What are we here to do? If you can’t answer that question, you can’t lead people. Which is why a clearly articulated mission statement is crucial to any organization or cause.
A little over a decade ago, mission statements were the hot thing in the business world. Books and conferences and seminars abounded – which ultimately complicated the matter beyond all common sense. It seemed as though you needed an MBA just to write a proper mission statement! So, before I say anything else, let me say: don’t overthink your mission statement. It serves you; you don’t serve it.
However, among churches and Christian not-for-profits, the lack of a clear mission often results in organizational drift, resource drain, and missional apathy. So spending some time thinking about your mission – and articulating it clearly – is important.
Writing a clear mission statement begins with understanding the difference between mission, vision, and purpose. Some people use these terms interchangeably, but in reality they’re quite distinct. Here’s a helpful set of definitions I found deep in my files in an old Campus Crusade for Christ document (no author was specified, but I acknowledge my debt to whomever it was):
- Our PURPOSE is what we live for
- Our VALUES are what we stand for
- Our MISSION is what we shoot for
- Our VISION is what we root for
The PURPOSE of most Christian ministries will be some variation on the theme of “bringing glory to God.” This is, after all, the end goal and focus of all our ministry efforts (1 Cor. 10:31). VALUES are the things we want to be true of us in everything we do; for instance, “gospel-centeredness” is one of our values at Coram Deo. MISSION is what we’re shooting for: the definable objective we want to see accomplished. And VISION is a picture of that preferred future – what would it look like if we made progress in fulfilling our mission? What sorts of things would we see?
Here’s an example of vision, from Coram Deo’s original church planting prospectus written back in 2004. We spoke of “what we dream of” in order to paint a picture of a desired future:
- We dream of an authentic community of people living as missionaries in their own culture, intentionally engaging their peers, their families, their city, and the culture-at-large in Jesus’ name.
- We dream of thousands of spiritually distant Omaha residents coming to love and follow Jesus as Christians naturally express the gospel in their relational circles.
- We dream of a church that exists for the outsider, the skeptic, the questioner – a church that engages culture and converses with the most spiritually distant people in our city.
- We dream of every church member engaged regularly in gospel-saturated, kingdom-advancing, Spirit-directed prayer.
- We dream of a church that looks radically different from the accepted paradigm of “what church is” – a church that is more a movement than a place; a church where discipleship is holistic, not cognitive; a church where engaging the culture is not optional.
- We dream of a whole movement of God-centered churches, organically and relationally connected, taking the realities of Jesus’ kingdom to people who are not attracted to churches as they currently exist.
You can see how these “dream statements” give people something to root for – a picture of the future we hope to see as God gives success to our efforts.
Now, let me use Coram Deo’s mission statement as a working example to explain the components of a clear mission statement:
For the glory of the Triune God, Coram Deo Church exists to spur gospel renewal in our city and region through making disciples and planting churches.
For the glory of the Triune God… you’ll notice this is really a statement of our purpose that’s been tucked into our mission statement. We don’t use this phrase every single time we articulate our mission statement… but it’s there in order to keep purpose and mission connected, and to keep us God-centered.
Coram Deo Church exists… remember the question we began this post with – what are we here to do? This phrase answers that question. We’re not the only church or ministry seeking to glorify God – so it’s not our purpose that makes us unique. It’s our mission. Our mission statement explains why WE exist – what specific contribution our church is seeking to make to the overall mission of God.
to spur gospel renewal in our city and region… this is the “far objective” – the “God thing” that we can’t manufacture, but that we want our efforts to result in.
through making disciples and planting churches… this is the “near objective” that, through grace and providence, we have a little more control over. God has commanded us to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and to plant churches. Therefore, we are confident that as we seek to obey him, he will bring fruit from our efforts. Making disciples and planting churches – these are the things we work, plan, and pray toward.
In summary, a good mission statement should:
- clearly answer the question “what are we here for?”
- be short, clear, and memorable
- give focus and definition to our efforts
- be specific enough to help us measure success or failure
An application: how are we to think about serving the poor and needy – that is, the work of mercy and justice? For Coram Deo, it’s part of our purpose (glorifying God). And it’s also part of our “far objective” and our vision (a city renewed by the gospel). So it’s something we must be involved in. But we must do so in a way that fits with our stated mission – which is to make disciples and plant churches. If we approach the work of mercy and justice as our main objective – that is, if mercy and justice becomes our mission – then we become a development or relief agency rather than a church.
Therefore, we approach the work of mercy and justice as a means of making disciples and planting churches. It’s a means to our ultimate end; it’s not the end (mission) itself. We want to be engaged in these things because they help form the gospel in us – confronting idols of affluence and success, triggering deeper mercy and compassion, teaching us how to love and serve others.
One of our partner agencies, inCOMMON Community Development, has a mission focused more squarely on serving the poor: “to unite and strengthen vulnerable neighborhoods.” So by partnering with them, we can stay focused on our mission of disciple-making and church planting, while also a) helping them fulfill their mission and b) serving God’s broader kingdom purposes in our city.
This is why clear thinking about mission is crucial to good leadership: it helps you clarify what things YOU need to do, and what things you need to empower OTHERS to do. To say it another way: God’s kingdom purposes in the world – or in your city – are broader than any single church or organization. If you try to do it all, you’ll end up doing nothing well. But if you stay focused on your mission – and help empower other agencies, leaders, and causes to fulfill their mission – then it really is feasible to see large-scale renewal in a city or population.
- Do you have a mission statement? Is it clear, concise, and compelling?
- Do your key leaders know it, and can they repeat it?
- Is it measurable and precise? When we hear it, do we know what success looks like?
- Is it really a mission, or is it generalized vision and values masquerading as a mission?
- What do you need to rethink, change, or adapt?
In the next post, I’ll lay out six basic steps of strategic planning.