"Inward, outward, upward and onward," Rhonda DeYoung says to her children, and they know exactly what she means. She continues, "When the kids were little, we used these words to encourage them to show who they were on the inside by being godly on the outside, through taking the high road upward and moving on from a situation — not being dragged down by it."
Over time, the phrase morphed into the DeYoung family's mission statement, and later it was applied to dealing with difficult people and situations. Rhonda says, "We encouraged the kids to be strong on the inside, at peace on the outside, while keeping their cool, in order to rise above their circumstances and keep going onward."
Although most parents have unspoken goals for their children — financial, spiritual, physical, emotional — these big ideas seldom translate into reality accidentally. One way to prioritize what your family values is to write a family mission statement. This written declaration isn't a guarantee of family success, but it can help establish a family's identity even as it reinforces what is important.
How long will it take to create? That depends on your family's ability to work together, your individual personalities and the compatibility of your goals. The first step isn't to get words on a paper but to commit to creating and living within a prescribed goal.
The Sanders family found that people already associated them as a group by referring to a "Sanders haircut" or a "Sanders appetite." Since their nine children were often identified by their last name, Nancy and Nate let their code of conduct also stem from their family name, each quality beginning with a letter of Sanders. The result was an acrostic that identified spiritual and character goals for the family.
"By God's grace we will: Seek to love the Lord Jesus Christ with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength; Always give thanks; Never fear standing for the truth, no matter the cost; Do our work skillfully and diligently without complaining, as unto the Lord; Encourage and show love for others with patience, kindness and humility; Respectfully submit to all authority God has placed over us; Share the truths of God with our children so that future generations will put their trust in Him."
Nancy and Nate knew that their mission statement wouldn't work unless the whole family adopted it. So they spent family devotion time going over and discussing each line with their children. Once the kids understood and committed to how their last name was defined, the acrostic became their family mission statement.
Committing to a mission statement is the first step. The second step is to consider what your family holds as important. The Dennis family in Homeschooling High School listed their parenting priorities:
Knowing their family's goals, which became their family mission statement, Steven and Jeanne were able to focus on their own and their daughter's strengths to accomplish their priorities. This direction and articulation of purpose led their daughter to become involved in extracurricular activities that were in line with what she felt was God's plan for her life.
Unlike the Dennises, sometimes a family's purpose evolves from everyday circumstances, as it did with the Miller family. Lauren explains, "Our mission statement grew out of a reaction to our 2-year-old's fights with his 4-year-old sister, which were usually complete with hitting, biting and screaming."
Lauren would lower her son's hands and tell him to use his strength to love and protect others. She adds, "When my little girl became rude or bossy, I would hug her and remind her to love others." Over time, these daily reminders grew into the family's mission statement: Use your strength to love and protect. Use your spirit to love and give life. Use the life God gives you to do what is good and right, and to help others.
For the DeYoung parents, "inward, outward, upward and onward" was an easy-to-remember phrase that helped them discuss how their kids' decisions were made and how their kids should view the world. But those key words also had a basis in Scripture, which is important for a Christian family's mission statement. Inward and outward were derived from 2 Corinthians 4:16, and the concepts of upward and onward were taken from Philippians 3:12-16.
If a mission statement doesn't begin to grow organically — through Scripture, your life and family values — consider simply starting with prayer, asking God for direction and insight into His plan for your family.
The Starks' mission statement was created after they realized their children were treating their friends more kindly than they treated each other. Diane was prayerfully reminded of 1 John 4:21, which says, "Whoever loves God must also love his brother."
This verse symbolized the kind of family Diane and Eric wanted: a family built on love for God and love for each other. So they adapted the verse to say: "Whoever loves God must also love his brother, sister, father, mother, son and daughter." Once their children were able to understand that this was a godly principle, the family was able to move forward in how they related to each other.
Each person in your family has different strengths, dreams and goals. Writing a mission statement can initially help parents focus on guiding their children's direction and building a family identity. Over time, these same mission statements can define how the different personalities and talents in a family come together for a concentrated direction outside the home, too. After all, there's no reason why your family's mission statement can't become your missions statement, as well.
When the Cooleys were first married, they went through a rough patch. They had both come from broken homes, they were new believers, and they had to figure out how to be a blended family with two children. After struggling for a number of years and having two more children, Danika and Ed became serious about their relationships with Christ.
In the midst of their struggles, they created the parenting motto: "Love them and point them to Jesus." If they weren't able to accomplish anything else in the lives of their children, they wanted the kids to leave their home knowing they are loved and that Jesus Christ is Lord. Danika and Ed reminded each other of their motto anytime one of them appeared to be straying from it.
After 13 years, they still see that their mission statement holds true, but today it has been expanded to include their marriage and their community. The Cooleys currently seek ways to love others ("love them") and share God's message of mercy and grace ("and point them to Jesus").
As you develop your mission statement, take the time to look at your family's ministry goals, having each member of your family answer questions such as:
The more you know about yourself and each other, the better you will be able to figure out how you can use your family's personalities and talents to serve your friends, family and community.
If you still can't quite pull a mission statement together for your family, try filling in the following blanks to create action steps for your family goals:
We believe God wants us to ____________ this year, which we will intentionally do by concentrating on these areas:
Then review and revise these lines each year until you see a pattern that allows you to write a larger, more comprehensive mission statement.
The beauty of putting your mission statement in writing is that as you identify where you are right now, you'll start to see a glimmer of where God wants to take you and your family in the years to come. You may even find decisions easier to make, activities more enjoyable and your family life more satisfying. More important, you will help fulfill God's purposes for your family now — and intentionally prepare your children for the work He has for them later.