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Get a Life: Creating and Sustaining a Personal Life Vision

Five principles that will help you discover and define your personal life vision

By Mark Batterson

It was an ordinary Sunday School class. I do not remember who was teaching or the topic, but it became a defining moment for me. I said something that would become my personal life vision. My announcement may seem anticlimactic after that buildup, but it defines who I am and what I am about. I didn’t hear any angel choirs singing the Hallelujah Chorus, but I knew I had discovered my raison d’état. I said: “My purpose in life is to help others maximize their God-given potential.”

That statement encapsulates my vision as a husband, father, pastor, and writer. Potential is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to God. Nothing energizes me like helping others steward their God-given potential.

Do you have a personal life vision? Not just a vision for the church you lead or parachurch ministry you serve. Do you have a vision for your marriage? Your family? Do you know who you are and what you are about? What is it that gets you up early in the morning and keeps you up late at night?

The other day my 8-year-old son, Josiah, revealed his life vision. He said, “After I graduate from college, I want to be a poet for 3 years, try out for American Idol, and then play professional football.” This came out of nowhere. And who knows? Maybe that is God’s plan for his life. But we conceive a personal life vision when we are young and it evolves as we mature. Our vision will go through many edits and adaptations. And there is usually a process of elimination that takes place over time. You need to do some things you do not like to discover the things you love. You need to figure out who you are not, to come to terms with who you are. And all of that is part of the process of creating and sustaining a life vision.

Be Yourself

When I started pastoring National Community Church, I was trying to be a pastor. Fourteen years later I am trying to be myself. And there is a big difference. One of the great dangers of ministry is finding your identity externally in whatever it is you lead. Your ministry becomes your identity. And that is where I was a few years ago. National Community Church consumed my life. And to be honest, it seemed right and good. Then I had a revelation.

I played hooky from church one weekend and this changed the way I saw myself, my life, and National Community Church. It was the last weekend of the ski season, and my son and I wanted to learn how to snowboard. It proved to be one of the most unforgettable days of my life. One moment in particular is frozen in my mind. Literally. We were riding the chairlift to the top of the mountain as the blizzard-like snow was coming down, and I heard the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. I realized, in that moment on the chair lift, that my life had completely revolved around National Community Church for the better part of a decade. On one level, when you plant a church, you must pour your heart and soul into it. Sacrifice is par for the course. But I came to the convicting realization that I did not really have much of a life outside of church. It was as if the Holy Spirit said: “Get a life.”

I am afraid that many pastors, if we are completely honest, will admit they have no life outside of church — no hobbies, no relationships, no interests, no goals, no margins. And then we wonder why we are bored with ministry or why our sermons are boring. The solution? Get a life. Or maybe I should say get a personal life vision.

Let me share five principles that will help you discover and define your personal life vision.

Leave a Margin

I have always struggled with being a workaholic. And part of the reason is the simple fact I love what I do. But if you are not careful, work can become home and home can become work. It is not like I had abandoned my family. In fact, we have a saying at NCC that I have drilled into my staff: “Put your family first.” But I am not sure I was walking the talk. That is when I made a few decisions that created more margin in my life.

First, I give the church one night a week. Why? Because I need to prioritize my family. I need to help my kids with homework. I need to coach their teams. I need to disciple my kids one-on-one. And I make no apologies for any of the above.

Second, I try to use all of my days off. I owe it to my family. I owe it to my church. And I honestly believe I will be far more productive if I work fewer days. I scaled back my teaching to 36 weekends while building a teaching team around me.

Third, I decided to limit the number of days I travel. I started out with 30 days, but it was a few too many, so I moved to 25 days. I asked our stewardship team to keep me accountable.

Those margins help me sustain a life outside of church. They allow me to build relationships beyond the walls of the church. They allow me to pursue interests that will make my sermons more interesting. They allow me to read for pleasure.

Margins give us the space we need to keep growing as a person, not just as a leader.

Change the Routine

One of the formulas I share in one of my books, Wild Goose Chase, is: “Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.” Routines are good. Most of us shower and put on deodorant every day. On behalf of your friends and family, please stick to the routine. Routines are one key to spiritual growth. We call them spiritual disciplines. But once the routine becomes routine, you need to change the routine.

When I am in a spiritual slump, I try to mix up my routine. Sometimes this is as simple as changing the Bible translation I am reading. Other times it takes a personal retreat or 40-day fast of some sort. You need to find ways to stay fresh spiritually. We must find ways to tap back into our original calling.

One of the great dangers of leadership is: “We stop doing ministry out of imagination, and we start doing ministry out of memory.” We learn how and forget why. We stop creating the future and start repeating the past. And that is the beginning of the end for leaders.

One thing that has helped us at National Community Church is our core value: Everything is an experiment. We honestly view everything we do as an experiment. If it does not work, we will stop doing it. And that takes the pressure off. It also gives you tremendous latitude as a leader. If people oppose the vision, you can remind them that it is “just an experiment.” We have had lots of failed experiments — things we will never do again. But we are not afraid of making mistakes. We are afraid of not making mistakes because it means we are not trying enough new things.

Pray, Pray, Pray

Praying is a form of dreaming.

Nothing will adventurize your life like prayer. If you cultivate the prayer routine, it will keep your life from becoming routine. Prayer is where I get God ideas. And I would rather have one God idea than a thousand good ideas. Prayer is where I cultivate a sense of destiny. Prayer is where I discern the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And obeying those Spirit-led promptings is the key to sustaining life vision.

The Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit that intrigues me: an Geadh-Glas, or “the Wild Goose.” I love the imagery and implications. The name hints at the mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit. Much like a wild goose, the Spirit of God cannot be tracked or tamed. An element of danger and an air of unpredictability surround Him. And while the name may sound a little sacrilegious at first earshot, I cannot think of a better description of what it is like to pursue the Spirit’s leading through life than Wild Goose chase.

The Celtic Christians were on to something that institutionalized Christianity has missed. And I wonder if we have clipped the wings of the Wild Goose and settled for something less — much less — than the spiritual adventure God originally intended. If you chase the Wild Goose, He will take you places you could never have imagined going by paths you never knew existed. Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

What I am getting at is: There is no substitute for prayer. Nothing will add an element of adventure to your life like prayer. The more you pray the bigger your vision will grow.

Set Life Goals

I recently accomplished three life goals in one week. My son and I hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. We rode mules on the rim. And we went on a helicopter ride over the Canyon.

It was more than a vacation. It was a spiritual pilgrimage. On my son’s 12th birthday he signed a discipleship covenant that included three challenges: spiritual, intellectual, and physical. The trip was a reward for reaching the goals we had mutually agreed on.

You know why most of us do not get what we want out of life? Because we do not know what we want. And you will never accomplish the goals you do not set. If you want to sustain your personal life vision, you must set some life goals. Please reference my last point and make sure you do it in the context of prayer. After all, if all you do is set a bunch of selfish goals, you would be better off if you did not accomplish them. But if you set them in the context of prayer, then life goals become an expression of faith. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for” (Hebrews 11:1).

If you need some help getting started, you can get a free download I wrote titled 10 Steps To Setting Life Goals at www.chasethegoose.com. (See sidebar, “10 Steps To Setting Life Goals”). One of the ways I got a life outside of pastoring was by setting goals. I have family goals, influence goals, physical goals, and travel goals. Notice that I do not have spiritual goals. The reason: All of them are spiritual. I hope each goal is an expression of stewardship. And it has to pass the true litmus test: Does it glorify God?

Not everybody is a goal-setting personality. But if we do not have goals we are going after, most of us settle for the routine. And we start living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. God has called you to play offense with your life and that is what goals do. They put you on the offensive.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

If I had to choose between someone with great knowledge or someone with a great hunger to learn, I would choose the person with a great hunger to learn every time. Over time, many of us lose our holy appetite: The appetite for life. The appetite for adventure. The appetite for the supernatural. The appetite for God’s Word. If you are going to sustain a life vision, you must cultivate a holy hunger for the things of God. And they are an acquired taste.

Sustaining a vision means staying hungry. It also means staying foolish. I am sure Noah felt foolish building the ark. David felt foolish facing Goliath. The Israelites felt foolish marching around Jericho. The Wise Men felt foolish following a star. And Peter felt foolish getting out of the boat. But faith is the willingness to look foolish, and the results speak for themselves. Noah survived the flood. David defeated Goliath. Israel conquered Jericho. The Wise Men found the Messiah. Peter walked on water. And Jesus was raised from the dead. If you are not willing to look foolish, you are foolish.

I recently came across a commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs at Stanford University on June 12, 2005. The irony is that Jobs never graduated from college. I love his closing challenge: “When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. Stewart Brand, who lives not far from here in Menlo Park, created it and brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions. Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.”

You want to sustain a life vision?

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

MARK BATTERSON is senior pastor, National Community Church, Washington, D.C., and the author of Lion in a Pit on a Snowy Day, Wild Goose Chase, The Circle Maker, and All In. This article is adapted from The Circle Maker.

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