There is nothing I like more than planning a vacation. I devour travel guides like some people read novels. I read Tripadvisor suggestions about points of interest and Yelp reviews of restaurants in the area. I use Googlemaps to situate myself spatially and figure out how long the walk is from the train station to the hotel. By the time I actually pack my suitcase, I can visualize where I am headed. I have a picture, perhaps idealized and incomplete but a picture nonetheless, of where I am going to end up. Setting a vision for your life, your ministry, or your business can be a lot like planning a vacation. You have to know where you want to end up before you can make meaningful progress towards the future.
Vision, the ability to imagine a positive future, is as much a spiritual strength as love and gratitude and kindness. This ability to dream, to imagine, and to plan is part of what separates us from other animals. While some folks seem to be better able to tap into a vast spiritual wellspring of creativity, optimism and purpose, each of us has the ability to visualize a future, and like all spiritual strengths, it grows and gains strength each time we intentionally exercise it.
The first step to positive visualization of the future is an honest assessment of where you are right now. What does your life/ministry/community look like right now? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What resources do you have? Who are your allies and companions? What is working and what is not working? Right now!
Then let the dreaming begin! Where do you want to be three months from now? A year? Five years? Use your imagination and creativity to see that future. Who is there with you? What will it feel like to be there?
The next step is to create a pathway or a roadmap (and remember this process is not a quick one. It may take weeks or months to create a vision for the future) How are you going to get there? Again, creativity and imagination are important now. What has been tried before? What worked, what didn’t? What additional resources do you need? Who will your allies be? And, importantly, what obstacles and stumbling blocks do you foresee? What will you do when you hit a wall? And how will you know you’ve arrived?
Once you, or your leadership team, have a clear vision, you can begin to paint a picture for others, to create the travel guide that will get them excited about the destination too. Great visionaries bring others along with them and provide a road map for others behind them to follow. But being a great visionary doesn’t mean we have to be Martin Luther King Jr., preaching from the highest places in the land with a voice and influence that stretches worldwide. Not all visionaries are larger than life figures with a global stage. In fact, most visionaries are the ordinary folks who are living out their seemingly ordinary lives, but in a way that connects and inspires others.
Phil Pugh and Mike Petross are just such ordinary visionaries. Well into their seventies, Phil and Mike might well be rarities in their West side Detroit neighborhood, a long-term committed Black gay couple. Together for over 50 years, they have been described as “vital” to the Black gay community by those who know them.
Phil and Mike have been through and seen a lot in their long tenure in their Detroit neighborhood. Phil tells a story that still haunts him and still inspires the two to mentor gay youth. In the weeks after they opened a neighborhood restaurant in the 1980s, a group of eight gay teenagers came in every Sunday. But after a while the friends eventually stopped showing up. Months later, Phil ran into one of the young men while grocery shopping and discovered why. “They went to one particular church in Detroit and one day the minister had singled that group out,” he says. “He talked about them so badly in the church, saying horrible things about homosexuality. One of them ended up committing suicide two weeks later.”
Simply by being themselves and sharing their stories with gay youth through organizations such as LGBT Detroit, Phil and Mike provide a vision of what committed love looks and acts like to younger members of that community who may feel hopeless in a culture that more often defines manhood in terms of aggression and power. For youth who cannot envision a future, Phil and Mike are there to show them a positive, happy and fulfilling one. When told of what an impact their example has made for others, Phil explains “That’s all I’ve wanted in my life,” he says. “We’ve dedicated our lives to making sure younger gay Black people know that they can grow old, and that they’ll have something to live for.”1
What is truly inspiring about people like Mike and Phil is that they know, and can clearly state, the “why” for their vision – so that young gay Black people know that they have something to live for. The “why” is the key to the whole shebang. What is “the why” for your vision? Why do you want to achieve this goal? Why is it so important?
God is in the vision business. And visions are to be shared. From the vision of Abraham to lead his family across the desert, to the vision of Joan of Arc to lead her people against a tyrannical foreign adversary, to the vision of young people like Greta Thunberg of shared responsibility and mutual cooperation to combat climate change, vision is a spiritual strength that enables us to achieve more, to love more and to be more than we ever thought we could.