Using Trifocals to Lead

Once, to a group of principals, I described a long day at my school this way: “I dropped in bed at ten after calling two sets of frustrated parents who didn’t like the discipline I gave to their kids; that was after supervising rowdy kids at a game; that was after a faculty meeting where a dream I had caught more ice than fire; that was after a teacher evaluation session in which the teacher said: ‘You seem so rushed, you hardly listen’; and that followed my skipping my prayer time in the morning.”

What I was experiencing was myopia—my-opia—the perfect word to describe a seeing problem concentrated on me, on myself. At its worst, this disease can lead to despair, but in its gentler form another principal labeled it PLOM (poor little ole me). This myopia can lead to another disease called dystopia, a distorted, negative view of the world, like those principals or teachers who gather the flotsam in culture: kids are getting worse, parents parent poorly, all electronic devices are corrupting youth.

Both diseases are growing in our culture generally. The old song “I Did It My Way” is our international anthem, sung by children by their actions as early as preschool. Kinders fight by claiming, “This is mine!” So do adults. Dystopia examples are rampant: the equivalent of “War is hell” is applied not only to ISIS hangings but to politics, environment, media, and more. For leaders in Christian schools, our danger is seeing the world through the cloudy glasses of dystopia.

Putting on trifocals of the heart is a good corrective. Paul writes to the Ephesian church that he prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (1:18) to know the hope and the power of Christ’s mighty strength. Of the three lenses, one lens improves upward vision; another, outward vision; and the third, forward vision. All three in one pair of glasses is a good start toward leading by heart.

The focal point for looking upward is the Bible. John Calvin said the best view of both God and the world is through “the spectacles of Scripture.” The Bible is not Pollyanna, not rose-colored glasses. It depicts God, his world, and us clearly; it is full-orbed, detailing the damage we have done and God’s acts of repairing all, with bookends of “made in the image of God” and “living in the New Jerusalem forever” for those who love him. Feeling down in the dumps? Naval gazing? Getting cynical about life generally and your school’s effectiveness specifically? Read “I lift up my eyes to you, the author and perfector our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Peter Kreeft says, “We all need a faith lift.”

The focal point for looking outward is just plain paying attention. It’s getting up out of our mopey moods or “when-will-they-ever learn” jaundiced view of kids and teachers and noticing flesh-and-blood examples of people (kids, parents, teachers) who are using their God gifts to enhance others’ lives: Renae in Grade 10 telling you she “enjoyed helping out” as a volunteer at the hospital because her history teacher recommended she do it, or Mr. Jansen reporting that he got an email from a graduate who is grateful for her education at your school as she works as an engineer.

The focal point for looking forward is dreaming. Peter’s first sermon after Pentecost (Acts 2) quotes the prophet Joel to say that the Spirit will lead young and old leaders to “see visions and dreams.” What are yours for your school? Mine included that all our Christian teachers would teach the kingdom of God toward the goal that all our students, when they reach the age of 35, will be walking firmly with God in word and in deed. Another was that every student in the last year at our school would make a final oral presentation of his/her overall learning at our school to a real audience of family, friends, and other key influences in his/her life. Seeking persistently to realize dreams is a cure for the nightmares of myopia and dystopia.

Wearing trifocals of the heart makes Christian school leaders effective with followers. If you wear them on your heart, your teachers, students, and parents will catch your passion for the good sight they give you. They will want trifocals, too. And God’s kingdom in your school will be more vivid.

– Dan Vander Ark

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