes: “Our families aren't visionless. In fact, most of us are actively pursuing a vision for living... a vision that includes driving the right cars, living in the right neighborhood, wearing the right shoes and filling our hyperactive schedules with every activity that our culture espouses.”
Often, we don't make time to step away from the breathless pace to seek God's direction. And it’s His vision—for our lives, and for our family—which we should pursue.
Being a Visionary Leader to Your Kids
There are many reasons why parents should become visionary leaders for their families. First of all, parents are often the most qualified for the job. After all, who knows their kids better? Who else has a close-up view of their child’s strengths and weaknesses? With their life experience and unique vantage point, moms and dads are often the best person to come alongside their children and help them craft a vision for their lives.
But as parents, we have to be careful in how we lead. First, our kids must understand that we’re not telling them what to do—we’re encouraging them to step up into the destiny God has for them. Furthermore, we must guard against a) promoting our own desires, b) micromanaging our kids’ lives, c) being too specific or too vague, and d) being out of touch with our kids’ strengths, talents, and spiritual gifts.
Finally, we must wait on God’s timing and not apply too much pressure at the wrong time.
Laying the Foundation
So what are some steps we can follow in casting a vision for our family?
First, we must understand God's specific call on our family's life. We can read the Bible, listen to the Holy Spirit, examine the circumstances of our lives, and take counsel from other believers. Also, we must recognize that vision doesn’t always come right away and it may not be something that’s applied immediately. Second, we must work diligently to craft the vision. Third, we must be able to communicate the vision.
As parents, we need to remember that our teaching is often more “caught” than taught. Kids see right through us. They’re sophisticated enough to know if we’re faking it. We must be able to model vision by the way we live our lives. We must live our lives as a word picture.
Looking Down the Road
Part of becoming a visionary leader in your family means developing your own leadership skills. Far too many parents are engulfed in a frantic lifestyle, which leads to either no vision or short-term vision. Instead, we need to have a clear sense of purpose and priorities.
In Transforming Leadership, Ford says, “Men today lack vision. Their time horizons are very short, extending only to the next paycheck, vacation, or promotion. But godly men must be able to gauge the effects of their present choices on their children and their children's children. They must picture the future. They must see it and allow it to motivate their present actions. Their time horizons must extend even past their grandchildren . . . as they learn to weigh every action in light of its eternal implications.”
(Too often you see this played out with overzealous sports dads. Whether they are living vicariously through their sons or just don’t think long-term, many dads have a goal for their son to become a star on the football team. Dad then spends all his time focused on the goal of high school sports dominance. And once the “glory days” are over, a son can find himself staring at a career in accounting when he’s only been trained to not fumble the pigskin. Instead, parents--dads especially--need to be preparing their kids for the game of life.)
Take a class on leadership. Read books. Find a mentor. In short, do whatever you can to feel comfortable in your leadership role. Then you will have the confidence to picture the future and weigh your actions in light of scripture—and eternity.
Master the Art of Storytelling
So where do you start? What’s the first thing a visionary leader does? Often, they begin by creating a purpose or mission statement. Over the last few years, Rick Warren has done a masterful job of helping us think deeply about the purpose of our lives. One practical way to bring the purpose concept home and translate it into “kidspeak” is to create a family mission statement. The process of doing this is actually as important as the final document. When you sit down with the family to discuss things like goals and priorities, each member is forced to dig deep and become more reflective about life.
Once your family determines their mission statement, a great way to communicate vision is to connect your kids with people who can influence them. Let’s say your daughter wants to be an architect. Why not arrange for her to spend some time with a successful architect? Ideally, she could job shadow this person and experience a day in the life of an architect.
One other way to spark vision in our kid’s lives is to paint vivid word pictures through creative storytelling. As you go about your day, think of stories you can share from your own life, about mistakes made and principles learned. Being able to articulate these life lessons will go far in helping your kids understand the importance of values and character.
Another great idea is to become a “futurist” for your kids. For example, my fourteen year-old son has the desire to follow his dad in the real estate business. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to help him accomplish this goal. And so, I’ve talked to him about good colleges with real estate programs. I’ve shared why it’s important to go someplace where he can begin to network with other young men who are on his career track. I’ve laid out why he should start out with a big company, where he can roll up his sleeves and get some experience. And I’ve showed him how he can translate that experience into building or developing his own projects.
We’ve talked about the different property types and the advantages of each. We’ve gone out to construction sites and learned about methods, design, and strategies. Most importantly, I’ve helped him visualize a lifestyle built around the benefits of being in the real estate business. It takes a lot of time, energy, and creativity to articulate this, but it goes far in helping him envision a future that is bright with opportunity.
You can do the same for your kids.
A Vision for Giving
However, casting a vision for our kids isn’t always about a job or vocation. Sometimes, it’s about giving your children a passion for a certain character trait.
Last year, I embarked upon a plan to develop a heart of generosity in my kids. I noticed they were good money managers but they hadn’t learned the art of giving. So I went to the bank and brought home some envelopes filled with ten dollar bills. I sat them down and shared that I wanted them to find opportunities to help someone by giving.
I wanted them to give the money away, but only in ways that were unique. In other words, I didn’t want them just to hand the cash to a charity. Their giving needed to be different, creative, and require initiative. After a couple of months, I checked in with them and they hadn’t given anything away. They discovered giving was harder than you might think--especially if you have to be creative.
Shortly thereafter, we were having dinner at a local cafeteria. I noticed an older lady sitting alone, having dinner. I suggested my kids just walk over to her, talk to her, and buy her dinner. At first, the lady was confused as to why they wanted to buy her meal. But after my kids reasoned with her a while, she relented and allowed them to pick up the check.
After about twenty minutes, the lady came to our table. In tears, she talked about the terrible day she’d had and how she had come to the restaurant to just enjoy a meal. She expressed her surprise and appreciation for what the kids had done. By the time she finished talking, we were all forcing back tears.
When we got home that night, my daughter shared how meaningful it had been to her to do something sacrificial. Further, she informed me that she wanted to give back the envelope of cash and do this with her own money! She had caught the vision for sacrificial giving.
A Vision for Purity
A sweet young family we know did a great job in giving their two daughters a vision for purity. When their daughters entered their teen years, the parents wisely understood young people’s desire to find a mate. But in today’s culture, there’s a long stretch between the advent of puberty and graduating from college (a goal both the girls and parents shared).
The parents wondered, how do you keep a restless young person content during this extended period of time? And furthermore, how do you teach your daughters what they should be looking for in a good husband?
This family came up with a simple solution. They formed a word picture of the ideal husband, and called him “Sam.” Sam became a constant and casual part of their daily conversation. When dad noticed good behavior in a young man, he would comment to his daughter, “I hope Sam is a gentleman and opens doors for ladies!” Or when mom noticed that a daughter was good at organizing, she might comment, “I’m sure Sam will appreciate living with a good organizer like you.” In the midst of routine events, these parents gave their children a vision for godly spouses and healthy marriages.
Another way to cast a vision for purity is to encourage journaling. Young men and women can write love letters to their future mate. It’s a great way to relieve stress, calm an anxious heart, and build anticipation as they look forward to life with a future husband or wife.
The Joy of Sacrifice
People yearn to be involved in something that is meaningful, purposeful, and sacrificial. Something deep down in our soul tells us that giving ourselves away—though it goes against everything the world and our flesh tell us--is right and it is good. There is joy, and a rich, compelling beauty, in sacrifice.
I experienced a great example of this last Thanksgiving. For years, we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving traditionally. Like most families, we get together, fix an elaborate dinner, and binge on the results for days. But I started thinking about the fact that much of our approach to Thanksgiving was “what’s in it for me?”
Last year, we planned a completely different approach to the holiday: we served others. Every year, our city feeds about twenty thousand people: poor families, homeless men, widows and orphans (along with a few folks just looking for a free meal). And last Thanksgiving, we volunteered to help.
We worked hard clearing tables, serving meals, pouring coffee, delivering drinks, and picking up trash. Things really got interesting, though, when we temporarily ran out of turkey. Tempers began to flare as people waited for more than an hour to eat. And when the meal trays began to flow again, we dealt with an onslaught of aggressive homeless men who were grabbing a half-dozen meal plates and dumping the contents into plastic bags to take back to the streets. In short, it was sheer chaos for two hours.
When we finally were relieved of our duty, it was the middle of the afternoon. We hadn’t eaten and were tired and hungry. I’d given my coat away, and it was cold outside. But strangely, we could hardly contain our joy. Our kids had experienced a great day! On the way home, we planned to invite other families to join us next year.
It was our best Thanksgiving ever and our hearts literally overflowed with peace, joy, and thankfulness, despite the fact that nothing we’d done was actually “fun”.
Sacrificial living is a strange mix of toil and pleasure. And it’s something you don’t want your family to miss out on because it gives them a vision of joyful living.
In our modern-day world, many of our jobs have taken us far from anything that is noble or sacrificial. I have a friend who works in the human resources department of a big corporation. All day long, he deals with crybabies calling in because this isn’t right or that isn’t right or “my paycheck is a day late.” Man, this poor guy just longs for something meaningful to do. Just cutting his grass at home brings him an incredible sense of purpose.
God made us, He created us, He wired us to give of ourselves. That’s our purpose… to give ourselves away!
Don’t you long to be part of something bigger than yourself? To take part in something meaningful, sacrificial, and full of purpose? Of course. You want to live a life of significance.
So do your kids.
As I’ve said before, Jesus understood visionary leadership. He knew God's plan for the people in His life. Jesus was able to rise up, look ahead and cast a vision like no one else before or since. He helped His disciples see, hear, feel, and even experience the vision that was laid before them. And Jesus pointed them toward a noble cause--the cause they were made for. As you read the scriptures, you see the energy rising among His disciples. And with that excitement level hitting a crescendo, Jesus did just what every visionary
leader should do: He gave Himself away.
Jesus didn't say, "Guys, I've cast the vision, you're all excited, now..go get'em!" Instead, Jesus said to His disciples, "I've pointed you to the Father's will. I've cast the vision. You've been able to experience this vision for yourself. Now stand back and watch me as I give myself away."
So now it’s your turn. Will you follow Christ’s example, seek God’s direction and get plugged into his purpose for your life? Will you cast a vision that your kids will ultimately catch? Will you give yourself away?
If you will, the Bible promises that you’ll be blessed beyond your wildest imagination, in every way that matters for eternity. You and your family will live lives filled with great anticipation and joy. You, your children, and your children’s children will be filled with a sense of completeness--because you have fulfilled your calling and purpose in life.
Catch the vision?
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