Of all the things God has taught me about ministry and leadership, I think the most important thing would have to be the value of vision and purpose. Because we as parents are put in a position to lead and minister to our children, I believe this is just as important in the family or in the homeschool. (And even if you don't homeschool.)
Why? Four reasons come to mind. A vision or mission for your family:
1. Gives your family direction.
We either get our direction from the Lord, or we end up defaulting to what the world around us tells us we should do. As our culture grows more antagonistic toward Christian values, we could easily find ourselves (and our children) going down a path that we didn't intend or desire. Sometimes, the world's values are very subtly introduced into our thinking without our even knowing it. Little by little, we begin to buy into these beliefs, taking our children along with us. By seeking the Lord intentionally, we can have a better understanding of what He desires from us as families, so that we might be the salt and light in our communities that He wants us to be. This is true whether you homeschool or not.
2. Helps make decision making much easier.
This is something that I have noticed in our own family. Once we had a good sense of God's purpose for us as a family, it became much clearer to us what is important or not. Given the array of wonderful programs available for our children, the activities at church, and the opportunities that surround us, isn't it easy to start believing that you just have to do all of them (and feel guilty if you don't)? Knowing what God desires of your family then becomes the measuring stick instead of judging the merits of the activity or opportunity itself.
3. Provides motivation when it gets tough.
It's hard to be a parent, whether you homeschool or not. Kids take a lot of work and they require a lot of patience. For me, having a sense of vision and purpose has helped me to keep sticking it out, believing that if God is behind this, He will help me to finish the job. Reminding myself of the end goal has helped me to get up many a time after I feel defeated (and I've had many of those days!) and keep running again.
4. Serves as a means of evaluation as we run our race.
As I shared this past weekend, I had some time to myself for a few days. A lot of that time was spent evaluating. Evaluating what? Evaluating where I stood in light of where God is moving me individually as well as a family. Without a vision, it is hard to know whether what you are doing is really effective or if it's just spinning our wheels. I don't know about you, but I want what I do to be fruitful and profitable! A vision helps us to see if I'm on the right track or if we need to try something different.
Okay, sounds good. So how do we start? Some thoughts:
1. Bathe the whole process in prayer.
Eph. 2:10 tells us that God has chosen you, your husband and each of your children for special purposes. Wouldn't it make sense to seek Him first? Keep your spirit open to His guidance, even as you dream and plan.
2. Do this with your spouse.
Interestingly, God has seen it best for children to be brought up in homes with a mom and a dad. I know in our family, each of us offers something different to our children. Working together in raising them, while approaching that goal in our own unique ways, is something that greatly enriches the lives of our children. We were not meant to do this alone. Our goal is that we sit down once a year (usually around our anniversary) and revisit it together.
3. Evaluate what’s most important in light of eternity.
I often tell parents to envision the day when your son or daughter finally leaves your home. What do you want to see in them? Most importantly: What character do you want them to have? What kind of faith?
Another way to think about it is to look at what God has already been doing in you. Take a stroll down memory lane and take note of some of the ways that God has already used you as a family. Where might He be taking you? What resonates with you as a couple? How will your children be included and involved?
4. Write it out.
I don't know about you, but as I age, I forget things a lot easier. Even if you don't memorize it, have it written out on paper so you can keep it before you.
5. Use this as starting point each year when planning for general goals.
Every year, I take out our vision statement and ask the Lord to show us how we are doing and if there is something He wants us to focus on in the year to come. A good vision is something that we may never reach in a lifetime. This keeps challenging us to keep pushing forward, not rest on our laurels.
6. Modify it to focus on specific needs for each child.
Even with four very different kids, our general goals are still pretty much the same. However, each child may take a different course to get to said goal, based on their personality, bents, and makeup. Each year, we use the vision and examine it through the lens of each of our children. Some years one thing may be needed than others. They grow and mature (hopefully!) so we focus on something else. That way, we honor the uniquenesses of our children while still trying to guide them in the same direction.
7. Use it as an evaluation tool at end of year.
We do this, as I mentioned earlier, once a year. Some years we do great. Some years we don't. But having that vision helps us to keep pressing onward. We ask ourselves questions: what is one way we have moved toward our vision? (Then thank God and celebrate!) What is one way that we have gone off track? How can we get back on track? How do we take the next step? What would that look like? What would we use?
There is a ton more that could be said, but I'll stop here for now. Whether you homeschool or not, this is an exercise for couples that I would encourage, even if you don't have any kids yet! These times are usually some of the richest and most meaningful times for my husband and me, ones where we can pray, dream and look forward to the future together. I hope that it will be the same for you too.