So, mission statements aren’t perfect. Like many people, I believe they are kind of overrated. Particularly for churches. Most statements come out like:
- Love. Serve. Give.
- Doing our most for those with the least.
- Sharing the love of Christ given to us without regard for anything we might have done so that others may also feel that unearned, but grace-filled love through our work in the community and with one another.
We want your children.We are a great place to raise a family.
So these may or may not be real mission statements. But all of them end up sounding like this. They are sort of Jesusy, but not. Sort of missiony, but not. Vague, yes; but at least name something.
Mission Statements can really leave a lot to be desired. But they do something that is essential to any organization, particularly a church: putting purpose into words.
The best description I’ve ever heard for the importance of an obvious purpose came from, of all places, this interview with Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group. He was invited on The Gist to talk about foreign policy and ends up teaching a master class in geopolitical strategy. To say I loved the interview is an understatement.
You can listen to the link below or visit the show page. If you don’t want to listen to the whole episode, the interview runs from approximately 4:15 to 17:15. The deep truth of geopolitics comes out in the ninth minute. And start to really listen closely at 14:19.
You may be wondering: Why should I listen to an interview about foreign policy when you are writing about the church?
That’s fair. But give it a listen, then read this again. Or better yet, stop reading, listen, then continue right here.
Because we don’t quite understand our full purpose: in our foreign policy or church.
When we talk about foreign policy, we tend to think about what we want. And what we want is freedom to do what we want. But that isn’t strategy. That isn’t an expression of a purpose or something others can hold on to. That is simply selfishness.
They absolutely see the Americans as unilateral, but what they don’t know is what we want to do with it. They don’t know what we stand for. They don’t know what the strategy is. They don’t know if we support them long term. And so I do think the absence of strategy, which was not such a problem after we won the Cold War, you know, we were like “we won and so what are we going to do? Eh, we don’t pay attention to it for awhile.” But you know, the world has evolved since then.
That is nearly two decades without defining purpose.
Our view of purpose in church feels so much like this. We care about how broad and inclusive our community is, but not what we will actually do with that inclusive community. We want the freedom to let the community be about anything. But then we don’t know what we believe in and people outside the church don’t know what we believe either.
Yes Jesus. But why? What are we saying concerning Jesus? Who is Jesus to us specifically, not generically. How is our expression of “we love Jesus” any different from another expression of “we love Jesus”? What do we really want?
Why this matters is that we honestly struggle to see why this confusion is even a problem. We think there are easy fixes or that the way we do it is the strategy, but it is merely strategic, it isn’t strategy. In much the same way saying “we welcome all people” is strategic, but it isn’t strategy. Using actual methods to bring in unrepresented minorities into the community would be strategy. Putting that sense of inclusion at the center of everything we do would begin to express purpose.
The big point, the hard truth to hear, is that without helping people see what we stand for, they don’t believe we stand for anything but selfishness and self-interest. An institution focused on self-preservation. Maybe that is honestly what many of our churches are. But that isn’t the purpose to which any of us was called.
People outside our organizations and churches need to learn from us what we stand for. Which means that we have to communicate what we stand for. And for that to happen, we need to be able to put that into more consistent words and actions.
The mission statement isn’t the start or the end, it’s the middle. The middle of our finding and expressing our true purpose.