What business are you in? It seems like an obvious question. But many businesses, organizations–and churches–have faltered and failed because their people were not clear about their true mission.
This cloudiness of mission contributed to the eventual fall of the Eastman Kodak Company. As digital photography began to rise, Kodak’s leaders started and stopped and started again a potpourri of disparate initiatives while they tried to preserve their film-based traditions. Our new documentary film, When God Left the Building, includes that story of confusion, as told by Kodak’s former engineer, Steve Sasson.
Take a look at the following brief clip from the film. You’ll hear from Sasson, followed by the pastor of a struggling church.
The film also shows other people from that struggling church who each expressed a different notion of their church’s mission. Fogginess of mission contributed to that church’s dramatic decline over many years.
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Not far from that church I visited another church–and asked their people to describe their mission. Every person I asked, from the pastor to the volunteer staff to the rank-and-file members, cited the same mission for their congregation. For them, it’s to reach their community’s not-yet-believers with the love of Christ. That church, decade after decade, continues to grow in many ways. Mission matters.
BEYOND MERE WORDS
A guiding mission is more than a finely word-smithed mission statement that a committee cobbled together years ago. A well-founded and well-known mission shapes the very heart of an organization. It helps to drive everything. It brings clarity to every decision, large and small. When faced with choosing between multiple options, mission-driven people ask, “Which choice moves us further toward our true mission?”
Every church should think deeply about its true mission. And it’s healthy to compare the congregation’s mission with a consideration of Jesus’ great mission during his earthly ministry. Sometimes we don’t think big enough. And sometimes we fall in love with minor missions that sound good, and may be good, but don’t rise to the ultimate priority. Sometimes these lesser missions would have worked equally well for the Pharisees in Jesus’ time.
For example, the former pastor of that sinking church in the film described the mission this way: “To be very visible in the community, to make life better for all.” A nice thought. But would that come close to describing the ultimate mission of Jesus?
Another church I visited described its mission this way: “To teach the Word of God.” Again, a good thought. But if teaching about scripture is the ultimate mission, could the Pharisees claim the same?
A great mission:
- bears resemblance to Jesus’ overall big mission.
- can be described in a few words.
- is memorable.
- is clear.
- inspires people to engage in it.
Once a congregation–or a ministry within a church–prayerfully defines a great mission, it’s up to the leaders to imbue the mission throughout the organization. It must be communicated often. The people should be able to readily describe it–not necessarily as a word-for-word mantra, but as the essence of the true mission.
A ministry stays mission-focused when its people tell stories–weekly–of how the mission is being pursued, and how God is at work around it.
Knowing and pursuing a great mission helps to build a great ministry.