by Doug Peters
The Optometrist was clear… my vision was not! I was surprised. Frankly, I had inadvertently become accustomed to how things were. Over time, a lack of clarity and focus became my normal. So, it took an intentional process with a qualified resource to diagnose, prescribe and implement steps to bring a vibrant clarity and focus back into my life. My doctor was quick to point out that I should have come in sooner. He even added some snark by saying I would be surprised to see that trees actually have individual leaves!
Haphazardly stumbling through life in an ambiguous haze is not how thriving people live. It’s not fulfilling and it’s not very safe. We are better when we’re not vaguely groping into the future. The same is true for churches!
Through our work with Interim Ministry Partners, a division of Hope Network, we often help churches assess their congregational health. A leading indicator of declining and aging churches is a lack of mission focus and clarity. Why they exist and what they are about has, over time, become vaguely generalized and diluted to the degree that most church members cannot say what they are about.
It is vital for churches to have a sharp sense of mission. The only alternative to a clear and conscious mission is a clouded and muddied obligation to just keep doing church or simply being about some generally good works. The predictable result is a lack of concentration and effectiveness… Churches doing a few nice things but never making much of a kingdom impact.
Should Churches Have Mission Statements? No and Yes!
No! – There is nothing magical about a mission statement. If a church wants a mission statement simply because many other organizations of various types have them, I say skip it. If a church adopts a mission statement just to improve their brand and have a captivating phrase on their website, I say spend your time elsewhere. I’m more interested in the process of developing and pursuing a strong sense of mission than the catchy or not-so-catchy way of stating what it is. If your church is not really interested in living into a meaningful way of being God’s faithful people on God’s mission, then whatever you claim you are about is not worth the effort and expense of paper, ink, and pixels. However, if you are serious about seeing your church as truly belonging to God’s mission, then…
Yes! – Words are symbols of meaning. They communicate value, importance, and direction. They describe what we are about. By their absence, they steer us away from other pursuits. Every church, intentionally or unintentionally, proactively or passively, hopefully or haphazardly, is about something. Why not take the intentional, proactive, and hopeful path of clarifying what that something is? Prayerfully discerning God’s call on a particular group of God’s people in their time and place is a worthy and vital endeavor. If you invest your life together in the quest of God’s mission, why would you not want to articulate it so that you can remind yourselves and rally others to the cause?
The Bible overtly offers many statements of mission. Moses (Exodus 3:10), Gideon (Judges 6:14), Jesus (Luke 19:10), Peter and Paul (Galatians 2:8), and Timothy (1 Timothy 4:13-14) all receive God-inspired direction for how they can live into God’s mission. Jesus offers his first disciples the same clarity in what we call the Great Commission (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:18-20).
Congregations exist for something beyond themselves. Whenever God’s gathered people become the end instead of the means, they have drifted from God’s mission into something else (Irrelevance? Idolatry? Impediment?). As many have said, God’s mission has a church more than the church has a mission. So, why not come clean and state the Why and How we are God’s people on mission?
In our consulting work with churches during interim seasons and opportunities for renewal, we have found that involving invested church members in a spiritual discernment process of intentional prayer / spiritual disciplines, Bible study, and assessment of the congregation and its community brings fruitful focus and perspective. Like a much-needed trip to the Optometrist, they can then begin to see more clearly and take hopeful steps into God’s vibrant future!