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Leadership + Family Vacation, Part 1

“It is a bad policy to forego the regular vacation.” Charles Spurgeon

You’ve probably seen the Walt Disney World brochure, the one where the family is capped with Mickey Mouse ears, standing for a photo op with the Cinderella Castle rising in the background skyline and exploding fireworks raining down to celebrate the conclusion of a fun-filled day. Huge smiles are present on each face. But if you’ve ever been to Disney you know that this family can be hard to find. Many of the families at Disney appear quite different than what you see on the brochure.

What does your family look like on vacation?

What a family looks like—what a family experiences on a vacation—is largely determined by the father’s attitude and leadership prior to and during the vacation.

Some fathers charge into a vacation at a place like Disney World committed to visiting every venue, seeing every show, and experiencing every ride. Every moment and detail has been planned with military precision as the father leads his wife and children on the long-awaited mission. But by noon the first day, the family has spent most of the morning standing in long lines growing more sunburned by the minute. The children are tired, cranky, and hungry. And the father has been passing his time while standing in line reflecting on the serious chunk of his salary he invested in this forgettable experience. And he is not smiling.

Other fathers choose less trendy vacation spots. This is no Disney dad. No way! This father takes his family to the lake or the beach. There are no lines here. Here the days will pass slowly and predictably. And if he’s not careful and purposeful, this father can wrongly assume that location alone guarantees a wonderful and memorable vacation. It’s possible for this father to view the family vacation as a peaceful and beautiful context where he can primarily rest and relax with little required of him. His wife and children desire his leadership during this time but rarely experience it. And they are not smiling.

Here’s what I’ve learned. The difference between forgettable vacations and unforgettable vacations is not the location or attractions. Nope. The difference between forgettable and unforgettable vacations is the father’s attitude and leadership. This makes all the difference.

Family vacations provide a unique opportunity each year for fathers to create memories their children will never forget. Memories that will last a lifetime. Memories that will be recreated by your children with your grandchildren. Memories that will outlive a father. But in order to create these memories, a father must be diligent to serve and lead during a vacation. How a father views his role on a vacation will make all the difference in the vacation.

So in this season where family vacations are being carefully planned and eagerly anticipated, I thought it might be helpful if I passed along seven lessons I’ve learned over the years, in hopes that your family vacation will be a God-glorifying, grace-filled, relationship-building, memory-making time together.


1. A Servant Heart
2. A Tone-Setting Attitude
3. An Awareness of Indwelling Sin
4. Studying Your Family
5. Skillful Surprises
6. Intentionally Together
7. Gratefulness to God

On to the first lesson.

1. A Servant Heart

Husbands are called by God to serve and lead. But we are all vulnerable to viewing the family vacation as a well-earned time away from work where we can rest and relax! But this attitude and approach to a vacation normally reveals a self-centeredness that does not please God or serve our families. Actually, God-glorifying, grace-filled, relationship-building, memory-making vacations are not supposed to be a vacation for the father. Instead of simply resting and relaxing the father has the privilege of serving, leading, planning, initiating and working.

And you will know you are serving and leading effectively on your vacation when you fall into bed at night more exhausted than at the end of the most grueling day of work. The father must enter family vacations committed to serve, lead, plan, initiate, and work, and do all this with joy. This isn’t your time to rest. Only your wife deserves to rest on vacation (because no one works harder than she does the rest of the year).

But for the husband, vacations are a unique opportunity to serve and lead and work harder in some ways than he does during the normal work week. But this kind of work is a pure joy like no other work.

2. A Tone-Setting Attitude

The father’s attitude is the difference maker between a forgettable and unforgettable vacation. The attitude of the father transcends the vacation location each and every time. And on vacation your children are carefully studying and monitoring your attitude. The father’s attitude is the tone setter, and a father who lacks joy and gratefulness will infect the entire vacation. No vacation spots in all the AAA literature will compensate for the sinful attitude of the father in coloring the entire vacation.

Children may be temporarily distracted by the venue, but ultimately the memory of that vacation will be associated with the father’s joy, gratefulness, generosity, and service, or with his irritation, frustration, and anger.

And there is no vacation from the gospel. No successful family vacation is possible without the gospel and being reminded of its implications. Our joy, gratefulness, generosity, and service are all informed and inspired by the gospel.

Vacations provide unhurried periods of time where in the shadow of the cross a husband/father realizes afresh that he is doing much better than he deserves. Instead of wrath and hell God has been merciful and kind, pouring out his wrath on his Son so that sinners like you and me could experience forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation, and adoption.

And because of the cross, evidences of grace abound in our lives, beginning in our families. We should be specifically grateful to God for each member of our family and express this gratefulness to them. Vacations are opportunities to discern and celebrate these unique gifts from God that we don’t deserve.

No one should be happier on vacation than we are. During our vacation our children should repeatedly observe us smiling and laughing, and throughout the vacation they should be the objects of our affection and appreciation.

Your attitude on family vacation will be changed when you perceive the graciousness of God that surrounds you in the form of your family.

[To be continued …]

This post was originally published on The Cheap Seats Blog. This post is part 1 of 3; the entire series is also available as a downloadable PDF.