Visionary is defined as follows: 1. Given to, or characterized by, fanciful or impractical ideas. 2. A dreamer. 3. Not practical. Now there are some definitions that slipped past the proofreaders. If visionaries are impractical dreamers, then the publishers of Webster’s Dictionary named their book for the wrong guy.
Noah Webster personified the word visionary. He spent twenty years fulfilling his impractical idea by creating a dictionary with American pronunciations and usages, as distinguished from its British counterpart. His historic work introduced 12,000 words never before listed in any dictionary. Presumably, visionary was included, but with a different definition. Today’s editors have confused visionaries with wishful thinkers. Visionaries aren’t impractical people; they’re just daily commuters on the road less traveled to the land of What if …? Whereas most people use their eyes for looking, visionaries use theirs to see.
In 1970, a wide-eyed 30-year-old Michael Viner was desperate to make a splash in the competitive music recording industry. Without resources and contacts he spent his life’s savings to press several thousand copies of an album titled The Best of Marcel Marceau. The album named for the world-renowned mime was a 35-minute platter of silence interrupted by occasional applause.
But rather than promote the album through the usual routes of the broadcasting and recording industries, Viner sent his prank records to publishers. Newsweek and Billboard magazines ran the story, as did every major newspaper in America, touting Viner’s bizarre project. Mail orders for The Best of Marcel Marceau began pouring in. And, in the end, Viner’s new-found capital allowed him to produce the serious music he always dreamed of—including The Candy Man by Sammy Davis Jr. Michael Viner was a visionary.
But the truest list of visionaries is found in God’s leadership roll call—faithful followers with impractical ideas who saw things differently than most. Here are just a couple:
- Twelve spies scouted out the Promised Land and brought their reports back to Moses. Ten of the spies reported seeing giants and, with typical vision-killing instincts, concluded victory was impossible. The two holdouts, Caleb and Joshua, reported the same obstacles, but they saw things differently. “Of course there are giants, and they’re really big too! But that just makes them easier to hit. We’ll bring them down!” Visionaries talk like that.
- Noah was no different. For one hundred years he clocked-in every morning at the same shipyard. It didn’t matter that it had never rained, or that he lived hundreds of miles from the nearest body of water, or that no one else had the same passion for boating. Visionaries are typically a minority and undeterred by the criticism.
As Christians we are called to be visionaries, too. We’re to think and lead differently than the world. We’re His signposts—the visible agents for an invisible God. We are to teach people to follow a God whose audible voice they’ve never heard, to love a Savior whose wonderful face they’ve never seen, to live according to a Book that’s forever under attack, and to plan an eternity in a place they’ve never been. Only a wide-eyed visionary can do that. So how’s your vision doing lately?